Few people will be following the action at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week as closely as Heidi Ueberroth. In addition to being an avid golfer and a keen fan of the sport, she is co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Company, which owns the resort at which most tournament rounds are played. Ueberroth also has an interest in the event as a director of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the nonprofit organization that hosts the AT&T each year.
Those are high-level posts in a high-level competition, and just the sorts of things the 57-year-old Ueberroth has been doing for much of her business life. And doing them very well.
In some ways, her successes in that realm are not surprising, for she is the daughter of Peter Ueberroth, best known for organizing the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and then serving for five years as commissioner of Major League Baseball. Being involved in the sports business was clearly in her blood.
So was working at Pebble Beach, for her father was part of a group, with Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer, that bought the resort and all its assets in 1999 for $820 million – and then sold minority stakes in the company to select investors at $2 million each. Upon completion of that transaction, Ueberroth the Elder assumed the role of co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Company with another lead investor, Dick Ferris, the former CEO of United Airlines. And when they stepped down from those jobs in January 2020, it was Ueberroth’s daughter Heidi and Ferris’s son Brian who took over, along with longtime Pebble Beach CEO Bill Perocchi.
To the uninitiated, Ueberroth’s ascension to that position might reek of rank nepotism. But she had spent a decade on that board by the time she succeeded her father. And she had established herself as one of the brightest minds and biggest talents in sports, having held a variety of top executive positions at the National Basketball Association over a nearly 20-year stretch. That included serving as president of its international operations, during which time she greatly expanded the NBA brand and business around the world. In addition to being praised for her management skills, Ueberroth came to be regarded as a deft deal maker. Which is one reason why members of the Chinese media took to calling her the “NBA Goddess of Wealth.”
After leaving the league in 2013, Ueberroth, who describes herself as “bicoastal” with residences in northern California and Long Island, founded Globicon, a private investment and advisory firm focused on media, sports, entertainment and hospitality. She also joined the boards of Four Seasons Hotels and Electronic Arts and became a director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the First Tee and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. The fact that she received an invitation in 2019 to become a member of Augusta National also speaks volumes about her stature in the business world as well as her love of golf. Currently, she carries an handicap index of 11.6.
A few weeks before the start of this year’s AT&T, Ueberroth spoke to John Steinbreder about her work at Pebble Beach, her excitement at the U.S. Women’s Open being staged at the resort this summer (and three more times in later years), her passion for travel, the ways that her father and mother mentored her, the things she learned from the late NBA commissioner David Stern and how golf helped her break down language and culture barriers all over the world. What follows is another installment of the 19th Hole:
I was the second of four children and have two sisters and a brother. I grew up in Encino, California, and remember my father instilling in me the importance of being curious, of asking questions and being creative when it came to problem solving. Having a strong work ethic was key, too, and I held a number of summer jobs as a teenager, from catering and being a lifeguard and swim instructor to working at the front desk of a hotel. He also liked the idea of living abroad at some point in our lives and learning a second language.
One of my father’s most important career suggestions was to pursue a job in sales. I was very hesitant at first and dreaded the idea of making cold calls. But I tried out a position as an advertising sales assistant very early in my career. And after a full year of doing that, I was sold.
My father and my mother, Ginny, who have now been married 63 years, ran a travel business, and they built it into the second largest one in the United States, after American Express. She wrote all the checks and managed the books, so from her, I learned about finances, balancing a checkbook and creating and then following a monthly budget.
My parents loved exposing their kids to travel and different cultures. We went to Hong Kong when I was 10 years old, and I remember trying everything when we went out to restaurants to eat. When I was 13, I traveled through France one summer with a close family friend. After I returned to California, I announced that I wanted to study in France one day.
Well, I never studied in France, but I spent my senior year of high school in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. And after graduating from Vanderbilt University, I went to Middlebury College for a six-week, intensive language school in French. I had to sign an agreement not to speak English when I was there. Then, I went to work in Paris, for Ohlmeyer Communications. That was my first job out of college.
