Sean Bratches '91, former executive vice president, sales and marketing for ESPN and managing director of commercial operations for Formula 1, was the featured speaker of the 2021 Fram Signature Lecture. His speech "Critical Thinking: Defining a Brand in the Fast Lane" taught participants the critical thinking skills that are essential in the professional world. We sat down with him to learn more about Bratches and his education at Saunders College of Business.
Where did you learn how to think critically?
Sean: I spent three decades plus, almost four, in business and had thousands and thousands of meetings in some very bureaucratic companies, and I've never, went into a meeting where the title was 'critical thinking' or 'we're gonna do some critical thinking.' It's 'we have to make a decision.' The people who come to those meetings have different depths of thought regarding unpacking an issue and looking at it. I think it's clear that some people are looking around corners, and others are standing in the fog when you're in those meetings. I learned through my education that component pieces stitching together make the whole. They improve over time as you're in discussions, particularly when leading meetings, asking questions, and letting the discourse take its place. Involving a broad, diverse group of people from different backgrounds is the best avenue, the best path to come to the wisest decision that group can yield.
How did RIT specifically impact your career?
Sean: I think there's no question that RIT was a significant contributor to my career. My degree in business aligned with what I was looking at longer-term. I took several apropos classes that put me ahead of the game in the advertising and marketing space at a relatively young age. I understood some key trigger words that others with liberal arts educations or others (in general) didn't have. RIT provided me with a well-rounded background that challenged me to think critically and take my helicopter up higher than I would've independently.
What advice would you give for current RIT and Saunders students?
Sean: First of all, education is probably the only thing in life no one can take from you. Getting a good education and paying attention to it when you're here is essential. As RIT students look ahead to what they want to do in their careers- if it tracks any closely to mine or almost anyone I know- you spend more time working than you do with your friends or family. Try to figure something out that you're passionate about doing. I think passionate people over-deliver, and you're going to end up succeeding at a level, engaging in something that you're passionate about, that you might not if you're just going to work as opposed to having a career. Candidly, I don't think I went to work a day in my life. I think that's been important in terms of the successes that I've had.
What is it like being back on campus?
Sean: I feel like I just got out of SpaceX on Mars. It's extraordinary. The growth is candidly stunning, and the thoughtfulness of it. It's a product of starting a company either knowing or not knowing exactly what's in the future, but having to build the physical structure around what your incumbency was, and like ESPN, RIT is a habit trail, right? It's not as if you could take the landscape today and envision a campus and how you would logically build it. You have to deal with incumbent buildings. It's interesting to see the Labyrinth in terms of navigating around. The energy, the old brick, the new glass and steel, and the juxtaposition of the two are very apropos for the environment we live in and what RIT contributes to that.
Sean Bratches explored how thought proceeded strategy in the leadership, vision, and innovation has defined his career with Formula 1, ESPN, and others. He reinvigorated and launched brands into worldwide recognition with diversified revenue streams. He critically thought about how brands present themselves, are perceived, and ultimately engage with fans to build audiences and grow markets. With Formula 1, Bratches transformed from a motorsport series into a diversified global media and entertainment brand with record earnings during his tenure and achieved consistent increases in global race attendance, television viewership, and digital and social media usage and engagement.
Learn about upcoming featured events that Saunders College of Business offers, highlighting successful alumni and business professionals. To see photos from the 2021 Fram Signature Lecture, click here.