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Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs Reveals Secrets of Success at Conversation With a CEO

By Kelsey Milton

Steve Griggs

TAMPA (February 1, 2018) -- Steve Griggs fell in love with hockey early on, beginning at age 3 when he first learned to ice skate. He started playing in organized leagues in preschool.

By the time he was on the hockey team at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Griggs thought he could possibly play in the National Hockey League.

"I knew that dream of playing in the NHL was sort of flickering out," he said of the realization that he had to change his plans a bit. "I could have gone and played minor league hockey in places like Pensacola for the Ice Pilots, making $200 a week, getting our (butts) kicked."

Griggs decided to put his NHL fantasy on hold to earn a master's degree in sports administration from Ohio University. At 22, Griggs told his wife, Janell, that he was one day going to be the CEO of a hockey team. His new dream came true in 2015.

His comments came Thursday morning during a University of South Florida Muma College of Business Conversation with a CEO event, with about 200 business leaders, alumni, faculty and students in attendance. With a stunning view of downtown Tampa as the backdrop, the CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena was in familiar territory as he delivered thoughtful answers to questions from Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem in the banquet room of USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning Simulation (CAMLS).

Griggs shared revealing commentary on the changes facilitated in the Lightning organization when he became CEO close to three years ago and how those changes carried forward to today. Some of his first moves: taking care of employees and transforming the company culture, which he described as broken. Keeping employees engaged in their work, he said, is perhaps the most important key to success.

"It costs nothing to be nice to people," said Griggs of the world-class attitude he and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik exemplify for employees at all levels of the organization.

"When I'm walking through the building, I know every usher, every ticket-taker, and we're all a part of one team," he said. "That's our mantra: We're one team."

For Griggs, repairing a culture in disarray and a lack of communication required two additional key elements: trust in the incoming leadership and comprehension of the Lightning's core values.

"It took time to earn the trust of everyone," he said of the initial steps in the transformation process. "And we had to make sure that everyone understood what the vision was and that they had the resources that came behind all the promises we made."

It is safe to say that Griggs' efforts on those fronts succeeded, evidenced by the echoing on all fronts of the "world-class" mindset initiated by Vinik's vision for the franchise. The team plays in front of sold-out crowds every game and so far this season, the Bolts have the best record of any team in the league. And Tampa is now considered a coveted location for jobs in the league by both staff and players because of the opportunities for growth.

"We built a culture of winning, of being treated world-class," said Griggs. "And you wake up to sunshine every day and go to the hockey rink. That's a pretty darn good lifestyle."

The executive also got personal, imparting insightful lessons on work-life balance and learning from his missteps.

"I'm at work or I'm at home," he said. "The rule is, when I come into the house, my cell phone can't be on my ear ... Stay that extra hour and get your work done."

Griggs revealed that one of his greatest secrets to success lies in learning from mistakes. He once double-seated 400 fans while he was a sales manager for the NBA's Toronto Raptors. His boss called him into the office the next day.

"I said to myself, well, this was a good run," he said. But instead, he got some advice he never forgot.

" 'Mistakes give you experience and experience gives you wisdom,' " Griggs recalled his boss saying. "You've got to learn from your mistakes and I've made plenty."

Griggs stressed the importance of learning and developing throughout his conversation with Limayem and his positive outlook showed as he discussed the Lightning's extensive charitable work, which was just one of the ways Griggs infused more life into the organization.

"The Lightning," he said, "is a community brand."