Kellie Fischer was looking forward to a long career at PriceWaterhouseCoopers when a former PWC manager offered her an opportunity she couldn’t pass up—a chance to work for the Texas Rangers baseball organization. When Fischer joined the Rangers in 1999 as controller, she had no idea what the job entailed.
One of her first tasks was to assist in merging the back-office operations of accounting for the Rangers and the Dallas Stars hockey team. The merger meant combining systems, people, and philosophies, and Fischer temporarily served as controller for both teams in 2001. About the time the merged operations were running smoothly, the owner decided to separate them, and Fischer focused solely on the Rangers and the holding company. First she was named executive vice president of finance, then chief financial officer in 2005.
Fischer explains the precarious financial condition the Rangers were in: “At this time, coincidentally while Alex Rodriguez—the highest-paid athlete at the time—was playing for the Rangers, ownership was consistently seeking more capital through raising debt or equity. I spent a considerable amount of time with investment bankers, financial advisers, lawyers, auditors, and my staff preparing marketing materials to raise capital and conduct financial transactions.” Fischer is grateful for the experience she gained during this time. “Most sports CFOs probably see three or four financing transactions in a career,” she explains. “We were working on a new financing or capital-raising process at least every six months for many years.”
In 2008, Fischer was given the opportunity to manage HR and IT, as well as to assist in managing the consolidated legal operations of the Rangers and the Stars. “The Rangers and I are very fortunate to have the best accounting, HR, IT, and legal experts in baseball,” she says. “I learn from our staff every day.”
Despite all the financing the organization was involved in, expenses surpassed revenues and ownership had to put funds into the clubs. “Early in 2009, the owner confirmed that he would no longer be providing capital to the Rangers and Stars,” Fischer says. “We were out of financing options and now had no way to pay bills. It was the most challenging time I have faced in my career. We defaulted on loans and were on the front page of all the papers, including the Wall Street Journal.” Ultimately the two teams had to be sold. Working with potential buyers filled almost all of Fischer’s time, in addition to watching cash flow and keeping banks and Major League Baseball informed about the status of the teams.
After 14 months of working with advisers, lawyers, analysts, and potential buyers, the Rangers filed for bankruptcy. Fischer says that the different groups—Major League Baseball, the Rangers’ owner, and the potential new owners—all wanted what was best for the team, but had different ideas about what that meant. Throughout the transition, Fischer appreciated how resilient and flexible the Rangers’ employees were. “My team managed to come into work every day with a good attitude, even though they knew it would be long, challenging hours with no end in sight,” she says. “As exciting as it is to say that I work for a professional baseball team, it is the people that get me to jump out of bed each morning and come to work.” The bankruptcy lasted three months. The new ownership group, headed by Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, led the Rangers out of bankruptcy.
During the sale and bankruptcy process Fischer was guided by the words of Robert Hutson, then CFO of the Dallas Stars. He said, “You may not always have this job or even this career, but you always have to be able to wake up in the morning knowing you did what was right.”
Kellie Fischer is the first to admit that being the CFO of a sports organization is unlike being the CFO of any other business entity. “Other than spreadsheets, they are nothing alike,” she says. “For example, maybe you can get passionate about selling soap, cars, or coffee beans. But only in sports can you get 50,000 people to show up and scream with you and sing ‘We Are the Champions’ in unison.”