Dr. Diego Gutierrez is an assistant professor of marketing and management at Rockhurst University. He played professional soccer from 1996-2008 and won an MLS title in 1998.
He consults, announces MLS soccer and teaches. He specializes in business development and sales and marketing in various industries.
Joel Goldberg: Thanks for coming on the podcast. You're one of those guys that we could go five hours because you've got so much going on in your life. And I like asking this to people that have so much going on. How would you define yourself? Because it's not simple enough to call you a former professional soccer player. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Well, it's interesting you asked that question, Joel, because it's hard. I think throughout my life it's been hard for me to define myself into one specific role. However, I think now I'm at a point in life where I've experienced so much and I've been around the block a few times where I just feel like I'm needing to settle down a little bit. And that's probably why I decided to pursue a career in academia. It's a little bit less hectic, a little bit more concentrated, more focused, because like as you said, there were periods in my past that it seemed like there were 20 balls, different juggle at once. So, yeah, I think a professor, but also somebody that has grown in a by cultural world and I'm certainly reaping the benefits from that. Joel Goldberg: Well, we're sitting here right now in your office at Rockhurst University. So I do want to go back to your upbringing, which is really interesting to me for a kid that grew up in Columbia and ended up in the States, and now as a professor and among many other things in the US teaching kids. And you had a professional soccer career. Tell me about your role here at Rockhurst. I'm looking at your dissertation, Impact of Special Events and Fan Player Bonding on Identified Fan Consumption: A Study of Professional Soccer in the United States by Diego Gutierrez. And when you open this up, if you were to say to me, "I can't believe I did this." I don't know how you did it. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: I mean, look, I know how people do it. I couldn't do it, I guess is what I'm saying. You must've really wanted this. How did you end up becoming a professor? Diego Gutierrez: It's ironic because when you look at... I mean, if you were to ask my mother if she would have ever thought that I would become an academic and I mean, she would have told you, you were crazy, mainly because I don't think I was... It's not that I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't applied enough when I grew up and I didn't have the type of environment where it demanded of me that applied myself in school. I had one thing in mind when I was growing up, and that was to be a professional soccer player. And I devoted pretty much all of my time to it. However, as I started growing older, already playing professionally, when I had kids, I realized that it was something that I was probably going to need. Diego Gutierrez: Thankfully, I had really good mentors. One of them right across the hall, Dr. Tony Tocco, who by the way has been at the university for 50 years now. I had the great privilege of playing for him and really sitting with them, and for him to make me understand, "Listen, the ball's going to stop rolling at some point and you're going to need something else." And so focusing on that and really understanding it once I got married and had kids is something that I think really moved me and started to channel me towards really trying to identify what it was that I wanted to do with my second life. Joel Goldberg: Was it a new... Not a new change. I mean, obviously going from professional sports to academia is many would say a 1 to 80. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: Is it a completely new life or is it an addition to that life? Diego Gutierrez: Look, I think as an athlete, as a former player, you never leave that life behind. I think there's a lot of guys that maybe didn't have a great experience. I had a pretty good career and had great experiences, met tremendous amount of great people, but for me it's something that it would be a shame to leave behind. So I carry a dual role. I mean, in fact, I'm still doing the radio here for Sporting KC, ESPN Deportes. And I remain involved with the game. In fact, my academic area of research has to do with sports and with consumption and marketing and business topics. So I'm trying to... Or I'm not trying, I'm leveraging all the experience that I've had in the past and putting them to use through my academic career. Joel Goldberg: All right. Let's go back to the beginning. You're a kid growing up in Colombia, and we've got a lot of people that listen in Kansas City. We're not talking about Columbia, Missouri, we are talking about Colombia, the country. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: I can't imagine at that point if you were only dreaming about soccer, that you were dreaming about one day living in Kansas City. Diego Gutierrez: Right. Joel Goldberg: Maybe the States, I don't know. Take me through the timeline of how you ended up in the States and what those dreams were for a young Diego Gutierrez in the, what, late '70s into the '80s ? Diego Gutierrez: Right. Well, so very much like Caribbean ballplayers and baseball wanting to grow up and be in the big leagues, our national sport is soccer. And I grew up wanting to be a professional soccer player. I watched it on TV. I was eating it, I was breathing, I was living it through my entire childhood. I was a huge fan of one of the teams in the capital whose academy I was playing in. Diego Gutierrez: And I think, I was blessed and I had a lot of luck as well and