Going to Vanderbilt was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had never spent any time in the South before. It was very eye-opening, and I made a lot of great friends. I also learned a lot, in and out of the classroom. I majored in English Literature and minored in French and Art History.
I spent a semester studying in London during my junior year. My professor in my political science class said that whoever received the highest grade would get to go to the Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament. I worked very hard so I could do that, and it was amazing to see Margaret Thatcher in action and to witness those exchanges as an outsider.
I’ve always liked sports, and I played a lot of them as a kid. I was more of a jack of all trades, master of none athlete. I liked swimming and tennis. Soccer, skiing, volleyball and hiking. My father loved golf, but I did not get interested in it until later in life. None of my friends growing up played it. He tried to get me involved, but it wasn’t until I moved to Manhattan after I had been working in Paris that I decided to try it.
I was and continue to be a very big viewer of sports. I loved to watch games on TV with him. He’d tune in, and I was right alongside him.
“I started to play a lot of golf and incorporate it more and more into my work. I played rounds with many different customers in China, for example, and also the Emirates. And no matter how different we were in terms of language or culture, we always found ways to communicate through golf.” – Heidi Ueberroth
We were big baseball fans, even before he became commissioner of Major League Baseball, and had season tickets to the Dodgers. I loved the NFL, too, and watching NBA basketball, either on TV or at the Forum.
I was still with Ohlmeyer when I returned to the States after two years in Paris. And while I was there, ESPN acquired the company. It was around that time that I noticed colleagues of mine going out to play golf with clients. I thought that had to be better than sitting in my cubicle. So I started learning how to play myself. Eventually, I became good enough to feel comfortable doing the same thing.
I went to the NBA in 1994 and was charged initially with negotiating international media rights. I was with the league for 19 years, and the job was so all-consuming that we used to joke that you measured your time working for the league in dog years, not human years. But I enjoyed being there, and I learned so much from the commissioner, David Stern, and also his deputy, Adam Silver, who is commissioner today. About being well-prepared. About knowing our markets and audiences. About working hard. They were so passionate about basketball.
I traveled all over the world for the NBA and loved that. And it was during those trips that I started to play a lot of golf and incorporate it more and more into my work. I played rounds with many different customers in China, for example, and also the Emirates. And no matter how different we were in terms of language or culture, we always found ways to communicate through golf.
My favorite courses? That’s hard to say because I have so many of them. I love courses that are walking courses. I love the elements, too, in a place like Scotland. I am not the least bit deterred by wind or rain. I just like being outside.
I am a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. I have always been interested in international relations. That goes back to my time in college and seeing the Prime Minister’s Questions. Also to my years at the NBA, as David thought it was important for us to understand how the countries in which we were operating functioned. There was a lot of diplomacy in our work, and many of the countries we visited had ministers of sports with whom we had to interact.
And being curious about different countries and cultures means trying to understand how they are governed.
Hobbies? I need more time for hobbies. But when I do have time, I still like skiing and hiking. I am also an avid scuba diver and love diving at night.
Working at Pebble Beach has been great, but it was not easy getting started as co-chairmen, as Brian, Bill and I assumed those roles a couple of months before we had to shut everything down for the first time in the 100-year history of the resort due to COVID. But we have a tremendous management team and managed to get through it all. We are very excited to have four U.S. Opens on our calendar and four U.S. Women’s Opens, with the first of those being played at the resort this summer. The new par-3 course that Tiger designed, The Hay, is doing very well and so is the putting course there and the restaurant. Together, they make the golf and the Pebble Beach experience that much more accessible. The putting course is free, and so is the par-3 for anyone 12 years old and under. And we are excited to be putting on another AT&T.
Being here this week, being a part of this tournament, is just one more reminder of why golf is so great. The camaraderie it promotes. The relationships with people. I think of the times I have been able to spend with my father on the golf course over the past couple of decades and how special they have been. And of all the people I have met over the years through the game. It may well be my most favorite thing about it.
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