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Tannenbaum Secret: The Company He Keeps

The Jets have searched far and wide to get better this offseason. Rex Ryan sought out Joe Gibbs for work-stoppage advice and former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore visited the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center to discuss red zone attack.

But sometimes the Green & White go outside the football world to enhance professional development. General manager Mike Tannenbaum recently spent time with Bill McDermott, co-CEO at SAP, and Kevin Plank, CEO and chairman at Under Armour.

"Every day, I know how fortunate I am to have this position," Tannenbaum told this week. "It started with the direction from Woody and it's always about trying to get better and taking advantage of the resources available, so we always push ourselves to get better. I've been fortunate to have met some pretty dynamic people."

Mr. T's first stop this offseason was SAP America headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. McDermott was an interesting choice since SAP is a leading provider of business software and it is not a business often heard in NFL circles. But Tannenbaum and McDermott, leader of a company that had more than $12 billion in revenue in 2010 and employs more than 53,000 people, hit it off immediately.

"With Bill, we talked a lot about virtuous ecosystems. As a leader, you want to empower people and not control people — give them ownership in the process," Mr. T said. "I think that really resonated in his company in terms of not just building people up but allowing them to manage the whole process and giving them ownership. With that comes accountability. What came through over and over is the importance of giving people leashes to do their jobs and supporting them in their effort to get the job done."

Not done on his journey, Tannenbaum headed south and arrived at Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore. Upon arrival, he was immediately impressed with the company-wide enthusiasm.

"Plank in two words was dynamic energy. I think what resonated with that was the culture he created," Tannenbaum said. "I was picked up by the driver, who worked for Under Armour, and from the driver to the CEO to everyone in between, there wasn't anyone in that organization who didn't know what Under Armour was trying to be or what their culture is."

Just like McDermott, Plank believes in shared ownership. Every individual is critical in the collective outcome.

"He leads by example and with passionate energy," Mr. T said of Plank. "All the employees have ownership. When they went over the $1 billion sales figure, they celebrated and made a big deal of it. They made everyone feel like they all had a big role in it. Whatever their role was, it was important. Celebrate the victories and hold people accountable. I think you could be there quickly and know who was an Under Armour person because clearly there you would bring your 'A' game every day. When he walked the floor, he'd know tons of people by name."

The genesis of these off-site visits came three years ago when Tannenbaum checked in with a college basketball coach who had just led his team to a third national championship.

"I spent the day with UConn's Jim Calhoun and thought that he was a guy who had sustainable success and didn't always necessarily have a great recruiting class. I thought there was something in his program that must be really good in terms of player development. How could they consistently win and compete for championships and yet have not always great or above-average recruiting classes?"

Tannenbaum frequently talks about long-term success. In his five years as general manager, the Green & White have posted four winning seasons, appeared in the postseason three times and captured four playoff wins. He has everyone on the football staff participating in the professional development campaign and employees are encouraged to think outside the box.

"We've had people go from the barber shop to Howard Stern to everybody in between. The feedback has been great. Everybody stays local," he said. "You sit down with somebody for a day, you pick their brain and everyone has come back and not felt like it wasn't worth their doing."

When all the visits are completed, Mr. T will gather the group in one place and they'll exchange their findings.

"We will have a working lunch where we'll go around the room and exchange the experiences and try to benefit from everyone else doing it," he said. "It's made us better and it's been great for morale. I think it's really what we're all about, knowing how fortunate we are here and trying to always improve ourselves."

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