Home Interviews Exclusive Interview with Author/Sports Tycoon and Co-Founder of the Orlando Magic: Dr. Pat Williams Ph.D.
Exclusive Interview with Author/Sports Tycoon and Co-Founder of the Orlando Magic: Dr. Pat Williams Ph.D. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Sunday, 29 March 2020 00:00

Patrick Livingston Murphy Williams (named after an American psychiatrist of the 19th century) was born in Philadelphia on May 3rd, 1940. The name Patrick has a special etymology. It is Roman and the patricians were aristocrats, in other words they had privileges. Williams’ parents were Jim and Ellen Williams. He grew up as the only boy in a family of 4 children. His love for sports started when he was about 3 years old. His father, Jim Williams, gave him his first baseball glove at that age. He saw his first major league game in 1947 with his sister and father. This was one of the happiest days of his life. Pat Williams managed to ignore everybody else’s opinions, follow his heart and pursue his passion for sports. While growing up, Williams became a friend of Ruly Carpenter, son of Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, who would bring Williams to the team's Spring training in Clearwater, Florida.

Pat Williams graduated from his high school, Tower Hill, in 1958. He obtained a scholarship thanks to his interests in baseball. Thereafter, he got his bachelor’s degree in physical education at Wake Forest University in 1962 while playing as a catcher on the Demon Deacons baseball team for four years. In June 1962, a very sad event happened in his life: his father was killed in a car accident. He loved his father deeply, and this surely helped him to cherish fatherhood later in his life. He recovered from the loss of his father and later earned his master’s degree at Indiana University in physical education in 1964 and later a Ph.D. in Human Letters from Flagler College. 

Pat Williams’ parents always believed in him. During his childhood, they told him he would do great things in life (I strongly believe that it can make all the difference in the world in a child’s trajectory when he/she is being raised with this mindset. For instance, when Vanessa Williams came into this world, her parents gave her a card with these words: “Here she is Miss America”, and the rest is history). Williams describes his parents as type-A people, and he learned from a strong work ethic from them that served him well later in his career. He was exposed to many interesting thing during his youth: sports, arts, books, music, etc. which made a significant impact on his path.

In 1968, at the age 27, he became a born-again Christian. Hence, he shares his spiritual journey in his autobiography, as well as some Christian books that really inspired him. In 1967, he was named president of the Spartanburg Phillies. Williams became involved in basketball in 1968, by becoming the business manager for the Philadelphia 76ers. After this, the struggling Chicago Bulls hired Williams to become their general manager. In the late sixties, at the age of 29, he became the youngest general manager in professional sports with an annual salary of $30,000 (from the Bulls’ management in Chicago), which represented a lot at the time. Williams immediately reshaped the team's roster and capitalized on the promotion. The Bulls became strong in the league. In 1973, he took the role of general manager of the Atlanta Hawks. He spent one year in Atlanta and returned to the NBA in 1974. Williams stayed in Philadelphia for 12 years as their general manager, helping to shape the team that won the 1982–83 NBA season. In the late 80s, he went to Orlando to join Hewitt’s investment group and created there a franchise of the NBA called the Orlando Magic, which debuted in 1989. Throughout the years, great athletes were drafted such as Shaquille O’Neal in 1995. The late Rich DeVos, a self-made billionaire, bought the Orlando Magic in 1991 for $85 million. The Orlando Magic has circa an annual revenue of 223 million U.S. dollars.

Pat Williams is very generous with his knowledge. He has written more than 110 books. He still has many more books in him to write. Right now, Williams is working on his next book, Who Coached the Coaches. People like Larry King have endorsed several of Williams’ books. Pat Williams penned about several well-known people and one of the figures he admires the most is Walt Disney. His latest book, Lead Like Walt, is about the famous American entrepreneur. Through Williams’ writing, readers will discover that Disney’s mother taught him how to read before he began school. This put him ahead of many people for the rest of his life. I noticed that several people who learned how to read at the age 3 thrived in their fields: Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, Johnnie Cochran, Dr.  Omalu M.D., etc.

Walt Disney was a self-made man who did not grow up with privilege. He believed in his dreams. He was a calculated risk-taker. Williams has been fascinated by him for a long time (without idealizing him or ignoring his flaws). There will always be something special and magic about Walt Disney. If a kid does not go to Disneyland, it is like something is missing in his childhood.

In How to be like Walt, a previous book written by Williams, it is interesting to learn that Disney had to ignore naysayers and believe in his dream. He knew he wanted to make a living by being an artist and his father did not encourage this journey. It is also interesting to discover in this book that Disney befriended a man who would create a company that makes many children’s dreams around the world: Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. They met in the army when Kroc lied about his age likewise for Disney.
Lead Like Walt is also available as an audiobook, which makes it accessible to a wider audience. Twin NBA star athletes Brook and Robin Lopez wrote the book’s foreword. They of course wrote what Disneyland meant to them during their childhood. Williams co-wrote the book with Jim Denney.

Walter Disney came from a humble background. He was a farm boy. He started working at a very young age and this is how he got his excellent work ethic. It is interesting to discover in the book Lead Like Walt that his father, Elias, was Canadian. He was born in Ontario in 1859. Elias’ grandfather had arrived in Canada in 1834. Disney was not scared of failure, in fact, it helped him thrive.

Williams’ latest book exposes the key elements used by Walt Disney that made an effective leader. Many are related to emotional intelligence (or EQ), likewise for Pat Williams. Thus, it is noteworthy to learn in Williams’ autobiography Ahead of the Game that he had to pass a five-hour psychological test to become a manager in professional basketball major leagues. It shows how social skills are taken very seriously to occupy these positions. Williams was probably assessed on his non-verbal communication skills (which is part of 80% of communication), the tone of his voice and his patience more than anything else. It is also riveting to learn in his autobiography that Williams almost ended up in my hometown Montreal in 1969 in the management of the National Major League season of the Expos expansion team. He would have been part of the front office but he had to refuse because he already accepted a similar position in basketball. It was not an easy decision given that baseball was his first love. However, it is riveting to observe in Williams’ journey the importance of being open to new things and willing to adapt. In other words, it is essential to be flexible in our choices and decisions. Williams’ professional journey reminds me of this famous Confucius quote: “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the objectives, change the action steps”.

