Business People and Community

Miami Heat executive shares insights on successful leadership

In a talk at the Miami Herbert Business School, Eric Woolworth, president of business operations, touts community involvement, trust, and transparency as keys to developing one of the sports entertainment industry’s preeminent organizations.
Miami Herbert Business School

Miami Heat executive Eric Woolworth, center—with Andre Dua of McKinsey & Company, left, and Ann Olazabal, interim dean of the business school—was the featured speaker in the “Future of Leadership: a CEO Speaker Series” event. Photo: Michelle Tulande/University of Miami

Much like the Miami Heat team, which has reached the playoffs in 24 of its 35 seasons and won three NBA championships, Eric Woolworth has enjoyed tremendous success in guiding The Heat Group business operations for the past 24 seasons. 

In a talk on Thursday during the “Future of Leadership: a CEO Speaker Series,” which is co-hosted by McKinsey & Company and the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, Woolworth highlighted the leadership strategies that have helped to develop an organization with a workforce that is the most diverse in the league and, aided by innovative data technologies, both understands and appreciates its fan base. 

“It’s important to be authentic and stress the things that are important to you—you really can’t fool people,” Woolworth said. “Creating a collaborative environment and getting everyone involved so they feel that they have some ownership in what you do is essential.” 

Woolworth spoke with Ann Olazabal, interim dean of the business school, and Andre Dua, senior managing partner of the Miami office of McKinsey & Company. 

Asked for his advice for future business leaders, Woolworth encouraged community involvement. 

“Getting involved in the community is good business. It’s a great way to meet people and network, and it puts you in a leadership position where others will come to you for advice,” he pointed out. 

His own experience of serving for 20 years on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters and teaching an ongoing class of public school third graders as part of the Heat Academy has provided valuable insights. “It’s important to do good. It’s spiritually rewarding,” he said. 

Woolworth highlighted the organization’s commitment to support the community through its foundation, The Heat Academy, and other initiatives. The academy has sponsored approximately 350 children to attend college through a tuition-paid scholarship program, he noted. 

In the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020 that led to civil disturbances around the country, Woolworth convened his staff of more than 300 to discuss what could be done locally to improve trust between communities of color and police. With the help of community leaders, the group funded a program that has trained the City of Miami Police Department on improved policing techniques. Players and staff have completed the instruction, as well, according to Woolworth, and the program is soon to be implemented to include Miami-Dade County police. 

Woolworth has been instrumental in recognizing and harnessing the power of business intelligence. The franchise has spent the past eight years building a robust business intelligence team and processes and has mandated the use and analysis of data in every functional area to help improve results, performance, and customer relationship management.

To better understand the particularities of the Heat fanbase—exactly who was purchasing tickets and their preferences while attending games—Woolworth helped set up 601 Analytics. The company has been so successful in generating fan profiles for the Heat that it’s been hired by the NBA and a number of other teams.

“I’ve become nicer” in part to adapt to the new generations entering the workforce, Woolworth said laughing in addressing his own development as a leader.   

“My generation of workers would just put their heads down and get to doing whatever needed to be done,” he said. “The younger generations are looking for more reinforcement, more positive feedback. So I’ve become more purposefully communicative of what we’re doing well, giving out awards and those things. I’m different than I used to be.” 

Woolworth said that he’s fortunate to work in the sports and entertainment industry, what he regards as “the candy store of life.” 

“We’re driving for results and aspiring for excellence but also want to ensure that everyone has fun and is able to advance [in their careers] with us,” he said. “We’re trying to develop our workplace to make it a warm and welcoming place.”