“My goal is to always educate people and pass along all the knowledge I have to them so they can learn and do better. I will judge my career not based upon the heights that I reach, but based upon the heights that they reach."
Chief Human Resources Officer
Q & A with Michael ONeill
Chief Human Resources Officer
On his education and first work experiences
I started out at St. John’s and received my accounting degree. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I took a year in between and decided to go work in accounting to try and decide what I wanted to do. I decided on law school so I went to New York Law School and when I graduated, the legal market was not that great, especially for new attorneys. I started in a small firm where they wanted me to work half the time learning to practice law and the other half running their office, including the Human Resources so that was my first entrée into human resources. After that I went out and practiced law for a couple of years doing general business law: franchise agreements, contracts and real estate, but I made my way back to Human Resources where I have been for the past 20+ years.
On breaking into his career in human resources
My thought was not to be a lawyer the rest of my life, where I bill hours and went to court and did closings or transaction work. My thought was I was more apt to be heading the law firm as the businessperson than being a lawyer at the law firm. I ended up getting a call back from that first place I worked for, and they said they wanted me to come back and take a bigger role in the running of the whole firm. I enjoyed that for a couple of years, but I realized I needed to branch out to someplace different. That led me to my first job in finance at Warburg Pincus, which is a private equity firm. The job there was going to be mostly human resources, so that was really my first step into, ‘OK, you’re now a human resources person.’ And I remember the interview so well because my future boss was asking me questions like, ‘How do I know you’re not going to just take this job and a year later you’re going to go out and practice law?’ I had to convince her I was ready to make the leap to becoming an HR person. That one conversation and getting that role led me to where I am 20-something years later.
On finding his new role with the MLBPA
I saw a recruiter who had posted the position, and she’s a friend of mine who I’ve known for years and I asked her about it. At that point I was the Chief Human Resource Officer for a law firm of 1,600 people. Conceptually to most people a 65-person union didn’t make sense to the person who is looking to further their career in some way, but that’s not who I am. Who I am is, that I want to be a part of a smaller organization and help to develop and grow that organization in certain ways.
At first I felt, ‘They’re probably not going to consider me. They’re probably going to consider me overqualified.’ When I talked to the recruiter, we left it as, ‘OK, let’s see what happens and we’ll go on.’ Then she calls me back and told me that essentially they weren’t finding what they really wanted out of the people they were getting resumes from. At that point I said just, ‘Submit me,’ and if they’re OK with my experience and understanding I really do want to be at a place that’s dynamic and grow, and I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life.
I have been a Yankees fan my whole life. It’s such a great fit for me because I kind of live and breathe the business of baseball, even sometimes more than the sport of baseball. It was honestly the best-case scenario I can think of. You think about jobs sometimes and you never think of something like this as being a possibility because you don’t even know it exists in some ways. One reason why I felt this was the real, right opportunity for me was because growing up my dream job wasn’t to play shortstop for the Yankees. It was really to be the general manager of the Yankees. So when you think about how that kind of lends itself to this type of role, it’s very exciting for me.
On his goals
I want to make human resources something that is helpful to both the employees and the organization. In doing that, HR has to be available to the employees and understanding of the employees’ needs. I’m a very employee-centric HR type of person. It doesn’t mean I don’t look out for the company’s best interest; I always do that. In the end, I think I do a really good job communicating why something has to be the way it is. I want to really be a helpful HR. I want to help solve people’s problems. I want to help get them the things they need to succeed in the union.
On helping to further the rights of Major League Baseball Players
First, I think there’s this perception that all the players make $30 million a year and that they’re all financially well-off. For me it started earlier on with the players and things like retirement and healthcare benefits, where it’s dovetailed into HR a little bit. They weren’t actually being looked after, so when the players union started to get involved in that, that’s something that hit me. I think the way the union takes care of its players – and the MLBPA being the strongest union out there – that was always a big thing to me. Being a part of the union and making a difference in their life going forward, not just in their playing days but beyond, would be a major draw to me. I also have always thought that if a player is making $30 million a year it’s because an owner is making $300 million a year.
On his hobbies and teaching experience
I like doing puzzles and playing games. I’m a big mixed martial arts fan. About five years ago, I started going back to the gym and I found more of my passion in cross-fit type training classes and it has become a major part of my life.
I teach online masters level classes at Penn State and Villanova. The Penn State classes are finance for HR people, and the Villanova class is more of an understanding-finance type class for HR and project managers. I’ve been doing that the last few years, and my goal at work is the same as my goal in life, which is, ‘I want to be a teacher.’ I want to teach people and educate them and pass along all the knowledge I have to them so they can learn and do better. I will judge my career not based upon the heights that I reach, but based upon the heights that they reach.