With a professional background that includes corporate sales, marketing and branding, as well as executive leadership roles at the team level in professional auto racing, Major League Baseball, and now the National Football League, Tom Garfinkel has led a unique and diverse career across business and sports.
Garfinkel has employed a philosophy of being a continuous learner as a cornerstone of his life, his career and the organizations he has led. Ask the people who have worked with Garfinkel along the way about his leadership style and certain themes emerge. Words like creative, strategic, results-driven, team-first, continuous improvement and values-based leadership are consistently used to describe Garfinkel's approach to building successful organizations.
“I've been very fortunate throughout my career to have great people to learn from including CEOs of big companies, successful entrepreneurs, Hall of Fame players and coaches and military and civic leaders. I've always asked a lot of questions and tried to take something away that can provide perspective or context and further inform my own thinking,” Garfinkel shared.
Garfinkel began his career working for Miller Brewing Company in regional sales and marketing in the southeast. “I was very lucky to be part of a team that was the number one market area in sales growth and profitability at the time. We had great leadership who took an interest in me and I was able to learn a lot from them in a short amount of time.”
Garfinkel's career then took him to New York City when an opportunity presented itself to work for Texaco in corporate branding and sponsorships. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone a bit, and going from the beer industry to the energy industry was certainly a big change. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with executive leadership at Texaco and be a part of some big negotiations and branding initiatives, and that was incredible experience for me to get at a young age.”
After spending two years earning his MBA at the University of Michigan, Garfinkel took a job with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in 2001, running business operations and revenue generation. During his tenure, the Championship organization grew to have more than 450 employees and multiple teams in Indycar, NASCAR and the Grand Am sports car series. “It was an incredible experience, especially working so closely with the leadership team at Target, our largest sponsor. Collaborating with them was like getting a doctorate in business leadership and executive management.”
Garfinkel then made a switch to baseball in 2006 to the Arizona Diamondbacks as Chief Operating Officer. Nearly three years later, he was named president of the San Diego Padres at the age of 39. “One consistent piece of advice I learned from every great leader I've been around is that you succeed with great people. We built a great team of people in San Diego. If you look up the leadership team in baseball and business there in 2011 and look at what they are all doing now, it's an incredibly impressive group.” During Garfinkel's tenure in San Diego as president and CEO, the organization was recognized by the SportsBusiness Journal for having the number one ticket sales and service team in MLB two years in a row, and also was recognized by ESPN in 2012 for having the number one farm system in baseball. Garfinkel also conceived and implemented the first little league youth jersey program of its kind in baseball, outfitting more than 25,000 kids with authentic Padres jerseys and hats from every era. Additionally, Garfinkel was directly involved with negotiating a new landmark television contract valued at more than $1.25 billion.
After serving under three different ownership groups in nearly five years in San Diego, Garfinkel accepted the role of president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Upon his arrival, he laid out an aspirational vision for what the Dolphins could become.
“I believe great sports organizations have a clear identity and vision and are disciplined to it. They innovate and challenge conventional wisdom. They respect the sport and their place in it. Great sports organizations have loyal and supportive fans. They have dedicated individuals who put the team ahead of their personal goals, and they have committed ownership. Most importantly, great organizations build a culture of winning and don't accept mediocrity.”