that I was identified as a potential player when I was younger. And I started playing with some of the better teams and I was always playing up. So I developed into until a bit of a prodigy and that I was playing with older players always. And so the future look great. Diego Gutierrez: It was about maybe my mid-teen years when my father's family business started just basically, you know, falling apart. And the alternative because I have American family, my mother's family. The alternative was to come to the States and for me to study in this and many other. And as I mentioned, I wasn't very fond of school and so my mother sort of... She didn't ask me, she told me, "Hey, this is what we're doing. I know you want to play soccer, but you going to have to put that on hold until you study." Diego Gutierrez: And so I came here when I was 17, 18 years old and not speaking the language at all. And eventually through college soccer, I ended up taking a very unlikely path into the professional realms. Joel Goldberg: So you ended up going to college, you ended up becoming a professional, you end up playing all over the place I think in terms of American professional teams, Kansas City and the Chicago Fire would be the two big ones. What did you take from all of those experiences, a lifetime in sports? Because what I've noticed, it's true for me too, when I wasn't the athlete, and not the athlete that you are, but I've been in sports forever is that we sometimes get so locked in on the results, and even the process that we forget about the rest of life and everything else. You see that, and we'll talk about that in a bit in terms of athletes, where do they go when they're done. Diego Gutierrez: Sure. Joel Goldberg: But what did you take from the sports world that you still apply now to the vast array of things that you do? Diego Gutierrez: Well, that's a deep one. One of the things that I do notice now that I'm into my late 40s has been the ability to identify opportunities, and to be able to stick with that in order to get to the end result. So a lot of people that haven't been in sports, haven't really had the structured or the need, or the demand for discipline to that kind of degree. Diego Gutierrez: I mean, if you're going to be a hall of fame batter, you're going to have to be taken a whole lot of batting practice. And even when you don't want to and even when you have to deprive yourself of other things, especially when you're a kid, of course you want to go to the parties or you want to hang out with your friends or what have you, but you got to practice. And those, those type of habits and those types of skills that you develop or that I certainly developed as a young man, I didn't really notice them because you're in a team structure. Diego Gutierrez: You're, you're in an environment where pretty much everybody else is doing the same. But as I stepped away from the sport after a successful career, that's when I started, I think realizing that the ability to identify opportunities and to really chase those opportunities to make him into a reality as something that would pay off for myself and my family, I think is something that that really has worked out for me in my life. Joel Goldberg: When you left soccer, you didn't leave. Actually, you've never left soccer, but when you finished, you suddenly found, I think pretty quickly. I mean you and I talked about this, the management side of things and maybe some interesting paths and discoveries along the way. So maybe talk about that a little bit and how you were able to leverage the knowledge that you had to help other athletes and to experience the business side of soccer. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Even as a player, I was always interested on the business side. Unfortunately, I don't think that we have a structure, especially in soccer, but as sports in general, I think, you can apply it. I don't think we have a structure where athletes are transitioning out of the sport in a proper way. Leagues try it, but I don't think there is something that teams are providing on an individual level that prepares people. Players ask people for whatever comes next. Diego Gutierrez: And so I think I was conscious of that maybe because I had the pressure of being 30 years old and maybe having four or five or six years left in my career, and having a wife and kids, and trying to figure out exactly what was coming next from me. Diego Gutierrez: But I was able to identify the business side as a good area of opportunity for me. And where players, they coached, they try to stay in coaching professionally or maybe coaching at the academy level of what have you. I just wasn't really interested in it. And so very early, I started doing my own deals. I started understanding the structure of contracts. I started understanding the business side of this sport, sponsorships, et cetera, to where I was able to find opportunities to help a lot of my teammates. Diego Gutierrez: And so I would help my teammates and I would help them position themselves in a way where they would become more valuable to management, to the team, to the community. Joel Goldberg: You sound to became a player agent. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. And I became a certified player agent. And so I started helping some of the guys out and started moving a ton of players, moving players to Europe, doing business here within a major league soccer. And within a couple of years it just turned out, that there was an opportunity in Philadelphia and I became first the head of scouting and player development and later became the sporting director for the club. Joel Goldberg: I think that's a jump that a lot of former athletes, not a lot, but some make... Oftentimes they maybe don't make it to the level that you did in terms of playing, but they were former athletes and then they've gone the scouting route and the GM route. But you're doing all that, and then that could have been it, right? I mean, you could have been a soccer executive, but if I remember correctly, there was... I don't know if you were unfulfilled or certainly it wasn't the right fit at a certain point, but what caused you to go a different direction? And you're still involved in all of this. