Payne, Ulice Jr. 1955–
Ulice Payne, Jr. 1955–
In 2002 Ulice Payne Jr. made history when he became the first African American to head up a Major League Baseball franchise. With his appointment to the role of CEO and president of the Milwaukee Brewers, Payne landed at number 14 on Sports Illustrated’s list of “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports.” However, Payne is quick to dismiss his ethnicity when discussing his job. He told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service that what mattered most as CEO was not skin color but “what you do.” What he did was help push the Brewers on their first upswing in over a decade. Though the team still closed out a losing season, players and sports analysts agreed that the 2003 Brewers played better baseball than they had in years. Payne also used his background as a lawyer and business leader to revamp the entire Brewers operation from marketing to ticket pricing to ballpark amenities. The result has been increased attendance, greater revenue, and fans who for the first time in years are ready to show their faces again.
Ulice Payne, Jr. was born in November of 1955, in Donora, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh. His childhood home was less than a block away from U.S. Steel where his father, Ulice Payne, Sr., worked. Payne seemed destined for the same. “When I grew up, you either worked for the railroad, the coal mine, or the steel mill,” Payne told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Payne’s parents had other ideas. Though his father had just an eighth grade education and his mother, Mary, had not gone beyond high school, they encouraged Payne and his younger brother to look for more out of life. Much of that encouragement came by example. Payne told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “My father always said, ‘I’ll die trying. That’s what I’m going to do.’” By the time the steel mills began to shut down in the mid-1970s, Payne had already escaped the black-sooted skies of Donora for a crisp college campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
At Marquette University, six-foot-six Payne made his mark in basketball. He was a member of the school’s team when it won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in 1977. After earning his degree in 1978, Payne was picked by the Detroit Pistons during the 1978 National Basketball Association draft. He was later cut from the team. “It was the first time in my life that I didn’t make the cut
At a Glance…
Born in November of 1955, in Donora, PA; son of Mary and Ulice Payne Sr.; married Carmella Payne; children: Amber, Ulice III. Education: Marquette University, BA, business administration, 1978; Marquette University Law School, JD, law degree, 1982; University of London, England, attended the Masters of Law program, 1986-88.
Career: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, law clerk, 1982-83; Wisconsin commissioner of securities, 1985-87; private practice, international law, 1988-98; International Business Team chair, 1998-2002; Foley & Lardner Law Firm, Milwaukee Office, lawyer, 1998-2002; managing partner, 2002; Milwaukee Brewers, CEO, 2002-03.
Selected memberships: Board of directors: Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc; National Multiple Sclerosis Society Wisconsin Chapter; YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee; Wisconsin Energy Corporation; Badger Meter, Inc.; Midwest Express Holdings, Inc.; State Financial Services Corporation; Bradley Center Sports and Entertainment Corporation; Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Awards: Member, Marquette University’s 1977 NCAA championship basketball team; ranked 14, “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports,” Sports Illustrated, 2003.
Addresses: Home —Greenfield, WI.
and that was very traumatic for me,” he recalled to the On Milwaukee website. He bounced back by hitting the books. “I wanted to defy the assumption of the black ballplayer who’s stupid,” Payne told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’ve always tried to distinguish myself by doing the little extra to get ahead.” That extra effort earned Payne a law degree from Marquette in 1982.
Following law school, Payne clerked at a Milwaukee Court of Appeals court for a year before joining a private firm as a securities lawyer. In 1985 Payne was appointed commissioner of securities for the State of Wisconsin, the first African American to hold the position. During this time, Payne began making regular trans-Atlantic commutes to study for a master’s of law degree at the University of London in England. This marked a new career trajectory for Payne—international law. He left the Securities Commission in 1987 and went into private practice, spending the next decade working worldwide. “I’ve been in 27 countries as an international lawyer,” he told the On Milwaukee website. In 1998 Payne was hired as chairman of the international business team at Foley & Lardner, the largest law firm in Wisconsin and the 11th-largest in the United States.
