Leadership / 08.17.21
Josh Ziegenbusch: From an Ohio Farm to the Oakland Coliseum
If a movie were ever made about Josh Ziegenbusch’s life, it would almost certainly have that warm apple pie feel to it — the story of a young boy who grew up on his family’s farm in rural Ohio and, blessed with a traditional upbringing and strong work ethic, goes off to college and later finds himself rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest baseball players in America. Oh, and movie star Brad Pitt, too!
Josh’s mom and dad on the family farm.
“This past January,” says Josh, “I celebrated my 20-year anniversary at the Oakland A’s. This was a super meaningful achievement for me because of where I came from, my humble roots and growing up on a farm, to working for my favorite team. I grew up watching our local team, the Cincinnati Reds, but I will never forget when I was about 10 or 11 years old, they had the Saturday game of the week and the A’s were playing. The way they played the game was unique; it was exciting. The players on the team just looked different, dressed differently and their personalities were larger than life. I have been a fan of the A’s ever since, so to have a professional career working for the team and representing them each day has been a very rewarding experience.”
10-year-old Josh was converted to an A’s fan.
Josh began his career with his favorite team as a ticket services representative and, over the past two decades, rose through the ranks. Today, he is Senior Director of Service and Retention. Among other things, this puts him in charge of the A’s premium services team, which is responsible for the Diamond Level and Field Box renewal process and year-long account servicing, as well as the annual season ticket membership renewal and ticket operations efforts.
Josh’s son Oliver poses in a ticket office window.
While there has never been a movie made about Josh’s life, halfway through his career, he did have the good fortune to see one in the making. “I was working for the A’s during the Moneyball season, when we won 20 games in a row,” he says. “At no point did I ever think that season would be turned into an Academy Award nominated movie. They filmed some segments of the movie at the ballpark, so Brad Pitt was around, and he made a point one day to come up to the office, meet some of the staff and get to know what we did. That was an incredible experience to get to meet him and just have a conversation. It was something that you do not expect to happen when you go to work. I mean, meeting a movie star, that was cool!”
Hollywood movie stars may be among the coolest and most admired people in America, but when asked who he admires most, Josh goes back to his humble roots. “I have to say my parents. They instilled the values that are important to them — the hard work, the community feel and doing the right thing at the right time. I grew up in a small town in Ohio, a rural community of about 2,000 people, so having a community — love thy neighbor — and a strong work ethic, that really permeated through me at a young age. It is something I value and have looked for throughout my entire professional career. My parents always supported my goals and ambitions and made sacrifices themselves to make it happen. That gave me the freedom to be successful and make mistakes. It prepared me well for college and the real world, and I am grateful for that.”
Josh’s mom and dad.
Still, Josh does share something with the aforementioned Brad Pitt, who cared enough to take the time during the filming of “Moneyball” to mingle not only with the players on the field, but also with the people who work behind the scenes at the Oakland Coliseum. That is exactly the quality Josh says he likes most in people. “Empathy. If you’re familiar with Gary Vee, he is a bit of a colorful character, but he says, ‘I just need people to give a sh*!’ — you know, just care. If you care about your friends, about your customers, about your neighbors, everything else can be taught, but you really cannot teach that piece.”
And the quality he likes most in a colleague and a boss (himself, or others)? “Humility. An unselfish outlook and a team-first mentality. Always look to hire, train and develop a great staff to surround yourself while being confident in your own abilities. As a leader, it is all about authenticity. Being confident as a leader, but not arrogant. Be yourself and be vulnerable to grow and learn from those that you work with. Make sure everybody understands the ‘why’ behind what we are doing instead of just directing people on what they are supposed to do.”
While Josh worked for Minor League Baseball’s Lansing Lugnuts during his college days, someone who would become an important mentor gave him his shot in Oakland. “Steve Fanelli took a chance on me as a kid that did not have a ton of experience and provided the leadership and taught me pretty much everything I know. Steve introduced me to INTIX and opened a ton of doors for me, and I am eternally grateful for that relationship. He has really taught me balance, too, that any job is great if you love who you work for — so I think that is an important thing. If you love who you work for, if you love what you do, you really credit that to the people you work for and your mentors for giving you that outlook.”
Steve Fanelli and Josh pose with Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS.