Williams’ new experience with basketball allowed him to become more versatile. For instance, he boldly used his marketing skills on many levels such as persuading in the late 1960s Motown stars Martha and the Vandellas (who made the first music video with their song “Nowhere to Run” in the sixties) in the late 60s to entertain the Philadelphia 76ers and the crowd. The Jackson 5, who were unknown in March 1970, performed for the Bulls when Williams was a general manager in Chicago. This event happened before the group exploded after their performance at the Ed Sullivan Show. This shows Pat Williams’ skills as an intuitive promoter and marketer. He is competent in many fields. When someone is playing the piano, the range is limitless and wide. This is how Pat Williams can be perceived as a man for whom the sky is the limit.

What is worthy of note in Pat Williams' path is his ability to assess himself objectively. At some point when he was playing baseball, he realized that he was not contributing as much as he wanted to on the field, so he asked the Phillies' minor league director if he could be involved in the front office of the organization. This is how his professional transition began. He was willing to adapt to change and accept the loss of his original dream. In addition, he possesses transferable skills while extending himself and manages to never stagnate.

Jackie Robinson is another person who Williams admires greatly. He wrote a book entitled How to Be Like Jackie Robinson. Pat Williams was born during the segregation era. Fortunately for him, he had very open-minded parents who instilled values in him like how to treat people equally. They were not solely about rhetoric; they showed integrity in their actions. For instance, in the 50s, when Black athletes were not allowed to stay on campus, they were welcomed at their homes. Later, in the 60s, Pat Williams attended the famous 1963 March in Washington with his family. Readers will be interested to learn what the family members had to say about Jackie Robinson. This gives a unique insight into who the man was. Based on what they said, Robinson’s public personality was the same as how he behaved at home; there was no façade, he was a man with integrity. Pat Williams describes his book as an oral biography of Robinson. It comprises many quotes from interviewees and others. Some knew personally Robinson as a co-worker, a friend and/or a family member. Others reveal what he represented to them. Some are celebrities in sport or in or in other fields. Many interesting people such as Dr. Dorothy Height, John Saunders, Dr. Maya Angelou and Jesse Jackson shared their thoughts about Robinson for the book. There are powerful quotes in the book such as this one from Professor Larry Hogan: "What Jackie Robinson did was as important to this country as Brown v. the Board of Education".

The book How to Be Like Jackie Robinson is an homage to the legendary athlete. Among other themes, the book covers Robinson’s time in the army. Even in those days, he had the courage to stand up for justice and equality. It is important to note that about 10 years before Rosa Parks, Robinson refused to sit in the back of the segregated army bus. It is noteworthy to learn also that when he was in the army he challenged the status quo with Joe Louis. Robinson received a court martial and was acquitted later. Jackie Robinson died the same date (but not the same year) as Rosa Parks. The author conducted more than 1,100 interviews for How to Be Like Jackie Robinson and he gathered many quotes from them, such as the powerful one aforementioned.

Robinson’s wife Rachel and daughter Sharon have praised the book, as well as illustrious people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This book was dedicated to Robinson’s family: Rachel, Sharon and his son David. This paperback highlights the courage Jackie Robinson had to shatter the color barrier in his field which had an impact on America as a whole. In other words, the book reminds us that Robinson was a big symbol of bravery and grit that went way beyond sport by shaping the mindset of America. His number 42 is the only one retired from major league baseball and every year to honor him on April 15th (it was that date in 1947 when Robinson broke the color barrier) baseball players wear this number. Thanks to Robinson, the Dodgers won six titles in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956. Everything started for him in my hometown, Montreal, when he joined the Montreal Royals in 1946. Readers will discover in the book that after his retirement, he faced a glass ceiling, he could not be hired anywhere as a manager in sports. Bibliophiles will find in the book powerful quotes such as this one by civil-rights leader Andrew Young: "Jackie was to sports what Martin Luther King was to civil rights"

The broadcaster Dick Enberg mentioned something very deep in the book. He reminded us that Robinson’s fights took him prematurely in his grave. In other words, his combat had a cost: he aged quickly. The same thing happened with Dr. MLK. When he died, the autopsy discovered that his heart was in the same condition that of a sixty-year-old man. Dr. King was only 39 at the time. Both men received death threats during their lives which deteriorated their health. It would have been interesting if the book mentioned whether the basis of Robinson’s philanthropy and fortitude came from Christian faith like Dr. King. It is noteworthy to mention that it was on August 28th, 1945 (exactly 18 years before Dr. Martin Luther King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech) that Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey agreed that his professional contract would be signed.

I have no interest in baseball, but if I had been alive in 1947, I would have run to see this gorgeous Black man Robinson who played in my hometown. Actually, Montrealers at the time ran after Robinson to cheer him. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, in her book Stealing Home described her father as a handsome man who could light up her world with a broad smile.

Robinson is recognized as a national treasure and U.S. stamps have been made in his honor. There is a special statue of him in my hometown Montreal where his success started in 1947. The sculpture was created in 1987 to memorialize the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the first Black player in professional baseball. The statue is accompanied by the presence of two kids, one White and the other Black, who both admiringly attempt to catch the attention of their hero1. Many people believe that music transcends everything and has no barriers. Sport can do the same thing and has a great capacity to represent a universal language. Robinson, through sport and beyond, showed the power of shattering boundaries.

