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NBA Great Bill Walton on Leadership, Authenticity and Culture

By Shay Hughes

Last month Hughes Marino had the extraordinary opportunity to spend an afternoon with one of the NBA’s all-time greatest athletes, Bill Walton, who spoke on three topics that are incredibly near to our hearts: leadership, authenticity and culture.

The lunchtime event, which we were honored to co-host along with Opus Bank and the Irvine Company, was held in a breathtaking penthouse office space on the 18th floor of 520 Newport Center. With floor-to-ceiling windows offering 360-degree views of the Pacific, the Back Bay, Fashion Island and the mountains, the gorgeous venue was generously provided by the Irvine Company.


Bill, who was interviewed onstage by our own David Marino, was generous with his time, and vulnerable in sharing his life stories, which ran the gamut from his greatest successes to his darkest challenges. His intense passion for life, and his gratitude for all that he’s been fortunate to experience (and now share with others) actually gave me goosebumps!

Walton and Hughes Marino Executive Vice President David Marino.

At 62 years young, Bill says he’s never been happier or healthier, and it showed. He took to the stage instantly telling jokes and regaling us with stories about growing up in San Diego, teasing that, in those days, there wasn’t much reason for him to venture into Orange County. Now, he said, thanks to the Irvine Company, Hughes Marino, and companies like Opus Bank, the region is thriving, gorgeous and a true destination.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from the afternoon.

Bill Walton on Leadership

There is no denying the influential role coaching legend John Wooden played in Bill’s life. In fact, Bill seemed far more comfortable giving credit to his coach for being a leader, than he was talking about himself in a leadership role. He frequently mentioned Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, which took me back to my youth, as that very pyramid was in my childhood home. Today we have the Pyramid of Success hanging proudly in each of our Hughes Marino offices.

The pyramid of success hangs in the gym of Hughes Marino’s San Diego headquarters.

As Bill told it, Wooden was emphatic about the importance of teamwork. “In order to be a champion at everything you need a team supporting you. There is nothing more important than being on a team. Leaders get to where they are because so many people have supported them,” Bill said. Likewise, he remembered Wooden insisting that leading teams always work on their weaknesses. Strengths will always be there to fall back on, but in order to be a team that truly leads you must work on your weaknesses above all else.

Bill also relayed some fascinating details regarding how little Wooden cared about what their opponents were doing. “We never watched film, we never tried to study other teams. We focused on relentless offensive attack,” he says.

John Wooden coached a young Bill Walton at UCLA
Wooden (center) coached a young Walton (right) at UCLA. Image via nydailynews.com.

In Bill’s experience, having been shaped by some of the greatest coaches of all time, he also noted that leaders aren’t just leaders in their industry, they are leaders in all that they do. He recalled with great affection that Wooden wanted his players to be leaders on the court and off of the court. To this day, Bill’s tireless charitable work is a clear indication that this principle has stuck with him throughout his life.

Bill tied all of his thoughts on leadership together by stating that, in his mind, Wooden was a leader like no other, completely absent of ego, who just wanted to help his players better themselves. He would tell them “always do your best and your best will be good enough.” According to Bill, “leadership is what I can do to make you better.”

Bill Walton on Culture

When David asked Bill for his thoughts on culture, Bill turned the tables on him. “You want to see a great culture? Look at your office in San Diego!” he said with a smile. Obviously, that meant a lot to me, as our culture isn’t just something we talk about at Hughes Marino. In reality, it is everything to us. Just like the basketball teams Bill had the honor of playing for, achieving victory time and again, our greatest victory is rooted in our amazing team of people.

Bill Walton on Authenticity

It is rare to hear a speaker as authentic as Bill, and I found his openness, honesty and sense of humor to be incredibly refreshing. Authenticity is at the core of everything we do at Hughes Marino, (see HM core value #10: “Be authentic, grateful and humble,”) and I know I appreciated his candor, as did everyone else in the audience.

Toward the end of his talk, Bill spoke passionately about his work for various nonprofit organizations, revealing a side of himself completely separate from basketball. He is passionate about helping disabled veterans and people born with disabilities who need prosthetic limbs to get in the game of life. He even participates in a bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego each year to raise money for the cause.

Bill honored Stephen Gordon, Chairman, CEO & President of Opus Bank, by presenting him with a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

Bill’s authenticity shines through most of all when discussing the things he is passionate about, including his love of the Grateful Dead. The world’s biggest Deadhead, or at least its tallest, Bill has been attending their concerts (more than 850 and counting) for decades.

He credits fellow players for inspiring him to work harder, citing Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as particular mentors and friends. He laughs at himself for being what he called “Wooden’s easiest recruit, but worst nightmare.”

An endearing quality, Bill is unapologetic about who he is and what matters to him. After nearly 40 orthopedic surgeries and procedures, many of which had the potential to make him permanently disabled, he spoke about how grateful he is to be where he is today.

We couldn’t be more grateful to Bill for taking the time to share his stories with us, and remind us of the importance of teamwork, leadership, and doing what you love. It was truly an honor for us to host this event, and we thank Bill for his inspiring words.

Shay Hughes is president, COO, and owner of Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company specializing in tenant representation and building purchases with offices across the nation. Shay writes about business leadership and company culture on her blog, Lead from Within. Contact Shay at 1-844-662-6635 or shay.hughes@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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