Following a controversial chapter, the new owners of the Washington Commanders, a group led by private equity titan Josh Harris, is attempting to forge a new path with the Commanders by tapping Craig Fischer as finance chief, his first executive hire. Richard Torrenzano gives his take on what Fischer must do inside the organization to Fortune’s Sheryl Estrada.
August 11, 2023 at 7:14 AM EDT
A new CFO is taking the field.
Craig Fischer was hired as the new CFO of the Washington Commanders, sources told the Washington Post, according to a report published on Wednesday. I reached out to the Commanders, who haven’t yet made a public announcement, and a spokesperson confirmed that Fischer joined the organization on July 24. Fischer was previously CFO of Hemisphere Media Group, Inc., a Spanish language media company, for 10 years. Before that, he was a partner at InterMedia Partners, a private equity investment fund, for several years, and a former EVP of business development at the Yes Network.
The NFL announced on July 20 that longtime owner Dan Snyder sold the Commanders to a group led by private equity titan Josh Harris (you can read more about the whole controversy surrounding Snyder’s departure here and the league’s fines levied again him here). The price tag was $6.05 billion, which is a record amount for any pro sports team. At one time, Jeff Bezos weighed a bid, but ultimately took his hat out of the ring, Bloomberg reported in April. Harris’ group of more than 10 partners includes basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and D.C.-area billionaire Mitchell Rales.
‘A strong, central role’
Following that controversial chapter, Harris is attempting to forge a new path with the Commanders by tapping Fischer as finance chief, his first executive hire.
I spoke to Richard Torrenzano, CEO of The Torrenzano Group, a strategic communications and high-stakes issues management firm based in New York, to get his take on what Fischer must do inside the organization. His first responsibility is to make sure everything is in order by working with an outside accounting firm, recommends Torrenzano. Fischer has to address both the financial management issue and the issue of effectively running the team, and this requires transparency, he says.
Fischer should develop short-term and long-term milestones that he can share publicly, which will provide credibility for him amongst “the league, the fans, media, and others, that he’s moving in the right direction, and that he is serious about what he’s doing,” says Torrenzano, a former member of the New York Stock Exchange management and executive committees. “I don’t think any of this is going to be instant,” he says. “I think he needs a little running room.”
In times of crisis, the CFO can play “a strong, central role, alongside executive peers, in stabilizing the business and positioning it to thrive when conditions improve,” according to McKinsey research. “The CFO is the leader, after all, who most directly contributes to a company’s financial health and organizational resilience day to day,” according to McKinsey.
And in having a central role, that means increased collaboration, and not remaining in the back office. “C-suites have become more public, in the sense that people want to know who they are,” Torrenzano says.
Though the franchise has diehard fans, the team hasn’t won any championships lately. “In 24 seasons under Snyder’s ownership, the Commanders posted a 164-220-2 record with six playoff appearances, the NFL said in the announcement on the team’s new ownership. “Washington last made the playoffs following the 2020 regular season and last won a playoff game following the 2005 regular season.”
The owners also play a role in rebuilding trust with fans, Torrenzano says. It will require some of the well-known team owners like Magic Johnson, “being visible at games, supporting the CFO, and other activities as well,” he says.
“From day one, it is our top priority to deliver a championship-caliber team, and we will strive every day to ensure that we are a franchise this city and our fans can be proud of,” Harris, 58, the managing partner of the Commanders ownership group, said in a statement about acquiring the Commanders.
He has an estimated net worth of $7.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The majority of his wealth is derived from shareholdings and earnings as cofounder of Apollo Global Management Inc.
After leaving Apollo amid some controversy, Harris founded his investment firm, 26North Partners. He is also founder, and cochairman of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which he runs with Blackstone Inc. executive David Blitzer. The firm has stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
As Harris continues to shape the executive team and revamp the brand, a focus on finance will surely be at the forefront.
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