No country is perfect. In spite of America’s flaws, it is the Western country that has improved the most in terms of race-relations in the last decades and a system (ex. The Executive Order 11246 of President Johnson in 1965, the creation of an anti-discriminatory policy (strongly supported by Stevenson, in 1969, Nixon favored Black capitalism by creating the MBDA (Minority Business Development Agency) for the Department of Commerce (via the Executive Order 11458) which promotes growth and competitiveness of the United States’ minority-owned businesses)) on state lending institutions adopted in Illinois2, the first state which did this, affirmative action, EEOC founded after the existence of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc.) was created to favor meritocracy. Barack Obama’s election with the former First Lady Michelle Obama represented the supreme symbol of this evolution. To ameliorate race relations further, people need to be educated about philanthropists (whatever their origins) who fought for equality. For instance, very few people know that the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau refused to pay taxes to protest the maltreatment of Natives and African-Americans. He ended up in prison for it. Einstein was not only being a scientist but denounced the mistreatment of Black people for example and was a member of the NAACP. John Brown was a WASP abolitionist of the 19th who advocated to overthrow the institution of slavery in America. He was executed by the ruling class. The part-owner of Sears Julius Rosenwald who was Jewish, like Einstein, widely funded the education of African-American children in the rural South of the country during the segregation era. In How to be Like Jackie Robinson, readers are educated by the contribution of the WASP Dodgers’ manager Branch Rickey.

In April 2019, after a career that has extended over 56 years, including 30-plus years with the Magic and 51 years in the NBA, Pat Williams retired in 2018. However, he still holds a senior vice president title and operates as a front-office mentor. On a more personal level, he describes himself as a Christian man. He has 4 biological children and adopted 14 kids from four countries (two sisters and two boys from South Korea, four brothers from the Philippines, Romania and Brazil) between 1983 and 1993 with his first wife, Jill, who he met in Chicago. So, it was not necessarily important for the couple to have children who look like them or who share their culture. This was irrelevant to them. Instead, they embraced the differences. Josephine Baker wanted to showcase that children she adopted could be brothers and sisters even if they came from different parts of the world. She called them the rainbow tribe. Pat Williams did the same thing with his former spouse.

For one year, 16 of his children were all adolescents at the same time. The couple got married in 1973 and divorced in 1995. After 23 years when his first wife left Pat Williams, he had to parent his 18 children alone for a couple of years. Then, in 1997, Pat Williams married his current spouse Ruth, a consultant with FranklinCovey Co., who brought a child of her own to their home. His wife Ruth Williams studied in a Ph.D. program in organizational leadership. In addition, she is an authoress and a top public speaker. The couple has 18 grandchildren. According to the media, all of Williams’ children chose a career based on their own choices and they are all doing well. Pat Williams and his family have been featured in many publications: Sports Illustrated, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today including the major network and cable television news channels.

Williams is probably the man who has adopted the most children in the U.S. Fatherhood is very important and there are devastating effects when dads are not involved in their children’s lives. For instance, in France, more than half of male prisoners did not have fathers present in their lives3. Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu said that boys make babies and men take care of them which is the real definition of manhood. We would live in a much better world if people in a position to do it would take care and love children that need adult guidance.

Pat Williams was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood and bone marrow) in February 2011. He is now in remission. He is involved in several boards for different cancer groups throughout the U.S. such as the Board of Directors for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. It happens that he offers words of encouragement to people with cancer.

Pat Williams’ journey can inspire so many people because he managed to overcome many difficulties: cancer, divorce, etc. He has a lot of resilience and found a way to make the best with what life had to offer. People can learn a lot from him in many spheres: fatherhood, management, authorship, etc. So many people work in a job they hate and they lack the courage to follow their true passion. Some end up in a gilded cage for decades and do not know how to break free. Pat Williams managed to follow his heart and achieve a rich lifestyle with his real love, sport. This path can also teach a person many things, especially when he succeeded to stay on top for decades, something not easy to accomplish in any field.

Overall, Pat Williams is boyish in the good sense of the word. He has to be because he has a lifelong passion for Walt Disney and he has adopted many children. It is important for him to live as a Christian and have an abundant life.

Pat Williams was in the United States Army for 7 years. He devoted 7 more years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization: 2 as a minor league catcher and 5 in the front office. In addition, he spent 3 years in the Minnesota Twins organization. Pat Williams has been involved in sports for over 50 years. For more than 40 years, he was in the NBA. He has also been honored with the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was introduced to the Magic's Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class in 2014.

Williams became part of the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame after catching for the Deacon baseball team, comprising the 1962 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship team. He was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. He is also part of six other halls of fame around the country.
Since 1968, Pat Williams has worked in the NBA as a general manager for teams in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia—including the 1983 World Champion 76ers—and after this, the Orlando Magic, which he co-founded in 1987 and lead to the NBA finals in 1995 and 2009. In 1996, Pat Williams was recognized as one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history by Beckett's, a national publication.

Pat Williams has never sat on his laurels. He loves to expand constantly. He has written more than 110 books, some with other people. The first paperbck was published in October 1974. In the following interview, he will talk about his latest book Lead Like Walt among other subjects. Some of his books have been translated into Spanish and French.

It is not easy to transition successfully professionally. Pat Williams managed to be a pro athlete and after an administrator in sport. He was able to stay on top in sports for decades. This demonstrates how smart he is with his peripheral vision.

Even if he retired a while back, he still plays many roles. For one thing, he delivers motivational speeches for Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney, IBM, Nike and American Express, as well as national associations, universities and nonprofits—he gives more than 150 speeches per year. He also writes books, hosts a radio host, runs marathons (he participated in 58 marathons between the ages of 55 and 70), climbs, and lifts weights. Furthermore, he features in the basketball Hall of Fame and worked as the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic. Before becoming a member of the Central Florida pro basketball in 1986, Williams carried out the general manager role for the Philadelphia 76ers for 12 seasons. He took them to a World Championship title in 1983.

He wrote at least 10 books for the series How to Be Like. It would be interesting to create a version of these series for children to teach them about sports legends such as Jackie Robinson and Michael Jordan (the NBA star Grant Hill wrote the foreword of the book). At some point, he had a radio show called The Pat Williams Show where he interviewed many athletes and other people such as Dr. Billy Graham. He used to write a sports weekly column for the Wilmington News-Journal.

