View Full Version : Meet The New Boss

04-13-2006, 04:15 AM

by Dan Monk
Senior Staff Reporter

The message is simple.

The messenger is not.

New Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini has conveyed one dominant theme thus far in his interactions with local media. It's one he articulated with a sound bite in his debut January press conference, when he vowed to return championship baseball to Cincinnati.

"Anything else is unacceptable," he said.

That definitive message has been reinforced not just by media coaching but actions, including the rapid-fire replacement of the team's general manager and a preseason trade that improved the club's pitching prospects. And it's further buoyed by Castellini himself, with his penetrating gaze and pile-driver frame. Ask him a question, the answer is responsive, quick and direct.

How are the Reds going to do this year?

"Better than people think."

Are you blunt and direct?

"What do you think?"

But direct is not simple. And those who know Castellini best say the 64-year-old produce magnate is anything but simple. Not only did he transform his third-generation family company, Castellini Co., into a logistics and food-processing giant, but he also built on his fortune with home-run investments in riverfront land and companies such as Comair Inc., Republic Broadcasting and Blue Chip Venture Co.

Those who've seen him work as a board member say he's a consensus-builder who also can swiftly pick apart a balance sheet to expose weaknesses or flaws. He's a manager who holds employees accountable but affords enough freedom to let people grow in their jobs and learn from mistakes.

That approach sets him apart from past Reds owners. The numbers-driven Carl Lindner Jr., from whom Castellini bought the team in January, left the Reds in sound financial shape but at the bottom of the standings. Prior to Lindner, there was Marge Schott, whose splurge spending produced some competitive teams but left minority owners grumbling and the minor league system in shambles.

Castellini broadened the Reds ownership group but not the decision-making authority. The team's at least 44 owners have been warned not to expect profit distributions -- and could be required to cough up an additional $32 million in capital in the event of a major mishap, such as a players strike or national crisis that shuts down the game.

"They have access to me and can voice their opinions vociferously if they want. (But) they don't expect to have a profit distribution," Castellini said. "They've been told that. There's not going to be one because anything that's left over goes to player compensation. That's how we're going to stay competitive."

In a recent interview in the third-floor executive offices at Great American Ball Park, Castellini discussed his management style, which he developed over decades of work in the company founded by his grandfather, J.J. Castellini, in 1896.

"I find the right people for the right managerial positions. Then, I empower them. I don't micromanage, but I do stay focused. I do follow up," he said.

Castellini meets privately with managers, comparing results to budgeted expectations. Their pay packages are performance based, and when they're not measuring up, he is blunt.

"I have passion," he said. "But if you're going to point out to people that they're not doing things right, before that meeting is over you had better pick them back up and make sure they know you have confidence in them. There's never any room for not treating people with dignity and respect."

Castellini points to legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel, a coach known for taking unique approaches to motivate players individually, as a managerial role model. He also points to A.G. Lafley, whose pursuit of innovation has made him something of a national management celebrity since he became Procter & Gamble Co.'s CEO in 2001.

"(Lafley's) focused. When you talk to A.G., you know he's tuned into what you have to say. He's very open. No agenda. Just get the job done. That's the way I've always tried to be."

Castellini's friends say his management approach is the product of common sense and grooming, including years of Jesuit training and an MBA from the Wharton Graduate School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The only son in a family of eight children, Castellini was groomed from an early age to be part of the family business, which resided for most of its history on the banks of the muddy Ohio. Summers were spent pitching ripe watermelons to and from trucks in 90-degree heat. Winters were spent at a Catholic boarding school in Wisconsin.

What his grooming did not include was guidance from his father, Robert, who died in 1952 when Castellini was just 10.

"When you don't have a father prodding, you become a self-starter," he said.

After two years in the Army, ending as a first lieutenant, Castellini joined the family business as executive vice president in 1967. He became CEO three years later. In the 1970s, he put the company on a path toward vertical integration, ultimately buying up companies that could handle shipping, fruit and vegetable processing, ripening and wholesale sourcing so the combined entities could be offered to customers under one umbrella.

Castellini said total revenue from all companies in the Castellini Group -- including fruit and vegetable wholesalers, food processing and trucking companies -- last year approached $750 million. The company employs more than 2,000 in six states, with the largest local contingent in Wilder.

Local venture capitalist Jack Wyant -- a friend, Reds co-owner and CEO of the Blue Chip Venture Co. -- said Castellini practices a "higher order of management" in which he establishes a clear strategy but gives people the freedom to accomplish those goals. When Wyant started his first venture capital fund in 1994, Castellini was one of the first investors recruited. And he continues to be a trusted adviser, someone who helps him critique business plans and evaluate investments.

"He has an ability to look at a balance sheet and single out a problem," said Wyant. "He'll say, 'This is overleveraged,' or, 'The problem here is revenue growth.' He does not overcomplicate anything."

"This guy's a leader," said Bobby Lawrence, a Reds co-owner and a local media investor who partnered with Castellini to buy radio station WLW-AM 700 in the 1980s.

Castellini was an opinionated director, Lawrence said, who had a way of setting high expectations without dictating results.

"Bobby has sort of a natural look of intimidation, but that's not his style," Lawrence said. "He would reel us back in as we stretched the limits. But he never did it as if he owned the company. It wasn't so much he was telling us what to do but reminding us of things we needed to think about."

04-13-2006, 09:11 AM
> "They have access to me and can voice their opinions vociferously if they want. (But) they don't expect to have a profit distribution," Castellini said. "They've been told that. There's not going to be one because anything that's left over goes to player compensation. That's how we're going to stay competitive."

THAT is music to my ears. If I ever use a signature, that just might be it. Awesome!

04-13-2006, 11:02 AM
"I have passion," he said.


Gainesville Red
04-13-2006, 12:20 PM

Are you blunt and direct?

"What do you think?"

My favorite part.