of Ballparks of America
Since the days of Enron and most recently, Wells Fargo, CEOs have, for the most part, garnered a pretty bad reputation. And while the deeds and the greed of a few have overshadowed the diligence and dedication of many, there are, of course, many exceptions who have built their businesses based on ethics, hard work, and passion. Case in point: meet Hamilton Chang, CEO of Ballparks of America.
After years of taking his own children to Little League and baseball games, Hamilton, one of the company’s founders, began Ballparks of America on the premise of spreading his love of America’s favorite pasttime and recreating the MLB baseball experience for families. And while he may indeed want his company to thrive just as much as the next entrepreneur, he also hoped to create something memorable that will have a lasting impact in the world.
By all accounts, Hamilton is an American success story. Married with four children and the American-born son of Chinese immigrants, Hamilton worked hard and made his way to the top. For twenty-five years, he led groups specializing in risk management, investment banking, and tax-exempt bond trading. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago while in 2013, he was recognized by the Chinese American Association of greater Chicago with the Community Contribution Excellence Award. Oh, and he can sing and play violin too.
Without a doubt, Hamilton is an accomplished go-getter and his stellar resume is living proof that the American dream is alive and well. But perhaps what makes Hamilton’s story so interesting is not just his accolades but the fact that at the height of his career, he took a leap of faith and made a huge and I mean HUGE career change.
Along with Craig Hutson and Doc Synder, Hamilton wanted to spread the joy of baseball by allowing ten to thirteen-year-old children to experience what they call BFF: baseball, friends and family. Located in Branson, Missouri- the Entertainment Capital of the Midwest- Ballparks of America offers these kids a chance to play on 2/3-size replicas of five of the most iconic stadiums in the U.S. while experiencing a week rooming with teammates at its MLB-style Team Suites. Talk about a young baseball fan’s dream.
There are few things that stand out about Ballparks. First is its attention to detail. The staff consists of highly-experienced professionals, the turfs are clean and well-kept while the suites have perks like ping pong and video games. Indeed, if you look carefully, you will see that there is love and care within these fields of dreams. The second and perhaps most important is their emphasis in creating lifelong memories.
While so many businesses these days are paper-cut boxes placed on every corner and the only memory you may have is waiting in line for a macchiato, Hamilton and his partners have done something special: they are not just leaving folks and their children with wonderful memories but they are also creating stories of excitement and comradery for all those who attend-ones that can be shared for years to come.
Gaya Lynn: Your background is in finance, banking and risk management. But then, interesting enough, you took a big risk by departing from these rather traditional sectors in order to become CEO of Ballparks of America. What prompted this rather leap of faith?
Hamilton Chang: Ballparks of America is really a labor of love. The idea of creating a youth baseball destination where teams from across the nation and even the world can come to play each other, but also spend time with your hometown friends and meet new friends from around the world.
Nowhere else in the world can young baseball players live in team suites with all of their friends while their families can gather and enjoy things other than baseball like the amusement parks, golf, go carts, outlet shopping, and even nature hikes, boating and fishing.
GL: The idea to develop Ballparks of America was the “brainchild” of three fathers: Hamilton Chang, B. Craig Hutson and Doc Synder. Partnerships, I believe, can often either be a match made in heaven or a bad marriage of conflicting values and overblown egos. What makes this trio work?
HC: A shared vision to create something very special for young families and players. With complimentary skills sets and knowledge, we only get into disagreements when we don’t “stay in our own lane.” Having defined areas of expertise and responsibilities helps to minimize those incidents.
GL: On CEO Money wtih Michael Yorba you said and I quote: “We hope you can hear it in my voice what our principles are…it is all about the family.”
This emphasis on family and on values seem to be a stark constrast to the corporate greed we saw not long ago. Would you agree?
HC: I’ve always preached to my kids “you can do well and be good.” That has been true my entire career in finance and certainly now at Ballparks. We try to provide the best experience possible while incurring the lowest expenses and charging the lowest fee to make it as affordable as possible. That’s one of the biggest reasons we put Ballparks of America in the affordable vacation capital in the US, Branson MO, #1 family vacation value as rated by Trivago.. A Ballparks of America tournament can be the return of the fun vacation that has been, unfortunately, removed from the family calendar lately because of available time or money! You can have both a great tournament and vacation!
The team at Ballparks of America is able to deliver a superior experience for players, coaches, parents and siblings from around the world, while also acting like a small-town business in the local community supporting Veterans gatherings, or local law enforcement.
GL: Were there any lessons you applied to your business that you can attribute to your Chinese heritage?
HC: First of all: Baseball is HUGE in Asia! Youth baseball players from Asia do extremely well internationally. We had teams at Ballparks from Japan, Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada in our first summer and in fact the team from Japan won the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth 12u World Series.
As for our common heritage, the emphasis on hard work, education, and family has been there for centuries… Baseball, as a sport, requires a great deal of personal dedication (hard work), “Situational Smarts” (education), and support of teammates-especially when they are in a slump (family). Successful Operations of any entity requires these same things.
GL: At times, kids who play sports have so much pressure placed on them to win, and to do well. With your motto being “a pro for a week, a kid forever,” you have created a place where kids can just have fun…does this motto have a special significance to you?
HC: I think ALL kids can “feel” pressure from their parents at many points in their childhood. That’s natural. We’ve all seen that parent who berates the player on the way back to the car, and probably on the entire drive home… We want our Ballparks to be the place where you play on really cool fields (with turf), but when if you lose a game, you walk back to the team suites, hang up your gear and you play video games, or ping pong and then go eat with your buddies. Kinda like what real MLB guys do everyday!
GL: It has been reported that there while many Asian Americans hold managerial and upper positions not many are CEOs. Do you find this lack of Asian CEOs across the board?
HC: Society changes and adapts, sometimes not as quickly as we’d hope, but it does. Each subsequent generation after immigration will have a better experience in the US, it’s been true of almost every immigrant group here in the melting pot of America.
GL: I always like to ask…what advice would you give to your younger self.
HC: How fast life goes… I watch these 10-13-year-old kids playing ball at Ballparks of America and I become wistful.
GL:. Thank you for joining us. Tell us about your experience with www.wfn1.com and how it has benefitted your business.
HC: The experience on wfn1 has been great. Professionals at all levels. Being able to reference the CEO piece on www.wfn1.com has been helpful. The presentation of our information is clean and easily accessible.
For more, please go to http://www.ballparksofamerica.com
With an MFA in writing, Gaya Lynn has been writing professionally for 20+ years and has written for various media outlets both here and in Italy. After working as a media representative for Dick Marconi, one of the original founders of Herbalife, she now represents top artists such as the artist FRISCH and photographer Jimmy Wilson. She is the Co-founder and Executive Creative Director of www.teresaknows.com and the creator of www.internationallyknown.net
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