Pat Williams’ life is a unique American story and a film about it would be interesting. Many layers could be covered, such as whether some of his adopted children looked for their biological parents, how it was to raise kids from different cultures, whether they encouraged to learn their first language and maintain contact with their community, etc.
Pat Williams wrote his autobiography 20 years ago, Ahead of the Game: The Pat Williams Story which has a very nice cover and great pictures with people such as the late Og Mandino. This book can give hope to many people who are struggling with their own problems. Williams’ story shows that it is possible to start your life over at any age with determination and Christian faith. This autobiography, penned in 1999, is candid, introspective and insightful.

Williams understood the importance of collaboration, one of the keys of his success. He has written at least one book with his wife and another one with one of his daughters, The Takeaway (it is rare that a mogul pens a book with a daughter and it shows how generous he is). He has also penned books with other writers such as Jim Denney for Lead Like Walt, he co-created the Orlando Magic. He wrote this book How to Be Like Women of Influence with his wife Ruth Williams and Michael Mink. Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan, wrote the beautiful foreword for this book. Given that the book is about honoring eminent women, it makes sense that the authors chose the mother of one of the biggest athletes of all time to preface the book. In addition, it demonstrates that it is important for Pat Williams to showcase the contributions of women from many fields in his writing. It is interesting to mention that in How to Be Like Women of Influence; remarkable stories are narrated such as the one of Annie Johnson, the great-grandmother of Dr. Maya Angelou. It helps readers to understand and grasp how many successful women were inspired by their ancestors. Many of Williams’ books focus on business, leadership and life lessons.

Pat Williams is a non-conformist. If he wants to do something, he will, regardless of naysayers. For instance, he commenced to run marathons in his fifties. He also tried to climb mountains at 56. His fearlessness allowed him to push many barriers and accomplish a lot of stuff. He does not limit himself on many levels. The word can’t probably isn’t part of his vocabulary.

Williams is the kind of man who does not have an entourage and who answers his own calls. We are proud to mention that the conversation below is Pat Williams’ first in-depth Canadian interview which occurred at the end of last year. I felt I was talking with a real life Phillip Drummond.

When did your love for sport start? Given that you were involved in basketball management for decades, when did your passion for this sport commence?

P.W. It began at a very young age. I was about 3 years old. My father was a high school sports coach and taught history at Tower Hill School in Wilmington. I used to sit on benches as a little boy to watch games. My love for sport kept growing with time. I was absorbed by it. After high school, I embraced a professional career in baseball while I was in college until the age of 22. After that, I got involved in basketball as an executive manager for five decades. It was another world of sport that I was passionate about. As you know, at the same time I developed I developed meanwhile the NBA franchise, the Orlando Magic in the eighties. So, for my entire life since the age of 3, I have been involved in sport.

P.T. You have loved baseball since your childhood. You wrote a book about Jackie Robinson. What legacy has this athlete left us in your opinion and why was it important for you to co-write about him?

P.W. I wrote a series of books, how to be like several people, such as Disney. One of them was Jackie Robinson because I admire him. He was a remarkable man. I wanted to have an in-depth look at him. I spoke to more than 1000 people to discover his qualities more thoroughly from people who knew him. His involvement in sport was historical and went beyond this field.

He was a unique heroic activist and became an invaluable player in the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson was a very intelligent man with great courage and strength. He was a devoted family man and wanted to make a difference in the world. It was important for him to inspire people far beyond baseball. He was optimistic and showed great resilience in spite of his hurdles.

For all these reasons, I wanted to write about him. I intended to make sure that future generations would know about his contributions and would understand what he meant to people. There is so much to learn from Robinson, and his journey should be part of the youth’s education because his main battle was to attain equality in our country with a non-violent approach like Dr. King’s.

P.T. As a sports executive, I think it would be very interesting to hear about the heritage you believe that Branch Rickey (considered as a legendary manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers) left.

P.W. Rickey was a long time president of the Dodgers. He was bold; he had a dream with a vision and knew how to implement it. He wanted to bring top Black baseball players into the major league of baseball. In fact, he was determined to do it in spite of the mentality at the time when segregation was still the law of the nation mainly in the South. There was no law in the 40s forbidding African-American players to be involved in major league baseball even if no team did that at the time. So, Rickey took advantage of the law. Firstly, after World War II, he signed Jack Roosevelt Robinson into a minor league on the 28th August 1945, a symbolic date because exactly 18 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. Both events were about integration. In fall 1945, it was officially announced that Robinson would be part of the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' International League branch. Branch Rickey sent Robinson to Montreal where he became part of the International League in 1946. On April 18th 1946, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier of pro baseball's contemporary era by participating in his first game with the Triple-A International League Montreal Royals. It was an amazing season there for Robinson. It allowed him to be part of the Brooklyn Dodgers after. In April 1947, Robinson signed his first major league contract and he was the first African American to play in the major leagues in modern times. Rickey was instrumental in bringing Robinson into the major league of baseball and smashing the color barrier. Branch Rickey was resolute in taking along a pioneer with the team and he succeeded. I would also like to say that Rickey added 2 more Black stars and slowly the color line cracked. This gave the opportunity to several African-Americans to have great careers in major league baseball in the future.

P.T. Jackie Robinson excelled in different sports. Do you know why he chose a professional career specifically in baseball and to break the glass ceiling in this field? For instance, he was great in tennis and maybe he could have broken the glass ceiling before Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe? Don’t hesitate to share your opinion with us.

P.W. You are right; Jackie Robinson excelled in other sports. He was a great college athlete in his alma mater. In football, he shined. He also became an outstanding basketball player for UCLA. He prospered in tennis, track and field and of course in baseball. He played all these sports in one year for his teams. So, he dominated these different sports. During his time, there were no Black players in the NFL. Professional basketball had not arisen yet. After WWII, he got married and needed to make a living. He started playing with the Negro League in baseball for the United States and Canada. He did well and during that time Rickey decided that he would begin scouting the Negro League to find out if any player could be part of the major league. The scouters who spotted Robinson said to Rickey that the athlete was a little bit older, secure, intrepid, charismatic and a college graduate. He had played against White and Black players before and felt that he had the persona to integrate the major league. They knew that Robinson would be solid. For these reasons, Rickey selected Robinson as the first Black player in major league baseball.