Finding balance in his life, Josh says, is his greatest achievement. “The Major League Baseball schedule of 81 home games is obviously a lot of responsibility, and the time it takes me away from home is significant. Having a spouse and a family that accepts and understands my occupation and how much I enjoy what I do is wonderful. Our 15th wedding anniversary is coming up, and when we talk about INTIX, mentors and when I first started going, I would see these guys who I considered legends in my field — the guys that I had super respect for — and I wanted to learn as much from as possible. They talked about their personal relationships and how difficult it was to maintain a work-life balance in our industry. I was like, ‘Crap, I don’t want to have to choose, I want it all. I want the family and I want to be able to be successful in my career.’ It has not been easy for me or my family, but I am proud of being able to find that balance and maximize both of those worlds and mix them together. Just having my parents tell me that they are proud of me and what I have done has meant a lot, too. When I think of when I was 20 years old and where I wanted to be when I was 40, plus the things that I wanted to have, I think I am in a good spot.”
When he is not at the ballpark, Josh loves spending time with family and friends. “My wife (Monica) and my two mostly well-behaved children (11-year-old Alexandra and 5-year-old Oliver) are obviously the loves of my life. I am so fortunate and thankful to have them, and I enjoy every day with them. I enjoy coaching my children in their respective sports teams — softball and basketball for Alex, baseball and soccer for Oliver. We enjoy hiking, swimming and traveling as a family as much as we can. Spending time on the farm where I grew up is important. My wife works full time, and the kids are in school, but whenever we get the opportunity, we try to travel and get away and do things as a family.” His friends, too, he says, provide him with a safe place — a place to share success and failures, to give and receive tough love, when necessary, but also to be there with a pep talk or to “hug it out when needed.”
Josh coaching softball.
Of course, the other big love of his life is sports, which, Josh says, has influenced his entire life. “It set the tone for me at a young age. I remember driving my parents crazy. I would always be bouncing a ball against the wall, on the floor, throwing tennis balls against the side of the house, fielding ground balls to myself and breaking windows, always begging them to attend sporting events or to play baseball, basketball and football. They would always be willing to take me where I wanted to go.” Today, Josh not only gets to see the A’s play (at least now and again while working), but he also still follows college basketball and football at his alma mater, Syracuse University. And, before his children were born, he and his wife had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. “A truly unforgettable experience,” says Josh, “all the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics, the friendly global competition and seeing the world come together. It was unbelievable.”
Monica and Josh pose with mascots Quatchi and Miga at the Vancouver Olympics.
Would he like to be a professional athlete himself? Well, it appears that never really crossed his mind. But, perhaps surprisingly, being a powerhouse singer has. “My daughter Alex really likes America’s Got Talent, so we try to watch it together and see all the different talents that people have. I think, for me, the best would be having a world-class singing voice. The ability to tell a story with your voice is pretty powerful and unique. It is something I would love to be able to do.”
Josh says his favorite song is Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” “I am the guy that gets up and does the karaoke version at weddings and dances to try to get people up and on the dance floor and have a good time together. Everybody knows when that song is played, that is my song, and it seems to get everybody out of their seat and onto the dance floor. I think you really bond with the lyrics in the struggle of Tommy and Gina and how they feel that they have love together, and that is all they need to get by. Last but not least, as somebody that’s follicly challenged, I have always had great admiration of Jon Bon Jovi’s hair and his style.”
Josh singing on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
That joie de vivre, or exuberant enjoyment of life, is one of Josh’s most endearing qualities, one which he seems to crave on the job and off. “Just seeing people happy and having the chance to contribute to that happiness. Seeing my kids, enjoying times with them when they score a goal or make a basket, or just seeing them play with friends and just being happy. I wish I could bottle that up and keep that joy forever. At work, I enjoy walking the concourse and seeing families all dressed in their green and gold, their jerseys, their hats and just having a good time. The fact that we can share that with people and bring that joy and be a part of that is cool. And anytime you share success with a team member, when you can promote them, or share with the team an email that they had provided good service or closed a big sale, anytime they do a job well done and you can share that and see the joy, that is what I really enjoy. The best feeling in life is being happy.”
Josh and his family pose in front of redwood trees.
Much of what Josh has already said about friends and family, and life in general, extends to his participation in INTIX. “The International Ticketing Association obviously represents our industry on a global scale,” he says. “You do not just get access to a network of world-class talent in a very specialized industry, which could be enough, it is also the family that you inherit, a family that has a global reach. It is a very diverse group, very cultured group, but we all speak the one language of ticketing and bringing live entertainment to folks around the world. For me, it is a network and a sounding board. If we are looking internally at a mobile ticket strategy or what we want to do from a fan loyalty platform, for example, whatever the concept is, we have a network of experts who can help share successes and ideas for improvement. If you are working through a difficult period, or have a tough conversation or a tough time, or you had an on-sale that totally failed, you have somebody to talk to about it who just knows exactly what you went through. Having a community to help you through the good and the bad, to lean on in times when you need help, whether it is professionally or personally, it has just really guided me heavily throughout my career.”