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Well, I mean, the short way of answering that question is I would tell you that it simply wasn't God's plan, but I can't tell you that having gone through it very early within, being in that role, I realized that that was not what I had in mind. Is the job description on paper looked like it was? I had watched some of my teammates and people on TV, former players become that and become part of the business side. But for me it wasn't fulfilling. Diego Gutierrez: I was working in a city that was somewhat strange to me. I hadn't been there before. My family didn't have a great transition into the community. And so there were a series of factors that I think allow me to recognize as the head of the family that it wasn't the best situation for me, and that I needed to continue my searching to where I needed to be. And so I went back and went back to business school and finish that, and felt that by doing that I was going to be better prepared for whenever I did find that better fit. Joel Goldberg: So you had the education back when even if you weren't as academic as your mom wanted you to be. Diego Gutierrez: Right. Joel Goldberg: Right? I mean I see Rockhurst university BA in psychology '92, '95 so that's something that was going on while you were applying, I assume professionally/. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: But then 2012 to 2014 Helzberg School of Business and what we're sitting in that building right now, and then Creighton College of Business. And so here you are now as an associate professor at Rockhurst and there's so many great stories here in this school and from over the years. You were telling me that you have this great connection with the kids, that they really look forward to your class. You've been highly rated, all that kind of stuff. Joel Goldberg: I get that because you have those real world experiences. Not that others don't, but they're truly unique. There aren't many other people walking into any building with your kind of experiences, how do you connect with these? I say kids but a lot of them are adults too. How do you connect with these students? Diego Gutierrez: Yeah, I primarily teach graduate classes, but I think the way to connect, and I think it helps obviously that I have college aged kids, and being able to understand, listen to where they're coming from and really in many ways seeing my own kids in their shoes. But at the same time, giving the ability for students to really communicate. I think our own models of academia were based on professors just going out there and maybe showing a PowerPoint and you trying to absorb as much as you could. Diego Gutierrez: Whereas today I think we focus a little bit more on that interaction and that discussion. And that active learning, which I think it's so significant. And so I think he's a combination, Joel, of having the right stories, bring in the right type of background, bring in the right level of enthusiasm because I mean I'm hungry to become better as an academic, certainly as a professor, and to be able to really make an impact. Diego Gutierrez: Look, at the end of the day, one of the reasons why I love this profession is that I get to interact with younger people. I get to help develop someone. When somebody is presenting a business plan to my cores that they later say, "I want to actually take this to my company to see what kind of thoughts they get and they get positive feedback," for example. But that's immediate impact that you're getting, not only for that student, that job, but also for that company. Diego Gutierrez: And that obviously has a larger impact in the community as well. So I think it's the type of impact that that's fulfilling both for the students, for the community, but also for myself. Joel Goldberg: What are the classes you're teaching right now? Diego Gutierrez: Right now I'm teaching global markets. I'm teaching a marketing strategy, principles of marketing. Yeah, mostly business-related and marketing-related courses. Joel Goldberg: And then your self professionally. And the good news is it's not a five days a week all day long teaching. So you have some ability to go out there and work on because you got your hands in so many different things. I think that you're trying to conquer the world and doing a good job. You are. Diego Gutierrez: My wife says I never sit still. She says, "Hey listen, just take five minutes to enjoy this and just yourself a rest. Joel Goldberg: Yeah. You and I have that in common. And so we're the type of guys that'll never retire, never sits still. But that doesn't mean we can't go enjoy things by the way they. Diego Gutierrez: Right. Joel Goldberg: Who knows? Diego Gutierrez: We enjoyed it in a different way. Joel Goldberg: We enjoy it in a good way. Thank you for helping me there. What else are you working on? Diego Gutierrez: Right now, I'm working with a major league soccer and Sporting Kansas City, Rockhurst university. We're trying to find, where we were talked about earlier, we're trying to find not a cookie cutter model, but ways, basically an inventory that a sports properties can put together for athletes to better prepare themselves. Diego Gutierrez: Too often we're seeing guys regardless of what kind of financial package guys are