Curt Schilling: Education of a Business Rookie

Last Updated May 7, 2010 12:26 PM EDT

Former Boston Red Sox pitching ace Curt Schilling retired from the game in 2008 to focus on expanding his two-year-old online gaming company, 38 Studios.

But starting the 70-employee enterprise came with painful lessons that are wonderfully documented in the recent Harvard Business School case study, Curt Schilling's Next Pitch ($6.95). Schilling, a life-long athlete, was a business novice needing a steep immersion in Business 101. For example:

  • Vacation. As a baseball player, Schilling was expected to show up to work Monday through Sunday. "The whole concept of vacation was foreign to Curt," says Brett Close, who Schilling brought in as CEO. "He actually said, 'People get weekends off, right?'''
  • Office Hours. Schilling once considered making his developers work 14 days straight followed by five days off, figuring it would get them on a good roll. He hadn't considered working parents in his plan.
  • When Pigs Fly. Employees look to the founder for cues, so when Schilling offhandedly mentioned in an e-mail an idea for a scene involving mounted combat on flying pigs, the developers immediately dropped all their tasks and spent the next week developing a flying pigs scenario. Schilling says, "I didn't realize when I sent out that type of e-mail that it is not like Joe Junior game designer saying it and everybody responding, 'Are you an idiot?'''
But Schilling eventually learned what he had to do: hire professionals to run the company, and add value where he could. For example, because of his stature as a star athlete, Schilling could call CEOs of other game companies and obtain valuable competitive intelligence.

The case costs $6.95, but I'd recommend it for its lessons on building effective teams and dealing with a famous or high-intensity founder.

(Schilling image by Eric Kilby, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.