For this year’s opening gala, we are very lucky to have John Chayka, HBA ‘14, as the keynote speaker. John is currently the GM and President of Hockey Operations of the Arizona Coyotes NHL franchise, and happens to be the youngest GM in league history. We are excited to hear John’s story on September 1st, and hope that you are too. In advance of hearing him speak at opening gala, we took time with John to ask him some questions, here is what he said:
Q: What was your favourite memory of your time in the HBA program?
A: “Well I’m kind of biased, my wife and I went to the HBA program together so you know one of those experiences was one I had with her. I just think it’s the people you come across, whether it’s 48 hour reports or crying through some exams. The difficult times are the ones you remember, the challenges, and things like that. I think the teachers were phenomenal as well, so I have a lot of fond memories of a lot of good people there. Those are the things that stand out, the people.”
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started Stathletes?
A: “I think the biggest challenge was that we were different. We did a lot of education, trying to educate and market why they needed that program and approach that they weren’t taking before. It takes time, it takes strategic level thinking, and it takes some expertise. Obviously I was lacking a lot of the quantitative skills necessary to fully grow the business, so that was a part of my decision to go to Ivey. It gave me the opportunity to learn the technical skills and the people skills that they teach you in terms of leadership and communication. Those are some of the things that really drew me to the program.”
Q: Obviously you have a passion for the sport of hockey, having been drafted into the OHL and then starting a school for athletes who want to improve their game after your career. Do you feel that you would have been able to succeed the way you have without this passion for what you do? For students looking to start their own ventures, do you feel that having a passion for what you do is a key to being successful?
A: “Yes I do. It’s tough to do things that other people aren’t doing. To make decisions that people aren’t willing to make. It’s tough, it’s challenging, but if you don't have a passion for it, if you don’t believe in it wholeheartedly, then you’re just not going to be successful. If you just want to make the easy decisions, the stock decisions that are given to you, that’s what people who are employees do, people that are the mid level manager. That’s fine, not everyone is built to do these type of things, but having passion is a totally necessary component.”
Q: Being the youngest GM in NHL history, did you feel you had to work extra hard to prove yourself to other GMs in the league?
A: “I had to work extra hard over here [in Arizona] with our current situation, being where we were in terms of the life cycle of the team. I think hard work is the only way to succeed. It’s a competitive advantage in itself. It wasn’t necessarily for other GMs, it was for myself, and for the organization to take the next step and grow, so that was my approach.”
Q: What would you say is the biggest external factor that has driven you to your success today?
A: “I’m a big internal guy, I just control what I can control. I have a tight group of people that I lean on and trust in, and they believe in me. And again, if you don’t have a core group of people supporting you, then basically you have nothing. Whether it’s my family, my wife, close friends, people down in the organization, or a core decision making group. Success or not, it’s based upon the decisions with those people that you surround yourself with.”
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Do you anticipate that you’ll still be a GM in the NHL?
A: “That’s a great question. At 16 I sure wasn’t thinking at 26 that I would be an NHL General Manager. I like planning, I think it’s important. I think it’s more important to have a vision of where you’re going. And I think year to year, that’s what you can control. The long lag can have ups and downs. For me, I just want to continue doing what I’m doing right now. Have some success with this franchise, have some fun, but I’m not that kind of guy to just sit around on my heels, I’m looking for things at all times. So maybe it’s the NHL, or maybe it’s something different; I couldn’t tell you.”
Q: When mentioning your name to people, the most common question I get is “how the hell did he do it?”, so, I guess my question is, how did you do it (become an NHL GM at 26)?
A: “That’s a fair question. It’s like a lot of people in life, it’s just timing more than anything, and having a skillset where there's not a lot of supply of it. You time it at the right moment where it kind of becomes in vogue. You meet the right people at the right time, you believe in what you're doing, and you try to take a different approach. That's how a lot of people make a lot of money. They’re first to market, which is really valuable for them. But for me, it was a good segue for becoming a manager in professional sports. It’s as much about luck and timing as it is about the skills and contacts or anything like that. There’s no magic bullet, it just happened to work out for me in this way.”
Q: A lot of successful people have said that habit is the way to success, do you believe in that to be the successful person you want to be, you have to get good habits going?
A: “Discipline is everything. For me the day to day is a grind, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made, there’s a lot that involves a lot of analysis and thought process. If I’m thinking too much about what I want to do, and there’s a lot of chaos in my life, then it clouds my judgment. So my life is predictable, and that’s what I like. So if the unpredictable stuff occurs, I’m able to adjust and adapt and go from there.”
Q: When you find yourself in times of high stress, what do you do to get through that stress and calm yourself down a little bit?
A: “I just embrace it to be honest with you, I don’t really get rattled. I’m just calm and cool for the most part, and I just enjoy it I guess. I don’t know if that’s a genetic thing or learned, but stress is just the fun part for me. If I was the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, I would have nowhere to go but down. There’s no stress there. But for me stress is the fun part of the job.”