NBA2K League senior VP explains game strategy for career success

November 2018

Jay Murdock

“What are the things that give you goosebumps? What are the things you’re passionate about? What are the things that you find yourself consuming when you don’t have to?”

Finding those things is one part of Aaron Ryan’s advice to any student who hasn’t decided what they want to do for a career, and is part of the path that led him to his current role as Senior Vice President of Business Operations for the NBA 2K League.

Ryan spoke to a full house of students and faculty in Taylor Auditorium on Tuesday night as part of the Executive Speaker Series. He played soccer for Miami and spent some time as a business major before graduating with a political science degree in 1996 and going to work for the NBA, spending his late nights cataloging the day’s game highlights.

From there, he continued to grow, becoming a senior manager at NBA Entertainment, a VP for team marketing and business operations, and a senior VP for Global Marketing Partnerships at USA Basketball. But after more than 20 years working in the NBA, Ryan found himself rhetorically asking the league a question.

“What are the priorities of this organization going forward? Where is the NBA going where I can leverage all this experience -- live programing and entertainment, broadcast operations, production, storytelling, and consulting -- in a meaningful way for the company?” he explained. “The answer was the NBA 2K League.”

Starting with the already-popular NBA 2K video game franchise, Ryan and the NBA built an online presence, recruited more than 100 players, created a 17-team league, and ran a successful first season, all within 18 months. Now, with 1.6 million daily users and an additional 4 million monthly users, Ryan is working to add franchises, increase global reach, and understand the barriers that female and international players may face.

Along his career, Ryan said he’s learned the importance of a few actions that students can take before and during their careers that will help them continue to grow within whatever organization they join.

The first, he said, is to always seek access to learning. “It’s something that most managers and organizations won’t deny you. Not every organization can provide you with a raise, or give you a promotion. But access to knowledge and learning has been my currency, and its paid dividends all throughout my career,” Ryan explained.

Once students are working, Ryan pointed out, they need to recognize the attributes of their coworkers. “What is common about those folks that are successful in this company? Where does the equity gravitate? Where are the people who have weight in what they say and how they make decisions? Pick up on those common traits, because those are traits you probably need to exhibit and gain for yourself,” he remarked.

Third, Ryan said, is the importance of maintaining proximity to what matters, both for the business and yourself. “It is proximity to revenue, it is proximity to those with influence, and it is proximity to the priorities of the organization,” he noted. Once you’ve discovered your own passions, “Try to create and map out career paths that are attached to your passion in some way. It doesn’t have to be so close or right next to it. Find a path that’s in some reasonable proximity to your passion.”

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