It is true he could have gone far as a tennis player, but in Robinson’s days, tennis was not a lucrative sport. He won the Pacific Coast mixed doubles championship and he attained the semifinals in the national Negro Tennis tournament in the thirties. He was also great in football, track and basketball.

However, Robinson felt he had a better future in baseball. As I mentioned, he began his career in the Negro Leagues. Rickey started scouting these teams. He saw that Robinson would perform well and would have the mature persona to face the hurdles he would meet while breaking the color barriers in the mainstream major league.

P.T. You became a bibliophile at the age of 7. You said that you are interested in building The Pat Williams Leadership Library in Orlando. Can you elaborate on that?

P.W. I started to collect books at the age of 7. I always was a voracious reader. Throughout the years, I possessed more than 20,000 books. So, I would like the public to benefit from what I have gathered for over 70 years. These books need to end up somewhere. We found a location in Florida at the First Baptist Church of Orlando. If things go well, the library should be open around spring 2020.

P.T. It would be interesting if your library could be available online like archive.org because it would allow the world to access the books. In addition, it would be great if all the books were available in an audio version like at archive.org to increase the accessibility, with a collection of historical sport videos. You are fascinated with Walt Disney. You started to write about him in the 90s. Tell us about your captivation regarding him and the new perspective you brought in your latest book regarding Disney.

P.W. I have been fascinated with Disney for a long time even though if I never met him. I learned about him through his work and the people who knew him. I studied him. I gathered information about him. My most recent book, Lead Like Walt, presents him as a leader. He had a vision. This represents the most important quality that any leader can possess. It is crucial to be able to see further than others. To me, Disney was a great hero. I spoke to his daughter Diane and several of his grandchildren. It let me find out more about him on a personal and professional level. Even if he died decades ago, his leadership principals are still relevant and can be applied in many endeavors.

P.T. You began to study the life and leadership of Walt Disney while you were building your NBA franchise. What strategies from Disney were useful in creating the Orlando Magic?

P.W. In June 1986, when I came here, Orlando was not a very big city. We had to struggle to create an NBA franchise. Other cities were trying to get into the NBA. We were the underdogs. We had to fight and were up against bigger towns. I learned a great deal about leadership from that experience and from Disney. He used 7 important elements that helped him propel his career, such as a strong and clear vision, great communication and social skills, character and competence. These leadership tools were definitely useful to build my franchise. I believe these elements represent a condensed look of what it takes to be an effective leader. I intend to use what I learned to bring a major baseball team to Orlando. This will be my next big sport school.

P.T. You composed the book How to Be Like Walt that you consider Disney as one of your mentors even if you never met him. You also mentioned that the Orlando Magic would not have existed if not for Disney’s influence. Can you elaborate on that?

P.W. Disneyland was first built in California. Walt Disney wanted to establish another one on the east coast of the U.S. He decided it would be in Orlando, Florida. He really had a vision at the time because it was a small market. The second park was installed in 1963. Now, this attraction has become the number 1 tourist destination in the world. It really puts Florida on the map. Many new people are moving here. It is an exciting and growing community thanks to Disney in my opinion. Without him, none of us would be living here [chuckles]. This accomplishment made me believe that it was possible to grow a market in basketball in Florida. I also benefited from the support and encouragement of Disney executives who were mentored by Disney. The Magic part of the name of the franchise was inspired by the Magic Kingdom of Disney which is practically next door. Again, thanks to Disney, it was possible to develop basketball in Florida by bringing elite athletes to the team. Walt Disney reminds us about the importance of dreams. His empire (the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world with an annual revenue of circa $60 billion) would never have existed if he had not dared to dream.

My main mission here was to bring an NBA franchise team to this city. We were successful with that venture. But, I got fascinated with all things related to Disney and I was convinced his strategies would help me with the Orlando Magic. Disney’s persona intrigued me particularly and I wanted to know more. It became also important for me to research him thoroughly to see how I could apply his plans in my business endeavors.

P.T. In your latest book Lead Like Walt, you talk about the 7 sides of leadership. Do you mind presenting them to us?

P.W. The 7 keys are: vision, communication, people skills (including teaching and solving techniques), character, competence, boldness and a serving heart. When I think of vision, for instance, you need to have a clear plan and be able to see things down the road. It is crucial to become an excellent communicator by being able to listen to people and have great tact. This means you need to study people. The ability to communicate your vision to people also matters. To have people skills, it means genuinely being interested in others while caring about them. Integrity and honesty represent an integral part of an impressive character. Humility is also part of this. I believe that a man like Nelson Mandela possessed these qualities. He used to say, “I am not a leader but a servant”. Many leaders do not share this mentality or outlook. Several want to be the boss or rule over people. Some think they need to be tough, strike and so on.

To be a leader, you of course must have a great sense of responsibility, be a life learner, open to change and bold. You must also be able to make difficult decisions; this requires courage. I believe that whatever the field, anybody who wants to become successful can learn from Disney’s principles.

P.T. What do you want readers to take away from Lead Like Walt? In addition, what do you think people can learn from Walt Disney?

P.W. I want the readers to retain all the skills that Disney nurtured to become the creative man that he was. He had an imaginative, artistic and ingenious vision while knowing how to implement his ideas. He was valiant and not afraid to take risks. Disney’s leadership had 7 key traits that I named earlier. These are the main abilities that readers can keep in mind for the goals they want to achieve.

I think what people can learn from Disney is the fact that he valued education highly. Unfortunately, we became a non-reading society. It is important for people to get as much knowledge as possible and I hope my books get people excited about reading.

P.T. So far with what I’ve read, all your books are very interesting.

P.W. Well, thank you and I’m really pleased to hear that!

P.T. I believe writing is really an art because not everybody masters this and is able to captivate their readers.

P.W. To be a great writer the first step is to be a big reader of books with substance. It is important to be selective in what you are reading. This is what I tell people.

P.T. I also think that what helps a book succeed is that it serves people, in other words a book people find useful

P.W. Yes, and this is what I say to people: only read books that you are interested in. Never pick up a book that is boring to you.

