Mentor Spotlight: Jim Small
What do you do at your job? And how did you end up in your current career?
I’m lucky to have spent virtually my entire 35 years in sports, working in the great game of baseball. During the first half of my career, I worked in public relations for the Royals, Cubs, and Rangers before moving to New York to work in the MLB PR department in 1987. With the clubs, I wrote press notes and arranged interviews with players. With MLB, I ran the press operations for the World Series and All-Star games.
During the second half of my career, I worked in international business development. That essentially means I work to grow the brand and business of the league outside of the United States. I sold sponsorships and television rights in places like Japan and Germany, ran grassroots programs in China and Brazil and operated MLB games in Australia and Mexico.
I worked out of New York from 1998 to 2003 and then moved to Tokyo to run our Asia business for 16 years. In 2019, I moved back to New York (where I live now) to lead the entire international department.
In my current job, I am President of the World Baseball Classic… the official world championship of baseball that is owned and operated by MLB.
All of this started because of my time at KU. When I was there, I worked as a sportswriter for the Kansan, the Salina Journal, the Hutch News, and a few other papers. I also worked for the sports information department at KU. That led me to an internship with the Royals. The rest is history.
Who is a mentor for you? How did they help you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few.
My Dad, John Small, was my most important mentor. I am who I am because of him.
In terms of work, early in my career, it was Ned Colletti. He was my boss with the Cubs and went on to become the General Manager of the Dodgers. He taught me about taking responsibility for your actions, critical thinking and solving problems before they happen. I use the lessons he taught me every day.
Later in my career…over the past few years…it has been Richard Scudamore, the former chairman of the English Premier League. He has taught me so much about being a tough, effective leader and still a good person. He taught me to challenge my preconceived notions, to never stop learning and to strive to be better, even later in my career.
What advice do you have for current college students or young alumni?
I would give them the same advice I give my own kids. Career success is defined as making a living doing something that you love. Don’t get caught up in others’ expectations of what that should be. Focus on what you love, earn a living and you’ll be successful.
You should also think broadly when you think about your career. You can’t be expected to have a destination in mind when you start your career, but you should have a direction. For instance, there may be factors out of your control that prevent you from becoming the Commissioner of the NBA (a destination), but finding a job in a professional sports league (a direction) is very attainable. Focus on what you can attain.
Finally, I think life is all about a series of doors that are in front of you. Knock on every one of them and have the courage to walk through the ones that open. You will most likely wind up with a rewarding career and happy life.
What is your favorite KU memory?
It’s impossible to pick just one. My time at KU was the best four years of my life. I learned so much about the world in Lawrence, Kansas. I met people who were different than me and changed my understanding of life and culture. I had professors that challenged me to think critically. And all that has made me who I am.
That said, beating Missouri in Lawrence in 1981 to go to a bowl game was a pretty good memory!
Do you have a favorite story of connecting with other Jayhawks?
Since I returned from Tokyo in 2019, it’s been easier to get back to Lawrence. I’ve been fortunate to make several trips back to speak at the sports management program and at the journalism school. I am prouder than ever to be a Jayhawk when I see the quality of education that KU provides. The administrators, professors, and students are truly special, and every time I come back and spend time with fellow Jayhawks, it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be in one of them.