Though it generally takes seven to eight years to become a partner at a major law firm, Payne reached that plateau just four years after joining Foley. The promotion made Payne the firm’s first African-American managing partner. “Ulice was selected based on his reputation and his stature in the firm and my conviction that he was the absolute best person for the job,” Foley & Lardner’s CEO told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, he also acknowledged the significance of Payne’s promotion. “No person of color has ever risen to Ulice’s position in this firm, and we’re sensitive to that fact.” According to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal citing 2001-02 national statistics, “Minority attorneys account for 3.55% of partners in 625 major law firms nationwide.” Payne acknowledged this imbalance. “When you’re black, you always have to prove yourself,” he told the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal. “But if I had worried about the numbers, I wouldn’t be here.” Payne has worked to make it easier for other minorities to follow his footsteps, donating to youth programs and speaking about law careers to African-American students in public schools.
By the time Payne reached the upper echelons at Foley & Lardner, he was already a prominent figure in Milwaukee. As a lawyer, he had served on the boards of several bar associations. As a businessman, he had led various public organizations and had sat on the boards of several private corporations. However, it was his role as a board member of Miller Park stadium—current home of the Milwaukee Brewers—that introduced him to the business of sports. “[The board] took a lot of body blows,” Payne was quoted by the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service as saying of the difficult negotiations to fund the project. At the time the Milwaukee Brewers were wallowing at the bottom of the national baseball pool with a losing streak that stretched back to 1992. The stadium was a hard sell to a jaded public, but the board succeeded, in part by promising that the new stadium would bring with it a more competitive payroll, and in turn, better players.
By the fall of 2002 the Milwaukee Brewers were still on a downward spiral, losing 106 games to cinch their tenth consecutive losing season. Fans were disgusted and players dejected. The stadium had failed to turn around the team’s fortunes and was being underutilized outside of baseball. The Brewers decided to make drastic changes and began to look for a new CEO. They soon turned to Payne. Though he had no background in baseball, his skill as a lawyer, board member, and college athlete made him a natural choice. Community leaders agreed. “He’s very perceptive and he has a sports background. I think he will do a great job,” Judge Terence Evans, Payne’s former employer at the Court of Appeals, told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “Whatever he attempts is with the intent of succeeding,” Wisconsin State Representative Mickey Lehman said in the same article. “He puts his reputation on the line. And I believe he has made a commitment to make the franchise a winner, on the field and financially.”
Payne’s appointment also met with approval among lobbyists pushing for more minority representation in the office suites of major league sports. “Clearly, this is very significant,” Richard Lapchick, head of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “Anytime there is a first of this magnitude, an African-American as president of a team, it’s critically important.” Payne was succinct in his public responses to this milestone. “I’ve been in this situation before,” he told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service referring to his “firsts” at the Securities Commission and Foley & Lardner. “I’ve found that if I emphasize [my ethnicity], it would take away from who I was.… I don’t believe I was chosen for that.” He was not. Payne was chosen to take on what the Wisconsin State Journal called the “Herculean—some would say hopeless—task of bringing the Brewers back to life.”
Payne brought to the post both an honest assessment of the team’s status and a willingness to change it. “I’m not going to kid you how deep a hole we’re in,” he told the Capital Times. “I don’t like saying it. It won’t help me sell tickets, OK? But for me to have any credibility with the market, I’ve got to admit where I am.” He continued in the same article, “There’s a philosophy I brought to the table. I call it, ‘Manage by fact.’ We manage by fact, not by forecast, not by hope, what others say, what others expect.” The facts were clear: a losing record, dwindling revenue, and an unclear focus for the future. Payne tackled these problems like a big business CEO, negotiating a new labor agreement, implementing a lucrative new revenue sharing plan, and aggressively marketing Miller Park to non-baseball events from rock concerts to school sports. He also completely overhauled the coaching staff, releasing all but one coach and hiring a new manager, Ned Yost, a 12-year veteran of the successful Atlanta Braves. Payne also created the team’s first mission statement. According to the Capital Times, it says, in part, that the Brewers are “committed to fielding a competitive team both on and off the field that exemplifies a strong work ethic, respect for the game, and loyalty to our fans.”
