Sporting KC Leader Talks How to Build a Winning Culture at Young Alumni Speaker Series

Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Peter Vermes speaks at a Young Alumni Council event

In 2011, the organization now known as Sporting Kansas City went through a series of transformations, from where the MLS franchise played to its underlying philosophy, to even its very name. Opinion at the time was, to put it kindly, mixed.

That’s according to Peter Vermes, technical director and manager for Sporting Kansas City, the guest of the 2019 Young Alumni Council Speaker Series, who spoke on “Building and Maintaining Culture in Business” in the auditorium of Arrupe Hall Tuesday night.

Vermes admitted that introducing so many changes so quickly required a “leap of faith” on the part of the fans and community, but that it was also part of a broader plan to transform the franchise from top to bottom. This was not change for its own sake, Vermes said — rather, it was an effort to set a new direction for the organization, improving everything from the play on the field to the fan experience.

Guided by four core values, Vermes said Sporting KC developed a unique style of play that is aggressive, based around a cohesive team rather than a handful of individuals, and designed to entertain. The organization built a state-of the-art training facility in pursuit of excellence on the field and a new soccer-specific stadium to enhance the fan experience. And the name change coincided with a considerable expansion of reach for the organization, from one team with 30 players in 2007 to eight teams and 170 players at different levels today. On one level, it was an effort to do what every sports team hopes to do.

“We truly believed, from the beginning, that it was all about winning,” Vermes said.

But it was also about building a culture of winning — the team is a consistent contender, having captured the MLS Cup in 2013 and the U.S. Open Cup in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Rare is the game where Children’s Mercy Park is not sold out — and loud. Those from outside the organization marvel at the mentality of the players. Vermes said those kinds of results come from a concentrated, sustained effort that starts at the top.

“The leader has to sell it, and others have to buy into it,” he said.

The event concluded with a brief question and answer session featuring Vermes, Rockhurst men’s head soccer coach Tony Tocco, assistant coach Giorgio Antongirolami, and women’s soccer head coach Greg Herdlick, touching on themes of leadership, winning culture, and that time Giorgio tackled Sporting KC star Graham Zusi during a friendly match (yes, you read that right).

Prior to Vermes’ speech, the University honored Allison Rank, ’08, with the Faber Young Alumni Award, recognizing her outstanding leadership as a Realtor at Reece & Nichols as well as her service to the Kansas City and Rockhurst communities. Reflecting on the award, Rank said she thought of the Jesuit core value of magis.

“Rockhurst taught me that when making decisions to always ask myself the question is this decision bringing goodness into my life and into the lives of others? What more in my life and in my relationships can I do to bring greater good to myself and to others?” she said. “What I love about this is there’s never a perfection or a finality. It’s about greatness in its truest sense.”