By Tammy Kempfert
You can’t throw Marti Wronski any curveballs.
The Neenah, Wisconsin, native has been hitting career home runs ever since graduating from UW Law School with high honors in 1997. She spent nearly six years as an associate with Milwaukee’s Foley & Lardner and had taken a faculty spot at Marquette Law School when the Milwaukee Brewers tapped her for the team’s legal department.
Now vice president and general counsel for the Brewers, Wronski is one of just a few women holding top leadership positions in Major League Baseball. She has built a national reputation on a smart, can-do professional ethic that has her handling all of the team’s legal and contract work with impressive acumen. And after nearly twelve years on the job, she says she feels ready for anything.
Life as Wronski knew it changed dramatically last spring, however, when her family adopted a dog that had wandered into the Brewers’ spring training facility in Arizona. The Wronskis stepped up to rescue Hank, named for baseball legend Hank Aaron, because the players had fallen in love with the mangy, abandoned pup.
Since then, the world has fallen in love with Hank, too. He has been immortalized in print (his biography comes out this fall); in plastic (he was featured in a bobblehead giveaway at a home game in September); and in fabric (plush Hank toys are available at the Brewers Team Store at Miller Park). A portion of the proceeds from Hank merchandise goes to humane societies in Wisconsin and Arizona.
Besides her day job, Wronski is the woman behind the popular Ballpark Pup — inking Hank’s trademark deals, managing his photo shoots, even sending out “pawtographed” responses to his fan mail — but her busy schedule doesn’t end there. She’s the mother of four school-aged boys, and she’s active in the community, too. Most notably, she, along with her husband and two other couples, founded the Miracle League of the greater Milwaukee area, a Little League program for children with disabilities.
How does Wronski manage it all? She credits her husband, Andy, a partner at Foley and Lardner; an amazing nanny; a sense of humor; and the “key to the kingdom for moms in the workplace” — flexibility.
We visited Wronski at Miller Park in June to learn more about her career, family, and newfound celebrity.
What does the Milwaukee Brewers’ legal team look like?
We have one lawyer in the entire organization: me. I do all the in-house work for the Brewers’ baseball and business sides. With me is Kate, who is an executive assistant and a paralegal — and we have a very strong internship program — but really that’s who we are.
How does your team fit into the organization as a whole?
On the business side, we have to maintain our sponsorships and keep revenues coming in to keep the building up, and get fans in the seats, and put the profits back into the players. On the baseball side, we have to decide who we’re going to put on the field. How are we going to get those players, and how will we develop them — so that the business side can keep the fans in the seats, right? It’s this cyclical thing. Most people here work on one side or the other, either baseball or business. There are only three departments that touch both sides — PR, accounting, and legal.
As for your role, you’re one of a handful of people doing this work nationally. How would you define your job as vice president and general counsel of an MLB team?
I always tell people ‘vice president’ simply means that you’ve worked hard, that somebody out there wants to acknowledge that you did a good job, and that you finally made it. On the other hand, I take the words ‘general counsel’ very seriously. ‘General’ means I do a bit of everything — there’s no task above me, no task beneath me. No two days are ever the same. It’s what I love most about my job.
What does general counsel mean specifically? Could you break down your job description for Gargoyle readers?
It means that, on the baseball side, I handle the player deals and the negotiations with agents. Doug Melvin, our general manager, has of course made the important decisions — how much, how long — and then he hands it off to me to negotiate the rest. On the business side, we handle every contract in the world that you can imagine. On a daily basis, I’m reviewing everything from construction contracts — we’re constantly renovating and expanding — to ticket-back language to sponsorship arrangements. Overseeing our marks and rights is a huge component of my job; protecting those is the only way our sponsors have value and continue to support us. Recently, for example, I had to quickly trademark K-9, Hank, and then Hank’s face. Those were some of the fastest marks I’ve ever done. But the list never ends: worker’s comp on both the baseball side and business side, insurance on the baseball and the business sides. We branch out to our minor league affiliates, so I do all that communication work, and I’m the conduit to Major League Baseball on a whole host of issues.