P.T. [Chuckles] Not many people manage to stay on top of their field for decades. What are the secrets for your successful professional longevity? How did you manage to find a balance between your professional life, your marriage and fatherhood?

P.W. You need to discipline yourself and know your priorities while respecting them. Balance is key. You must find time for everything: time to sleep, to study, to be with your children, your wife, etc. We live in a fast world so you have to manage your time wisely. You cannot allow to be so busy with your career that you neglect or forget your family because there will be consequences. Every aspect of life has to function well. It won’t happen by accident. You must be vigilant. Fatherhood is very important to me and my own father was a role model, he was always involved.

I think what helped me to achieve longevity professionally is the fact that I am a lifelong learner. I have intellectual curiosity with many interests so it gave me the opportunity to continually develop my skills and abilities.

P.T. What advice do you have for people who want to follow your path in sport as an executive?

P.W. Getting a good education is a prerequisite. Knowledge is freedom. Formal education provides discipline, analytical skills, diligence, and organizational abilities. Enrolling in graduate school represents a great foundation that can take you to a master’s degree. There are internships in sports out there. Do not worry about money or salary at that point. You need contacts to go forward. Sport is a small business so building effective relationships is crucial. All these experiences give the opportunity to meet people and create a strong professional network. Do not hesitate to seek mentors and talk to individuals who have succeeded. They will become a source of motivation and inspiration. They will be in a position to teach and counsel you.

P.T. It is amazing that you adopted 14 children. To be a man who decided to adopt children, you must have a lot of love in your heart. Did you have a happy childhood with loving parents as a foundation for your positive outlook in life? What values did your parents instill in you that made you become a philanthropist?

P.W. Thank you for what you just said! I was fortunate and blessed to have very giving and loving parents. They were generous with their time. My family definitely gave me a great outlook on life which really helped me. We lived in the state of Delaware. My parents were constantly involved in fundraisings with civic projects so philanthropy was a core part of my upbringing. I learned a lot from watching my parents. Sharing and being present for others were important values that I discovered from them. It was my first wife who wanted to adopt children who did not look like us. She won me over with time. The kids were from the Philippine, Korea, Brazil, etc. We have 19 children in total, 4 of whom are biological. They are all adults now. The youngest is 33 and the oldest is 47. We have a big tribe from all over the world [chuckles]. We receive a lot of love from them and we give them a lot of it. There is reciprocity in our relationships and family dynamics. It was not always easy but we enjoyed it and still are enjoying being parents.

P.T. You adopted 14 kids and you have 4 biological children. What fatherhood means to you and what tips can you give to parents who are struggling?

P.W. You need to spend time with your children. Parenting has to be a balance of love and discipline, because otherwise you will have problems. Kids must have chores adapted to their age to give them a sense of responsibility. There are rules in the house and children need to respect them. Pray for your children and encourage them to do the same. I also believe it is important to take kids to church. When they are young, read to them. Children love books and enjoy being read to. It can be various subjects including spirituality and morality. Parents need to be really present and involved in their children’s activities (sport, music, art, computers…); they must meet their teachers, etc. It is the job of parents to dig down into the interests of their kids and find out what they are. It is one of the best ways for children to stay out of trouble. Boredom might unfortunately lead them to problems so it needs to be avoided at all costs by keeping them occupied. It is also important to not compare your children likewise with other people’s kids.

Now, all my children are grown-up and are making a life for themselves. I enjoy fatherhood immensely. It means a lot to me and I grew from it. I speak to my children on a regular basis and again we have a lot of reciprocity. For me, it is a wonderful experience to be a dad.

P.T. I laughed when you wrote in your book The Takeaway that there are 13 million adult children in the U.S. who won’t leave their parents’ homes. It makes me think of Peter Pan syndrome which in my opinion can be applied equally to males and females. What advice do you have as a father for parents who need to prepare their children to become responsible and independent adults? I would like to mention that unfortunately, there are adults (whatever their age) out there who managed to learn no skills. This problem needs to be addressed.

P.W. Unfortunately, there are many adult children who remain at their parents’ homes even if they finished their education. When you stay too long at home, you get comfortable given that all the bills are being paid. Adult children in this situation won’t necessarily make efforts to become independent. Parents need to instill in their children during their formative years that they will need to be autonomous when they grow up. They will not stay at home play video games after adolescence and live off their parents while they just hang out.

P.T. [Chuckles].

P.W. I feel very strongly about that because the next thing you know, you end up with an adult child who cannot get out of the house. Mom and Dad already did their job by raising you. It is the parents’ duty to give life tools to their children that will allow them to be responsible adults. This starts very early in childhood. These seeds need to be planted at a young age. Once they are 18, the message is clear that we will always support our children but differently. This is how you raise productive adults. All my children now live on their own. After their teenage years, they had three choices: enter the job market, pursue their studies in college and/or university (they knew I would help them financially) or enroll in the military. Adults need to become independent and participate constructively in society. In other words, they cannot live off their parents. To reiterate, they have to turn into productive adults by contributing to society. They can learn a trade; become a carpenter, electrician, plumber and so on. It is unacceptable that adult children stay in the basement of their parents’ homes while playing video games all day long. Responsibility has to be taught early and the parents’ job is to give tasks to their children adapted to their age. Kids cannot be spoiled and things cannot just be handed to them because they won’t know the value of hard work and money. Some will even have a sense of entitlement. This needs to be avoided because the world does not owe anybody anything or won’t necessarily take care of you. I believe that it gives self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment to make it on your own.

P.T. It seems that adulthood comes later in life than previous generations. Before, people studied less, started working young and began their own family early. They had these responsibilities sooner.

P.W. You are right! Many worked on farms and they had no choice. They had to labor manually. People had to grow up fast.

