Speaking from Bloomberg headquarters in New York City for Bloomberg Breakaway on Tuesday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft called the Patriots’ Super Bowl 51 victory “unequivocally the sweetest” of his five championships.
For Kraft, the latest Super Bowl marks another chapter in what’s been an unparalleled run of success, a far cry from where the Patriots were when he bought the team in 1994.
Speaking to the crowd of attendees in an interview hosted by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Megan Murphy, Kraft explained how he believes empowering people, encouraging them to take risks, and creating an ego-less culture has helped the Patriots thrive over the years. That, plus a little bit of luck, too.
“For us it’s simple: we try to collect good people, encourage them to take risks, and be bold,” Kraft said. “And if they’ve taken risks and it hasn’t worked out right, but they’ve done what’s in the best interest of their company or been very logical, we encourage them to do that.
“Because most people are gonna try to play it safe all the time. And then you need your special people who are outside of the box, who do things differently and sometimes whose personalities are quirky, but they have a special talent.”
The message seemed to be pointed toward head coach Bill Belichick, who many people credit for installing a culture of hard work and sacrifice within the Patriots. Kraft admitted that Belichick wasn’t necessarily a sensible hire in 2000, but there was simply something that clicked.
“When I hired him, people told me I shouldn’t. We had to build a stadium, we needed good will from the public. We needed people who interviewed well and were gracious,” Kraft said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “And people sent me tapes of him from Cleveland. In his five years in Cleveland, he had losing records four of the five years.” Kraft said, regardless, “the simpatico of connection” fueled the hire.
Kraft called the Patriots “very lucky” to have Belichick, praising his “intellect and knowledge” of football before pointing to another franchise-changing moment.
“Also, by the way, picking up a quarterback with the 199th pick,” Kraft said, referring to Tom Brady.
“Just think about the draft that just occurred and what went on in the first few rounds, see how people traded so much value just to get up and get a quarterback. And here was a guy who was the last pick in the sixth round.
“And all of these gurus who, we spend millions of dollars on scouting and everything … How everybody missed him is just, it’s really amazing.”
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Kraft said Brady’s hard work sets the tone for the team.
Of course, there are numerous other examples about how the Patriots have created this model of sustained success. Belichick is notoriously studious and has his assistants pore over hours of film to prepare for opponents. Brady has said Belichick has “brainwashed” the Patriots into working hard and putting the team first. Belichick’s personnel rules are also notably unique – he wants to coach players he likes and he care less about talent than he does fit.
Kraft believes all of these things have created a culture free of “corporate B.S.” Where other teams might have internal division, the Patriots try to get people to “check their ego at the door.”
“The kind of business we’re in is a business of egos and a business [of] who gets the credit,” Kraft said. “In any business, division from within can become the biggest enemy … You have personnel people, you have coaches. Very often the coach will say, ‘Well, the personnel people didn’t get me the right people.’ And the personnel people will say ‘Well, the coach didn’t play the proper people at the proper time and they don’t have the right system.’
“It’s excuses, always. And so the real trick is how you get people on the same page and force egos who sometimes have problems working with one another … If you can get people to check their ego at the door and put team first, whatever the team may be, and then once you have it going, having continuity.”
In a league where roster and personnel turnover is rampant, Kraft added, “I never make a change unless I know I have something better to put in its place. I never make change for change’s sake.”
Kraft acknowledges there may be some luck involved with the Patriots. Belichick was perhaps an outside-the-box hire and 31 other teams skipped over Brady several times.
But once the Patriots got the key pieces they needed, they set up a system that’s proven to be contagious within, and they haven’t looked back.