Payne began reaching out to fans with some dramatic moves including releasing several players. “We made a … ‘contract with our fans,’” Payne told the On Milwaukee website. “We can’t necessarily win every game, but we can try to win every game. We found, by listening to our fans, what they were most disappointed with [was that] the players didn’t care. … They would give up if they were down 2-0 in the second inning. The first thing we said was we are going to be one of the hardest working teams in the Central Division. And anybody who wasn’t playing hard, wasn’t going to play.” Payne has also implemented programs designed to attract new fans. He told the Capital Times, “I might develop a player, but more importantly I’m going to develop a fan.” He created youth baseball programs and allowed kids to run the bases after day games. A “Women on Wednesday” promotion was designed to attract more female fans and included perks such as free massages and food demonstrations.
However, all the fan initiatives in the world would not work if the Brewers continued to lose. “People follow their sports franchise because they live vicariously through these athletes who want to win,” Payne told the On Milwaukee website. Payne made it his mission to make the players want to win. He all but forbade any pessimism on the part of the players and coaches. With a monumental leap of faith, Payne told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, “Our job is to win the Central Division. I’m not saying I would be upset if we don’t win, but how can you win it if you don’t plan to?” It was a simple enough philosophy but it brought about major changes. Though the team once again came in last in their division, they had improved remarkably over the previous year. They went from 56 wins in 2002 to 68 in 2003. They also enjoyed a ten-game winning streak mid-August. Players and coaches alike contributed the upswing to the team’s new attitude. Of the new team veteran player Geoff Jenkins said to the MLB website, “It’s a lot different.” Bill Castro, the only coach retained by the Payne administration, added, “Nobody yells and screams. There is just more communication.”
Along with rekindling the interest of the fans and reinvigorating the attitude of the players, Payne has also put renewed focus on the team’s A and AA leagues—the minor league teams whose players could eventually move up to the Brewers “We had eight All Stars selected from [our AA team],” Payne told the On Milwaukee website. “We see real players in the system. Our goal is to bring them along slowly and 2005 should be the time when four or five of those young men should be on the ball club.” Other new talent will come to the team during 2004, when Payne plans on aggressively recruiting new players using $15 million the team earned from Payne’s new revenue sharing plan. All of these moves are sure to bolster the Brewers’s major league standings. “We’ve got our attitude right, we’ve got our focus and our work ethic,” Yost told the MLB website. “We’ve got the right coaches in place to work hard.… expectations are going to rise next year for us.” “I want to win the World Series. My mission is to win here,” Payne told the On Milwaukee website with typical optimism. “I believe it. It will come. I think we’re perfectly situated with the new ball park, the new labor agreement, and a chance for the ball club in the minds of the public.”
Things, however, went sour between Payne and the Brewers organization. On November 9, 2003, Payne told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that most of his plans for rebuilding the team had been destroyed by other executive members of the organization who had voted to slash the 2004 payroll. While many in the Brewers organization claimed that Payne had signed the budget himself, Payne continued to hold that he was being kept out of the loop and undercut. By November 21, 2003, Payne had agreed to allow his four year contract to be bought out for $2.7 million. As he told a Milwaukee television news program, later quoted on ESPN ’s website, “I wish the team the best and the fans the best as I leave. No hard feelings.”
Capital Times (Madison, WI), July 29, 2003.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 30, 2002; February 27, 2003.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 14, 2002, p. 1.
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), April 3, 2003, p. C1.
“Milwaukee Talks: Ulice Payne,” On Milwaukee, www.onmilwaukee.com/buzz/articles/payne.html (August 22, 2003).
“Payne Had Four Years Left on Deal,” ESPN, http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?Id=1667672 (December 18, 2003).
“Turning Things Around in Milwaukee,” MLB, http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mil/news/mil_news.jsp?ymd=20030926&content_id=545110&vkey=news_mil&fext=.jsp&c_id=mil (September 26, 2003).
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