P.T. It is interesting to say this because there are people who believe that if you can make it in a farm it means that you are self-sufficient and can do pretty much everything. Regarding the Peter Pan syndrome, it is a term that has been around mostly since the 60s when young people’s expectations became different from previous generations. I also observed that some parents who are divorced feel guilty and spoil their children without realizing that they are not helping them to become responsible adults. In addition, we live in an era where the false myth of instant success is sold and promoted to young people via TV reality shows.

P.W. You are right! The key part of parenting is to help your children to become successful adults. When they are very young it is important to prepare them and talk openly about what will happen when they leave home. Their kids need to have a plan for what they will do with their lives. It has to be expected they will contribute constructively to society. In addition, shortcuts do not really exist and hard work is required. Instant success never or rarely arrives! TV reality shows are doing a great disservice to the youth. It has nothing to do with reality.

P.T. [Laughs] Even people who succeeded young, started very early. For example, Muhammad Ali started boxing at age 12, Tiger Woods began golf at 2 or 3. Many people do not value education. Some want to make quick money. You embraced a very interesting path as an entrepreneur. You were an athlete and transitioned in sport management. Meanwhile, you earned a Ph.D. in Humane Letters in the 60s. Many young people interested in a sports career do not think that it can be fickle and an athletic career can end abruptly with an accident for instance. How education was instrumental in your journey and what advice do you have for young people who think they do not need schooling because they can get a very lucrative contract in sport?

P.W. As you well said, the life of an athlete can be very fragile. His or her career can end unexpectedly and quickly. Young people must realize that education is for life, it will always be useful. Nobody can take away what you learned. Money can come and go. People lose fortunes with bad investments, etc. Education can help people to make wise decisions and it is a long-term self-investment. Education does not stop when you finish school whatever the level you reach. Lifelong education (through seminars, retreats and so on) is important to become a well-read person especially in the era of the information age where we live.

Education was definitely instrumental in my path because it gave me options and provided me with skills to deal with the contracts, etc. I encourage young people to go as far as they can in education (by earning a master’s degree for example) especially between the ages of 18-24 when they do not have yet their own families, meaning they have fewer responsibilities. I believe that even young people who manage to sign very lucrative contracts need knowledge to understand what they are getting themselves into.

P.T. I believe in some ways we are all richer now because we have access to information like never before in human history. For example, Abraham Lincoln did not have 200 books in his personal library in the 19th century so it speaks volumes!

In addition, I would like to add that many professional athletes become broke after the end of their career so education gives them options and always will be useful whatever their future path. You wrote in your latest book that Disney, a self-taught tycoon, always regretted not having a college education. Can you tell us why?

P.W. That is a great question! Walt Disney never finished high school. He grew up in Chicago and then his family moved to a farm in Missouri. World War I arrived and Disney participated in it by going to Europe. When he came back to the U.S., he started to work for a newspaper in Kansas City and after that, he began his entrepreneurial life. He never enrolled in college and always regretted he didn’t.

I guess he felt that a formal education would have been a great tool for him in his entrepreneurial deals for negotiations, etc. His life was moving in such a fast rhythm that there was no way he could go to university. It was not realistic for him. I think that given a second chance, he would have enrolled in college, but it just did not work out that way for him.

He always had great respect for education; he surrounded himself with knowledgeable people. His creativity, vivid imagination and skills made him the man that he was. There was never someone like him before and there will never be again. He was unique. I do not think in his case education would have changed the trajectory of his success but he still sensed that it would have given him more assets.

P.T. If I am right, he tried other entrepreneurial projects and endeavors which failed. So, maybe this is why he felt something was missing in his education.

P.W. It is possible! Before, some of his entrepreneurial attempts did not work out. His success was not instant, he had trials and errors. Some of his early ventures were setbacks for him. But he learned a lot from them. He interpreted these failures as great lessons and his optimism helped him thrive. He managed to not be too affected by his impediments or take them personally.

P.T. Like Walt Disney, you followed your passion. You embraced a sports career and did not accept a regular 9 to 5 job. I am sure you met naysayers. In addition, many parents want their children to take a traditional path to make sure they attain financial security. Growing up, were you allowed to do whatever you wanted professionally speaking? How did you manage to not listen to pessimists and have faith in your journey?

P.W. To be honest, I had some fears and concerns. However, I believe it is crucial in life to take the time to assess your talents and passion. In my case, growing up, my only true interest was sport. So, to me it was obvious that this was the path that I had to take professionally.

Fortunately, I had parents who supported me in whatever I wanted to do professionally. They always encouraged me to pursue what I was passionate about. Both of my parents loved sport, so it was traditionally part of my family and it was highly valued. My father was a coach and a teacher in high school (Tower Hill School). My mother was a housewife who loved baseball. She used to take me to sports events. Growing up, I had no interest in science, math, economics, etc. Since the age of 22 until now, I have been involved in the sport business and I love it. Right now, I am working on bringing major league baseball to Orlando, Florida. We have had a big positive response. However, there are naysayers who believe it won’t happen. But I never listened to them until now. I will not drop this project and I am convinced it will materialize. As mentioned, Walt Disney is like a mentor to me even if I never met him. He also had naysayers but he believed in his dreams and did not let anybody deter them. He was an optimistic like me. You go nowhere when you pay attention to what pessimists have to say. Disney did not listen to them and I have the same attitude. Often, naysayers like to criticize people who want to accomplish their aspirations while they lack goals for themselves.

P.T. It seems that your parents had emotional intelligence and understood that they had to let you be who you are and not what they wanted you to be by molding you to their expectations. They loved you for who you were. If your autobiography Ahead of The Game is adapted one day into a movie, who would you like to portray you as a young man and as an older version of you and why? Moreover, what director would you like to be involved and why?

P.W. I would love Tom Hanks to portray me. We just saw his latest movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and we loved it. I thought Hanks was awesome in his role of Mr. Rogers. I would love to meet him and discuss how he would play me. He is a very versatile actor. I think it would be awesome! You should interview him to let him know that in his next movie he should play me!

P.T. [Laughs out loud] I’ve followed his career since my childhood. I find your choice interesting because you have maintained your childhood wonder into adulthood given that you highly respect Walt Disney, and you love kids, since you adopted so many of them. I think it will take an actor like Hanks to evoke this side of you. His movie Big showed this ability especially in the iconic piano scene. Tom Hanks is an actor who can do drama and is able to be very funny.