The Greatest American Hero on the field at the ballpark on ’80s day.
Over the years, says Josh, he has noticed quite a change in INTIX. “I think it has really evolved. Initially, it was more of a network and a place to build relationships, but I think it has really grown. [INTIX President Maureen Andersen] has really done a great job of being on the cutting edge of technology and what vendors can bring to the table. I think we used to wait for the conference to get all this information. We tried to mentally download everything in four or five days and understand all the innovation that is currently at your fingertips and what may be coming. But now I think we are better, and Maureen and [INTIX Membership Associate Tiffany Kelham] have done a tremendous job of bringing that to us year-round, whether that’s Access, providing some of the content from the conference to be shared, the weekly Wednesday Wisdom meetings. I think we feel connected year round and not just brought together for a few days at a conference.”
It is the constant evolution and innovation that Josh says he loves most about the ticketing industry. “There is no real status quo in ticketing. In my short time, I remember talking about dynamic pricing. Is that going to work? How could the popular games be more expensive than other games? Mobile ticketing? Skeptics thought that guests are not going to want to use their phones; it is never going to work. The fact that you can now successfully scan a ticket and forward a ticket through a phone is not something that I think we fully appreciate or understand in terms of the amount of work that went into making that happen. [Then there is] the monthly Ballpark Pass concept and the concept of membership and countless others. Last year, we sold cardboard cutouts instead of tickets, and this year alone, we have accepted cryptocurrency as payment for our suites at the Coliseum. And at the beginning of the season, because of some of the California state protocols [amid COVID-19], we were only able to sell food and beverages through your phone. You couldn’t just walk up and buy a beer face to face.”
Josh and Steve presenting on the A’s cutouts strategy at the INTIX Live! 2021 Digital Conference.
Josh continues, “I love the fact that things always change. I love that we can introduce a new program with a bunch of different features, and then at the end of the year, we look back and say, ‘OK, did that work? Was it good? How can we adjust it?’ We have that opportunity every year before we get ready for spring training to make adjustments and be nimble and change; where, if you were in a traditional Fortune 500 company, if you wanted to change strategies or be nimble or develop new technologies, I think it would probably be a slower process. I really enjoy that about our industry. We are quick to move quickly to react to what fans want and are able to deliver that in a timely and affordable fashion.”
All of us have special memories from various INTIX conferences. For Josh, it was his first that he will not soon forget. “My first INTIX was memorable because I had a chance to meet John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach. Just having a chance to shake his hand and run through his principles and his strategies is something I will never forget. There was also the acceptance, the warm reception from all the other members who welcomed me into the community, being a young kid and taking me under their wing and talking about what they do and what I can get out of the association and how it is important to give back. A lot of those people remain close friends to this day. I also took their advice and got involved and got to co-chair the education committee and helped structure and shape the workshops and all the different programming for the conference and then to see all that come together. This fueled my desire to be more involved and to run for the board of directors. To be nominated, voted and accepted twice to serve on the board by a group of your peers is super rewarding and humbling. I am just glad I can be a part of it.”
After 20 years with the Oakland A’s and rising to a pinnacle of success in the ticketing industry, we wondered if there was anything Josh wishes he might have done differently. “Aside from investing in Netflix and Google, I would tell myself to enjoy the climb and the grind. I always feel like I am looking ahead, managing my to-do list and thinking about the future but not really taking the time to enjoy and celebrate some of the things that we have accomplished as a team and as a family. One of the silver linings of the pandemic for me is I was afforded the opportunity to stay focused on what is truly important; value each day and be where your feet are. Just be present. If that is at work, be at work. If that is at home, be at home. But just try to relax a little bit, take the foot off the gas and enjoy each day.”
Josh and family dressed up in Toy Story costumes for Halloween.
And if he were granted three wishes, what would they be? “I feel like end world hunger and world peace should be on the list, but I think I will take a fun approach to this. First, I would wish for the ability to teleport. My parents are in Ohio, my brother is in Louisiana, and everybody is established and enjoys where they are, so it would be great to have an opportunity to be there instantly and see them more often. Two, I wish that my pets could talk. I have had many one-way conversations with my cat, but I have always wondered what he was thinking and what advice he could have given to me. And three, an Athletics World Series title. Obviously, I am always happy for my colleagues around the league who win the World Series ring and have the nice diamond ring that they show off to everybody at the conferences, but my ring envy is very real, and I want to get one, so let’s go, Oakland!”
In the meantime, while he waits and hopes for a World Series ring of his own, Josh continues to be a shining example of what it means to be a great colleague, world-class karaoke star and ticketing professional.
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Tags: Sports , Memberships , Leadership