In Brad Pitt’s Shoes
Brad Pitt. How is he in real life?
Now that I have your attention, here is the disclosure: I don’t know Brad Pitt. But, I know someone who knows him. And this someone enlightened me that Brad Pitt, off-screen, is just a regular, guy next door from suburban America. According to my source, “Those who are successful don’t change. It is the people around who treat them differently.” Is this statement universally applicable?
Let’s test the theory of my source. His name is Billy Beane.
Sept, 2019. As part of its annual tradition, Cybage hosted its close partners to a series of sporting events in the U.S. I feel games are the best place to bond and network. And for our Bay Area partners, it was Oakland A’s. I was keen on inviting Billy Beane, General Manager of Oakland’s baseball team, to deliver a keynote before the game. The official reason was corporatization of the event. But secretly, it was an experience I needed to strike off my bucket list. I don’t think there’s a single month without lessons from the movie, Moneyball (based on Billy Beane), featuring in my business discussions.
Our pre-game conference was slated for two hours. The first hour was for Cybage presentations. The second for Billy’s talk. Oakland Coliseum is large, Billy arrived a good 30 minutes early to play safe. I stepped out of the presentation room to greet him. We sat on a sofa and chatted. That little time with him was precious. I didn’t know whether to speak or listen more. I spoke about baseball, he spoke about cricket. “Mark my words, Arun”, Billy declared, “A day will come when the popularity of cricket will outshine all sports.” The discussion moved to business analytics. He felt his job was tougher than mine. I disagreed. It was time to escort him to the conference room. Starry eyed, I delivered a speech in his honor. I am not sure if he was listening. He must be used to praises, I silently concluded, as he took over the podium.
Billy’s opening slide was uninspiring. It showed his dismal statistics as a professional baseball player. As a rookie, he was destined for baseball greatness—his athletic looks, stylish demeanor, and the way scouts marketed him. Over the years, however, it became clear that his game was technically flawed. Eventually, he was discarded from professional baseball. Ironically, this awareness that he never deserved to be successful and that he was just lucky to get a chance to play pro ball, laid the foundation of his subsequent stellar success.
Billy’s presentation surpassed my expectations. For those who have not been exposed to Moneyball, here is a glimpse of his journey. At the turn of the 21st century, the game of baseball was not about which team was better knit or coached. Rather, which franchise, like the New York Yankees, had deeper pockets to buy expensive players. Oakland A’s, interestingly, with meagre money to spend compared to its peers, started defying all the odds and became a formidable team in the league, and since then have continued to sustain excellence. At the bottom of Oakland’s success is Billy’s willingness to imbibe scientific processes to create an even-playing field for deserving baseball players to succeed – using data (and not perception) to gauge their value.
Billy’s approach revolutionized the game of baseball. There was a time when baseball teams were run by ex-baseball legends. Today, they are managed by academic stalwarts with a knack for analytics, including women executives as well as men of Asian origin who have never played ball. Billy’s influence has gone beyond sports. It has inspired thousands of businesses across the planet to imbibe Moneyball principles to run a fair and efficient organization.
Of course, not everything that was spoken was business. Billy zestfully recalled his close encounters with Brad Pitt, as the latter prepared for his role as Billy Beane in the movie, Moneyball, which was nominated for six academy awards. It was during these interactions that Billy made his conclusion: Brad Pitt who for several years has been cited as the world’s most attractive man by various media outlets, is just a simple lad in real life!
As I attentively listened to my idol, I noticed a weakness in Billy’s conclusion, I realized his hypothesis is invalid. Why? Because Billy himself is a massively successful man. And successful people deal with each other as peers, without star auras. Therefore, it is no surprise that Billy finds Brad Pitt a regular guy!
I toyed with the above idea as Billy’s presentation came to close. He appeared in a rush to leave before the kickoff saying, “I never watch Oakland A’s games at the stadium. Because I don’t want emotions to interfere with my analytical decision making.” But, what about all the adulation he is missing by avoiding public appearances? Well, he doesn’t care about public attention. After the Q&A, I queried as we were walking out, “Would it even matter if Oakland A’s win the world championship?” “Not to me”, he replied as a matter-of-fact, “but it will be good for the fans.” As I bid goodbye, I was engrossed by another realization…
I don’t know if success has changed Brad Pitt or not. But, what I do know, Billy Beane sure has not changed! Clearly, it is not the money, fame or power that fascinates Billy. He neither has the time nor the inclination to enjoy the ‘spoils’ of success. Instead, he draws his enjoyment by indulging in the ‘passion’ that has made him successful.
Many successful people and institutions share Billy’s grounded trait. Take Cybage, for instance. We have never been driven by billion-dollar milestones. There is no aspiration for a magical destination where an applauding business world awaits us. Rather, our joy resides in the journey itself – of building a fair, data-driven company that strives to provide an even-playing field to its employees as well as customers. And, perhaps, that is the reason why the unchanging Cybage feels so relatable!