P.W. He is terrific. He possesses a great range of talent!

P.T. Who would you want to direct your movie?

P.W. It could also be Tom Hanks. Directing would not be something new to him. He did this in That Thing You Do.

P.T. You will give Hanks a lot of work with your movie [Chuckles].

P.W. I do not know who should play me as a young guy.

P.T. In your book How to Be Like Jackie Robinson, you wrote that Robinson stressed the importance of increasing the presence of minorities in the managerial offices and the boardrooms of professional sports. What is your current assessment of this situation including gender equality, team owners and coaches? If you think there is a glass ceiling, what solutions do you envision?

P.W. In the first place, I would like to mention that Jackie Robinson is a real-world hero of mine. I respect him tremendously and had an enjoyable time writing about him. His wife is still alive. I believe that Jackie Robinson is the person who did the most in America in terms of race-relations despite probably Dr. King. If Dr. King was still with us, he would have maybe argued that Robinson did more than him. He was a crucial symbol because his integration in the major league for baseball changed the dynamics in race-relations forever. It was a great catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement which really emerged in the 1950s. I think it is really important that Jackie Robinson’s life should be taught throughout generations. Young people need to know the courage and great force of this man in-depth. He was a fearless leader and fought non-violently to make this society better. He saw things the way it should be and was not afraid to voice his opinion about it. To go back to your question, he was not just a talker. For instance, in 1964 he created a “biracial” bank with other investors, the Freedom National Bank. He believed in economic empowerment for all people. This demonstrates that he aimed to increase all people in finance beyond sports.

Robinson also felt very strongly about minorities being managers in baseball particularly. I feel that we made progress. We have a good number of African-Americans managing in big leagues. I believe we have a significant number of Hispanics. We have several Black coaches in the NBA and in the NFL. I think Robinson would be encouraged and pleased if he was still with us.

P.T. What about women? Do you think there is a significant representation of my gender in sport management?

P.W. We are getting better. I am proud to say that in the NBA, there are several women who are coaches among the staff. I think we have come a long way in professional sport and there is a better representation of the female gender. I am confident there are opportunities for women who want to embrace this path in the future.

P.T. You gave several motivational speeches to Fortune 500 companies. Not many women are CEOs of these companies. How can they break the glass ceiling to be part of the highest ranking of management? What solutions do you see to shatter the structural barriers? Are you in favor of parity rules for boards of directors?

P.W. That’s a great question! Honestly, I haven’t taken a lot of time to think about it. However, I encourage women, including my daughters, to get firstly an education, which represents the best basis to achieve their dreams. Lifelong education is crucial! Do not hold back and don’t set limits for yourself! Never get to the point of not even trying. This is the real failure! When you experience failures, the most important thing is to learn lessons from it and find a way to overcome your obstacles. In other words, one of the most important things in life is to keep a positive attitude and not be defeated by letdowns. People need to remember that nobody knows everything so it is crucial to be bold and daring while being surrounded by the right people.

Experience is imperative. You need to study the field of your choice. Whatever the nationality, if the woman is well equipped and it is clear she can do the job because she has the required skills—knowledge about teamwork, management, analyzing financial reports, etc.—there is no reason to not hire her. Organizations always want and seek talent.

P.T. What about parity rules because things do not change just like that?

P.W. Again, this is a very good question but I have not thought about it much about it because it is not my field. Nevertheless, I guess that parity rules could help. For example, Norway introduced quotas for boards. In 2011, a law was passed in France to balance the genders balance in company boards. Maybe in my country, the government should identify companies that favor gender parity and give them monetary incentives. It should also be the responsibility of companies to provide equal advancement opportunities to the most qualified employees while considering gender parity in key positions. This is how women can climb easier the corporate ladder.

P.T. What entrepreneurial tips can you give to our readers?

P.W. The tips that I can give are simple. You need to study the field of your choice, to seek mentors (who know the proper channels) and listen to them. You must learn from their mistakes and how they overcame their hurdles. Perseverance and being focused are essential. You have to become a voracious reader. You should read things of substance that fascinate you on a regular basis. Do not be afraid to ask good questions. Look for guidance from experienced people, like managers who know the system and the professional road to take you to the higher level of your chosen field.

I believe that it is important for entrepreneurs to develop speaking skills. Businesspersons need to have a clear plan. In other words, they must know where they are going. Other qualities are required, such as possessing a strong character without a big ego, integrity, a vision, a solid sense of responsibility and resilience to go through tough times. Walt Disney possessed these.

P.T. To finish, what does success mean to you?

P.W. Since childhood, I wanted people who cared about me (especially my parents) to be proud of me and I wanted them to say: he earned it, he deserves the success and it was not handed to him, the results of his efforts were not an accident or a coincidence, and that he worked really hard by putting great energy into it. I would like these people to state that I succeeded with a good attitude, I was always well-behaved with people and constantly had time for them. I hope this is what people dear to me think about my contributions.

P.T. I thank you a great deal for giving this really interesting interview. It was a privilege to talk with you. I hope that your path will inspire many of our readers!

P.W. I wish you all the very best!

P.T. Thanks!

Selected bibliography:

Ahead of the Game: The Pat Williams Story
How to Be Like Jackie Robinson
How to be Like Mike
How to Be Like Women of Influence
How to Be Like Walt
Lead Like Walt
How to Be Like Jesus
Extreme Dreams Depend on Teams

Most Pat Williams’ books can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Pat-Williams/e/B000AR9E0A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3&;qid=1581523297&sr=1-3, https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/pat-williams/250263/

Official website: www.patwilliams.com 


In 1947, Jackie Robinson won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award among many other prizes during his career and beyond.  Robinson, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  Robinson received the Push Award in the early 70s (he became the Vice-Chairman of PUSH (founded by the Rev.  Jesse Jackson in 1971) for the NY branch in 1974)

2 The third richest state in the U.S. at the time