Milwaukee Talks: New York Times bestselling author Joe Sweeney
This interview was a real treat. It was an opportunity for me to sit down with not only a former boss, but a friend, adviser and mentor who's helped motivate, guide and inspire me.
Joe Sweeney's had an impact filled and interesting career. He's the sum of many parts. Part deal maker, author (a New York Times bestselling author, mind you), businessman, civic servant, sports fan, national speaker, networker, investment banker, sports agent, father, grandfather, son, husband and more.
For me, as I look back at my time working for him at the Wisconsin Sports Authority as a young 20-something, Joe's the guy shouting "Sherm" from across the office, the boss that was always giving me motivational material to read and the coach who in so many ways challenged and made me better.
He's crafted his life works, to date, into two books and hundreds of keynote addresses worldwide to a variety of businesses and top corporations.
Via phone and email, I caught up with him for this latest edition of "Milwaukee Talks."
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us the short, two-minute Joe Sweeney story?
Joe Sweeney: Being the ninth in a family of 10 children, compromise, loyalty, developing relationships and discovering ways to help other members of the family were instilled in me at a young age. I feel very grateful that I have had the opportunity in my lifetime to establish some incredible relationships and combine my love of business with my passion for sports. I have owned and operated four manufacturing firms, was President of the Wisconsin Sports Authority and founded and ran SMG, a sports marketing and management firm that represented coaches and athletes including three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre. I am also an investment banker, private equity investor, New York Times best-selling author, trainer, and national speaker. A common theme in every aspect of my career is that I try to be well networked and develop life-long relationships along the way.
I have also served on 28 boards of directors over the past 30 years and am currently active on six including the Bradley Center Sports and Entertainment Corporation, The University of Notre Dame Graduate Alumni Board for the Mendoza College of Business, Dielectric Corporation, DMT Corporation, InControl Medical and Town Bank.
OMC: Be honest, was I your best employee ever?
JS: Easy answer about Jeff Sherman at the Wisconsin Sports Authority: His drive, ambition and being an incredibly loyal and honest guy made it a joy to work with him. My motto when I worked with Sherm was, "Thank God it's Monday!"
OMC: Talk about your Wisconsin Sports Authority days a bit. You (and the board) had a big impact on the sports scene in the State.
JS: I don't look at it as having a big impact. There were a few projects and clients that I worked with and helped through some challenging times and as I look back now at the careers of many of the athletes and coaches I represented, and just feel in awe of all they have accomplished and the role they played in the Wisconsin sports scene. I was honored to be a small part of that.
OMC: What are you most proud of?
JS: My greatest accomplishment by far has been my 34-year marriage to my beautiful wife Tami, our four children and two grandchildren. They motivate me every day and have been the foundation needed to push myself both personally and professionally.
OMC: You're on the Bradley Center board now. What would a new arena mean to Wisconsin, and how do you see it all coming together?
JS: (Governor) Walker, (Milwaukee County Executive) Abele, (Mayor) Barrett, the State Legislature, the Bucks, Marquette and the Milwaukee business community (MMAC) all come to the table and do what they can to move the needle and get over the challenge of financing the arena. Tim Sheehy has been the unsung hero in all of this as he has navigated this deal through some challenging waters behind the scenes. I call him Elmer, because he is the glue that holds all of this together!
Losing the Bucks to another city could be a devastating blow for Wisconsin sports. Additionally, keeping Milwaukee on the forefront of large venue options for prominent performing artists and more is an important factor. The arena also contributes greatly to the surrounding arts and entertainment district and directly impacts Milwaukee's continued revitalization.
OMC: So, what's your latest book "Moving the Needle" all about?
JS: The book is about human performance and human behavior. We spend years training in the areas of engineering, business, science and education, and we spend little time working on and developing practical life skills. How we move the needle everyday is really about how we create a life that we are proud of living by establishing positive rituals and systems. I use a three-part mantra of get clear, get free, and get going – which is really a framework to be incorporated into daily living. Over countless conversations with clients, athletes, students and CEOs, I have found that people commonly experience the feeling of not being able to move forward in their career and personal life; Moving the Needle was written as a guide to help in the process of getting unstuck.
As a follow-up to the principles included in the book, I have developed a 16 lesson program called the Winning Game Plan which digs deeper and provides practical exercises to help individuals put daily, weekly and monthly practices in place to achieve their goals.
OMC: Three easiest things someone can do to truly focus and prepare for success?
JS: Have a clear vision of what you want. That can best be done by creating a big enough WHY in your life or for any mission or project.
Managing your energy and momentum. To many times we get all juiced up and run so fast only to let the idea die or let up.
Securing support by creating your own wingmen or wingwomen (personal board of directors). You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. With whom are you spending time? Are they energizers or drainers?
Most importantly, figure out how you can help others get what they want. If you can do that effectively, you will get everything you want in life and more!
OMC: Define networking, and how do most approach it wrong?
JS: Networking is a place we go to give and serve, and not a place that we go to just get. Networking is really about how we serve others in our community, workplace and family. It is really about helping others get what they want. Most of us think networking is getting something for me. I just don't think it works too well that way.
OMC: You have $5,000 that you must invest today. Where do you put it and why?
JS: I would request a lunch with Ted Kellner, Ab Nicholas or Rick Lane (any one of them) and ask their opinion. They seem to be pretty smart and have done well in the investment space. Milwaukee has attracted some of the finest money managers in the country.
OMC: Define success.
JS: I don't really like the word success. Too many times we use the standards of others for measuring success and failure. I have worked with and represented many "successful" people who were not very centered, content or happy with their lives. To be successful is when your beliefs and values are aligned and in sync with your everyday activities, people and events. I think the ultimate ideal of success is to help others get what they want in life.
The motto I try to live by each day is from John Wooden, "You can't live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you."
OMC: You're a big basketball fan, right? Thoughts on this year's Bucks and Wisconsin teams?
JS: I am biased on this one. I represented Bo Ryan in his contract at UWM and his first deal in Madison. I am a huge Bo Ryan fan and not just because of his success on the court. In my opinion, he's one of the top five coaches in the country, and he's also one of the best people I have had the pleasure to know. Following college basketball for 45 years, I haven't seen anyone get more out of his players than Bo. In October, I spent a day with the team at practice and went through the Moving the Needle Program with them. Hope Bo wins it all this year.
The new owners of the Bucks and Jason Kidd have re-engergized so many people about NBA basketball in this community. They have shown very positive leadership in this area and have sparked a new interest and an energy at the BMOBC. Bucks basketball has a bright future in Milwaukee.
OMC: Three favorite TV shows?
JS: I have to be honest: I don't watch a lot of TV. I love sitting by the fire pit in our newly landscaped backyard with friends and family. Thank you, by the way, to David and Jane Frank of David J. Frank Landscaping.
OMC: Last book, other than your own, that you read?
JS: "Falling Upward" by Father Richard Rohr. It focuses on understanding the spirituality for two halves of your life. As we grow older, many of us have setbacks in the second half of life. Rohr states that we have a choice to fall down or see these as opportunities to fall upward.
OMC: Finally, you're granted two wishes to help change greater Milwaukee. What are they?
JS: Only two? I better not screw this up.
One, that people in Milwaukee build on the resurgence of having a sense of community, and continue to take great pride in this city – standing behind all the wonderful things that we know it has to offer.
And two, create a political, educational, economic and business environment that encourages new and thriving businesses to come to this area.
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