After several months of searching for a new team president, the Chicago Blackhawks finally announced their decision on Wednesday afternoon. The Blackhawks will be splitting their presidency into two separate positions, with Jaime Faulkner hired as the new president of business operations, and Stan Bowman elevated to president of hockey operations while remaining as general manager. Danny Wirtz, who served as interim president after John McDonough was fired on April 27, was also named Chief Executive Officer.
We are excited to announce a new structure for our executive leadership team!
▪️ Danny Wirtz: Chief Executive Officer
▪️ Jaime Faulkner: President of Business Operations
▪️ Stan Bowman: President of Hockey Operations and General Manager pic.twitter.com/YNEG9T6hWj
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 16, 2020
“On the hockey side, we have the process we’re undergoing to rebuild and refortify our [team],” Wirtz said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on splitting the position into two branches. “And then on the business side, we have these high aspirations to reimagine the potential of hockey. It was almost an impossible task to find a unicorn that had the domain expertise to figure both those things at the same time.”
Blackhawks fans are not happy with the decision to elevate Bowman to the president of hockey operations, and their gripe comes with fair reason. Instead of bringing in another sharp hockey mind to aid in the rebuilding process, the Hawks’ front office was too stubborn to bring in a fresh set of eyes and decided to stay in-house. Well-respected and long-tenured staff members like Al MacIsaac and Jay Blunk were also passed over in favor of Bowman, despite holding similar positions to the one the team was searching for.
“You can bring in new for the sake of new, or you can work with existing folks who have a hungry curiosity to grow and learn and develop,” Wirtz said on Friday. “What I really took away from Stan was that he wasn’t satisfied. He was not a finished product. He was interested in advancing himself, advancing our hockey operations. And so he exhibited just as much of the aspiration as we have on our business side.”
Bowman is about to undergo his 19th season with the Blackhawks, but it will be unlike any he has experienced in the past. Not only is Bowman still the Hawks’ general manager, but he is now solely in control of all their hockey operations going forward without anyone to oversee his decisions. For a guy who has made numerous amounts of bothersome transactions during his tenure as GM, the Blackhawks sure have peculiar confidence in Bowman to right the ship. Only time will tell if that confidence pays off.
“This is a special day for the Blackhawks organization and shows the bright future ahead for the team,” Bowman wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “I would like to thank Rocky and Danny Wirtz for their continued support and the opportunity to serve in this new role… I look forward to partnering with Jaime in the coming years. I enjoyed our conversations as a part of her interview process and I’m eager to learn from her as we collaborate on new initiatives. Jaime brings fresh ideas coupled with an analytical view of the industry. This new perspective will prove valuable as we shape the future vision of the Blackhawks.”
However, Bowman’s new title will not result in any substantial changes to the Blackhawks roster or their rebuilding process. In fact, Bowman’s day-to-day operations will remain the same for the most part. Instead, Wirtz spoke about the different levels of accountability and autonomy that Bowman now has when asked about the promotion.
“The way in which it’s structured is to give him the accountability, the complete line of sight, and obviously the support and empowerment from us,” Wirtz said. “He has the accountability and he’s empowered to go and make the decisions and do the things we need to do to get our team back to that elite level.”
“Hockey-wise, for the most part, things are going to continue on the way they’ve been,” Bowman added.
Lost in the mess of Bowman being named president of hockey operations was the tremendous story of Faulkner brought on to serve as the Blackhawks’ new president of business operations. In 2013, Faulkner founded E15, which serves as a consulting company and is heavily involved in food and beverage sales for Chicago sports venues. One of the venues Faulkner spent a lot of time working with over the years was the United Center.
“[I’ve learned] a lot about how to program the fan experience in a dual-tenant building,” Faulkner said. “What we do for the Blackhawks needs to also work for its partner at the United Center. Learning how to build an experience that meets the needs of all fanbases is important.”
While Bowman runs the show on the ice, Faulkner will take care of the business side. She will oversee the Blackhawks’ fanbase growth, marketing, sales, corporate partnerships, and brand management, in addition to many other departments. Faulkner also plans to use analytics and data to help the Hawks make up the lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to ground everything in data, insights, and research. If we don’t understand what our current fans want, if we can’t predict what their needs will be even before they know it, we’re not going to be able to push the experience forward.”
What This Means Going Forward
The addition of Faulkner to the business side of the organization makes plenty of sense, but the decision to promote Bowman will be debated throughout the course of next season (and potentially longer). If the Blackhawks go through a successful rebuild under Bowman’s lead, then this will be looked back at as a wise choice. But if Bowman leads the Blackhawks into the abyss, this entire process will be considered a disaster. Either way, it is Bowman’s job — and Bowman’s job alone — to try and fix the on-ice product in Chicago.
“You want to give those leaders the autonomy to make those decisions and hold them accountable for those decisions,” Wirtz said. “So that’s really what it’s about more going forward [rather] than trying to fix something that may or may not have been there before.”