Why did you choose UW Law School?
UW had the whole package. I applied to law schools all over and got in, but at the end of the day, I’m a Wisconsin kid. I wanted to stay near my family — we’re all very close — and I thought attending the UW would give me an edge to practice in the state. And because I was paying for my degree on my own, in-state tuition made law school affordable. Not to mention, UW is a phenomenal law school, located in the state’s capital. So I really loved the concept of going to this awesome law school that was right in my backyard.
What stands out from your law school experience?
I was at UW Law during the years when the building was remodeled, so most of my classes met in the basement of the old Commerce Building (now Ingraham Hall). When we finally moved back into the law building my third year, I remember a light fixture crashing from the ceiling during finals week and shattering all over my exam. I literally brushed the glass away and kept writing. I took from every one of my law professors really important lessons, but it’s my first class on my first day of law school that stands out. I was taking Torts 1 with Alta Charo. [At the time, Charo was involved in a controversial bioethics issue involving stem cell research, and there were protesters lined up outside the building.] Someone had to check us in to class to make sure we were students, put us into the classroom, and shut the door behind us. Professor Charo treated the situation and her students with such grace, explaining to us that we were safe and the situation was temporary. We learned quickly with Professor Charo what it meant to be passionate about a cause and the role of the law in such matters.
With small children at home, not to mention one very famous dog, your schedule is intense. How do you manage it?
I have these four little boys, so getting some flexibility in my work week — with the promise that I would do this job with every ounce of me, and do it right and well — was a condition of my staying on with the Brewers. Unlike what you hear very often in this industry about women, I have been given that flexibility for eleven years now. I’ve had the fortune to be surrounded by men who are incredibly supportive, incredibly forward thinking, and who are doing amazing things to help the industry. In fact, if you wanted to do a test study on how loyal you can make an employee in a short time just by letting that happen — by being flexible and trusting that a job will be done well — I’m it.
Our family is our number one priority, but I figured out a long time ago that I operate best when I’m working outside the home. Still, I don’t have to be here every day. I choose it. I choose it in part because — besides this being as good a job as anyone could possibly dream of — I’d love my experience to be modeled in workplaces everywhere. The more people see that relationship between employer trust and employee loyalty, in this industry and others, the more they’ll see that we lose tremendous talent and potential when we’re not willing to be flexible. In the family context, flexibility is the magic that makes this all work, and it serves men and women both.
How have you built that flexibility into your schedule?
On paper I work three days at Miller Park and two days from home, but really, I tell people I work three days and seven nights. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday — the days I’m physically in the office — are truly nonstop from the second I walk into the building. I usually have a line of between five and six people waiting to talk to me, and we just go. I mean, we just go straight the entire time. Mondays and Fridays, I work from home. Those are the days I try to do Hank’s stuff and handle conference calls and remote meetings. Once the kids go to bed, nighttime really is my time to sort through anything that’s come in during the day, do my drafting, answer emails, that sort of thing. And look, I appreciate the flexibility of the Monday and Friday, so I understand that at night, I may need to do a little catch-up.
That sounds incredibly organized, but still intense.
I like the hum of our lives, but it helps that I like to hum at a very high speed. I started this job eleven years ago when my oldest was a baby, and I was pregnant with my second son. I distinctly remember the days of rocking two different car seats with my toes while being on two different conference calls, putting the phone on mute and playing hide-and-seek, nursing and negotiating — the crazy things we do. My husband, Andy, is as committed as I am to making it all work: we can multitask with the best of them. And we’ve managed this way for so long now, I feel like I’m ready for anything.
All this and Hank, too?
Who knew that Hank would become this sensation? But look, regardless of any success I’ve seen in this industry or how hard I’ve worked, it’s important that I don’t take myself too seriously. I try to be approachable and have fun so that people feel they can come to me. After all, this is sports. We’re in the entertainment business, and we do things a little differently. Besides, if something as simple as Hank can make this many people happy, I’m in.