Q&A: Joe Ellis on Bowlen, the Broncos and the Bowl

October 17, 2013

Denver Business Journal

Joe Ellis, president of the Denver Broncos, has a long history with the team, beginning in 1983 when he was named director of marketing. His initial stint didn’t last long – it was just a couple of years before he left to earn a master’s degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

It was back to football for Ellis in 1990, when he signed on as a vice president with the National Football League, but he returned to the Broncos in 1998 as executive vice president of business operations, a job he held for 10 years. After a three-season stint as COO, Ellis was elevated to president in January 2011.

Ellis and I talked Thursday afternoon, before he was scheduled to speak at the University of Denver Daniels College of Business as part of its Voices of Experience series. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

You work for a company that gets a lot of attention locally and nationally. Do you feel like every decision you make is scrutinized to the nth degree?

Yes, but that’s the way it should be, right? In so many ways this team is – as Pat Bowlen, our owner, has described it – a public trust. They (the public) have a say in this team. In Pat Bowlen’s words,”It’s their team.” He just happens to own it. I think everything that we do is justifiably scrutinized. If someone is in this business and doesn’t like it, they’ve signed up for the wrong experience.

You mentioned Pat Bowlen. You’ve worked for him for decades. What have you learned from him about leadership?

Pat has said to me, “Remember this. I give my people who work directly for me plenty of rope to do their jobs, and just enough rope to hang themselves.” He expects you to do things the right way, to excel and get the message across to everybody who works for him that he wants to be the best at everything. Winning is important to him, but doing things the right way are important to him as well. He’s been very kind and very generous and comforting in his guidance in the years that I’ve worked with him and I take a lot of that to heart and try to employ those same characteristics to my leadership when he asks me to guide the organization in a certain direction.