getting, regardless of the sport. We're seeing a lot of people that are stepping away from a sport to which they've dedicated their entire lives since they were a young kids. Stepping away from the sport and not really having any direction, any good advice. So trying to sort of, again, put a good inventory, a good package that can be implemented and can be customized for certain players at an individual level to where, look, all of a sudden playing a certain sport or playing for a certain team is a much more appealing proposition than it used to be. If you don't make a big, if you don't make the big financial package, then you're lost. You're actually going to walk out with something at the end of it regardless. Joel Goldberg: Yeah. And so many of those guys in all of the sports, and women, they walk away, and what do they know? They know that sports are what they do. They want to go and coach or clinics or whatever it is. And that can be successful. But there's, there's so much of it out there, it's so saturated that oftentimes they don't know where else to go. Diego Gutierrez: No. The other thing is that athletes don't get to really explore themselves while they're playing. And so exposing people to, hey, what is it that you like? And what you and I talked about previously, what is it that you're good at and what is it that you're passionate about? And hopefully you'll have some sort of overlap there. And the more things that you identify as possible things that you could be good at or passionate about, I think it would be a great situation. I just think we zero in too much on the sport, on the results, on the job, and not enough on what it really means to life in general. Joel Goldberg: I think it's true for everything. We focus on the beginning, we focus on the end and we forget about everything that's in the middle. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. That's exactly right. Joel Goldberg: And that's really what gets you where you need to go. Baseball themed questions, doesn't matter that you're a soccer guy. Biggest home run that you've hit professionally? Diego Gutierrez: I was thinking about this. I think I had the ability, I had the privilege to play with some great people. I was able to win trophies. I ended up winning, by the time it was all said and done five different rings. But I think what I was really able to do, and I think what I take the most pride in was my ability to help other people, and being able to, for example, help the league launch its shreddable arm and be a representative for the United nations and being able to work and be appointed by the president to form part of a council that that really helped Americans and help people in general. Diego Gutierrez: If I hadn't played my sport, I would have never had that platform. But too often we see guys that don't utilize the platform or use it in the wrong way. Listen, again, I don't take all the credit. I had great mentors in my life. I had a lot of people that gave me great advice and I was able to take that as an opportunity, utilize that platform and help them help many others. Joel Goldberg: Biggest swing and miss you've taken. And what did you learn from it? Diego Gutierrez: Biggest swing and miss, I think I wasted a lot of time, honestly. I wasted a lot of time. For 15 years, the time that I, that I played professionally, if you think about all the days that I would just come home and do nothing. And granted you're physically exhausted and sometimes you're dealing with kids and so on, but I could have been doing so much more. Been so much more. Those are the times that don't come back. Joel Goldberg: You can't get them back. You just make up for it as best as you can now, which is what you're doing And small ball, what are the little things to you that add up to the big things? Diego Gutierrez: Man, when I think about the little things, people laugh about this. I love coffee, right? I love drinking coffee, but I think more than anything I love what coffee represents. And a cup of coffee is a union. It's community with somebody. It's a time to reflect. It's a time to, sometimes a time to love, a time to heal. Diego Gutierrez: So many things that I'm able to do with a good cup of coffee in my hand. Life has got so many of these little miracles that that pop up in every now and then. Where people call it a sunshine, people call it... Call it what you want. Hope is a great thing to have and when you are able to recognize those things and you find yourself in a place where you're able to see those little things, I think is great. Coffee for me is quite symbolic. Joel Goldberg: Never thought about it that way. Although the first time you and I hung out together, other than me speaking here at Rockhurst and us meeting was over coffee, which will happen again soon if I have any say in it and I think you will too. Diego Gutierrez: Of course, anytime. Joel Goldberg: Four final questions as we round the basis. First thing, and this is not meant to be a shot at any city, but I think it could apply to anywhere you had ended up. A kid in Columbia suddenly finds himself in Evansville, Indiana. I believe it was right to play soccer. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: How lost did you feel? Diego Gutierrez: Oh my goodness. I had arrived probably a year previous, not even before I went to Evansville. I barely spoke the language and even though I was one of the top recruits in the country. At a university, by the way, that at the time had the number one soccer team in the country individual one. Again, on paper it looked like it was a great fit. But I found out very quickly that culturally the school wasn't for me. I wasn't ready honestly to take college courses because my English was good enough to understand, to read but not really to learn. Diego Gutierrez: And lastly, the cultural piece where you have this immigrant kid in the middle of Indiana with nobody to speak with. It was very difficult. In many ways, it did benefit me because I had nobody to speak Spanish with. Therefore, my English was getting better, but I was obligated to learn it. I share this story with you, how I've largely spoke English just watching ESPN and watching Dan Patrick and Keith Overman, and learning about American sarcasm and expressions, and this and that. Diego Gutierrez: I was able to pick up a lot of it and that's pretty much what I did. I stayed in my room and watched TV because I didn't have a very much else to do, but yeah, it was definitely unexperienced. One of those that sometimes you wish didn't happen, but when it's all set and done, I'm very glad that it happened. Joel Goldberg: Second question, as we round the bases, the world humanitarian hall of fame. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Joel Goldberg: You and some other soccer player in there? Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. You might've heard of the guy, his name is Pele. Joel Goldberg: Tell me about that. It's pretty cool. Diego Gutierrez: Yeah. Like I said, I was able to utilize my platform part of bed. There was a period of time, I would say probably between 1999, and the time that I retired that I was able to to voice a lot of campaigns. I was able to channel some really good messages. We were able to work with some important organizations. Diego Gutierrez: I mean, look, anytime you have the white house or you have the UN or the UN foundation or you have FIFA or you have major league soccer onboard with what you're trying to do, you're going to have a good impact because you're able to reach a lot of people. And so I was blessed and I was fortunate that I was put in that situation and I was able to connect with people, and really carry a good message for various organizations. And honestly, when I got the call from the hallI was just blown away, especially because there's so many great individuals that have been in shrine in there that... And that I really look up to. Joel Goldberg: Third question as we round the basis, biggest moment on the soccer field and the soccer pitch in your career, what was it? Diego Gutierrez: Our sport is a little bit different. So I can't really think... I have great individual moments. 1998, I was taken by the Chicago Fire in the expansion draft. And if you understand expansion, you know that this team is compiled mostly from guys that nobody else wants. I was coming back from an injury, so I was taken from Chicago, but there were four or five different guys, maybe 10 guys that were in similar situations. Diego Gutierrez: So we were somewhat outcasts by definition. I mean everybody wrote us off and somehow from February all the way to October of that year, we were able to really get to know each other and to suffer together, and to... We grew to love one another. And when you do that, especially in our sport, you're able to do some wonderful things on the field because you're willing to do things for your teammates that otherwise you wouldn't do. Diego Gutierrez: But we came together as a team with great leadership. Bob Bradley, Peter Weld we're the general manager and coach. We came together as a team. We developed incredible relationships. All those guys are my brothers still to this day, 20 years later. And so I think that was my most special memory was being able to come together as a group and do something special. Joel Goldberg: Final question, the walk-off question. How does, as a professor, that aha moment, you kind of talked about it earlier, when that student has some kind of big success because of something you taught them and it leads to a big business success. Or that light bulb goes off, how does that compare to that big moment in soccer, scoing that big goal, winning that big game? What's the adrenaline? What's the feeling like comparatively speaking? Diego Gutierrez: Yeah, that's a great question. With soccer I think the, or with sports in general, I think that the euphoria might be, the moment might be a lot more intense, but undeniably the impact is much more long lasting in the classroom. And by the way, some of the main satisfaction is that I get a lot of times is the thrill and the rush that I get when, A, I know I've had a really good session with a group of students and B, when I know that I've actually come out and learn from them as well. Diego Gutierrez: Because we're not just stitches. We're still absorbing and we're still getting feedback. One of the reasons I structure my classes the way I do is because I like to hear from students. It keeps my blade sharp to be able to have discussion and to be challenged, and to be into perhaps debate in a friendly and respectful manner with a professor. There's nothing wrong with that and I get a lot out of it. Joel Goldberg: It could be a lot of fun to be in your class. Diego Gutierrez: Oh, yeah. Joel Goldberg: I'll come by some time and check that out anyway. Diego Gutierrez: Anytime you want to come by, absolutely. Joel Goldberg: For sure. Diego, thanks so much. We'll do this again. Coffee soon. Diego Gutierrez: Coffee soon. You know what it means now. Joel Goldberg: I'm sure it's mandatory. Diego Gutierrez: Of course. Joel Goldberg: I do know what it means just beyond just it, but I've never heard it spoken about that way and I couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for doing this. Appreciate it. Diego Gutierrez: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Joel Goldberg: All right. That's Diego Gutierrez. I'm Joel Goldberg. You can reach me at joelgoldbergmedia.com. Hope to catch you next time on Rounding the Bases.