Career as Baseball Executive a Hit for Laurie Schlender ‘85

Career as Baseball Executive a Hit for Laurie Schlender ‘85

Thursday, November 10, 2022

When Laurie Schlender (Brown) ‘85 talks to younger employees about career opportunities, she always tells them to keep an open mind because you never know where your career path may lead.

She’s speaking from experience.

Schlender never planned on a career as a baseball executive, but with more than 20 years of experience in the Omaha Storm Chasers organization, she has no regrets about where the road led. She has been a critical cog in the Storm Chasers’ organization, and has thrived in many different roles, the past three as Vice President/General Manager. 

After graduating from Midland with an accounting degree and earning her CPA, she began working at a firm in Omaha. After taking some time off to be at home with her young children, she started her own consulting practice and had several clients in the Metro area. One of those clients was the Omaha Royals (name prior to Storm Chasers), as she assisted their business office. 

She eventually became a part-time accountant for Completely Kids, where she stayed for more than six years. Then she got an offer she simply couldn’t refuse.

“I received a call from a former colleague who worked with the Royals and told me they had an opening for their controller position and asked if I was interested,” Schlender said. “I remember looking at my husband and telling him I didn’t think I could say no. It was something I had to try because I loved baseball.”

Her love for the game blossomed while growing up in the small town of Quimby, Iowa (population 250). “We were Minnesota Twins fans and went to several games at old Metropolitan Stadium, watching players like Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew,” Schlender said. “My dad coached baseball, and I played softball, so sports were always a big part of our lives.”

When she started working as a controller for the Royals in 2008, little did she know her path to becoming a baseball executive was underway. Along with being controller, she was involved in office management, IT, human resources, and community relations. “The longer I was there, the more I became a resource for everyone because I knew quite a bit about the day-to-day operation,” she said.

She was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 2011 and named Vice President/General Manager in October 2019. Her life in baseball was far different from what she had envisioned growing up. “I never grew up thinking I was going to work in baseball,” Schlender said. “I went to college to be an accountant, and there was no such thing as a sports management degree, so I never even thought about working in sports. The Royals were one of the clients of the accounting firm I worked for, and I always had the thought that it would be cool to work for them someday, so it’s kind of weird how that all worked out.”

It’s a big reason she encourages the younger generation never to close the door on an opportunity. “I always tell our younger employees that you need to learn the business on a broader basis because the more you know, the more you can contribute,” she said. “I encourage them to look for opportunities outside of the box. You may not think it’s what you want to do, but until you try and see how it interacts with other parts of the business, you’ll never know. You might find something that’s the right fit for you like I did.”

When Schlender was ready to decide on a college, it turned out Midland was the right fit as well. Although much like her career in baseball, it wasn’t part of her initial plans. “My plan was to go to Morningside University because it was my mom’s alma mater, and it was close to home,” she said. “A recruiter from Midland (Chris Vaage) came to our high school, and I probably looked at it as an opportunity to get out of class, so I went and visited with her. She was fantastic and had a personality that drew me in, so I stayed in contact with her. I eventually came for a visit and really loved the campus and the Fremont community.”

While the influence of Vaage got Schlender in the door to Midland, it was the impact of a professor that kept her at Midland. “When I started in the business department, I met Mick Shadbolt (accounting professor) and eventually became his work study,” she said. “He became a great mentor to me and really pushed me, and I think connecting with him is what kept me going. That’s not something you would get at every school. Midland overall was a great experience for me because I got involved and made a lot of friends.”

Her accounting background keeps Schlender heavily involved in the day-to-day financial operations of the organization. But she wears many hats during the week, everything from meeting with fellow GMs in the International League to handling customer complaints. She meets weekly with fellow staff members, the ownership group, as well as baseball executives from across the country. Schlender also serves as the Chief Financial Officer for the Union Omaha soccer team, who play their home games at Werner Park, and is in constant communication with the GM of the Union. 

The work doesn’t end when the games start, as Schlender meets with fellow staff members on game days, ensuring everything is ready to roll at the park. Prior to the first pitch, she checks in with Storm Chasers’ manager, Scott Thorman, to make sure everything is good on his end. She then makes her way through the crowd, greeting and visiting with fans along the way. “I always have that fan who has a great idea they want to share with me,” she said with a laugh.

In her role as General Manager, Schlender finds herself in the minority regarding women holding high-ranking positions in MLB organizations. There is only one female GM (Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins) among 30 Major League Baseball teams. While the number of women working in baseball operations has increased over the past five years, more work still needs to be done.

“The first winter meetings I went to, there were two women in a room of 60 people,” Schlender said. “My first thought was, this needs to change. There are more female GMs at the lower levels, so it’s getting better. But it’s still very male-dominated. I’m fortunate that with the Storm Chasers, we have an ownership group that welcomes a very diverse staff, not just women. When we are going through the hiring process, we are trying to recruit diverse candidates.”

Schlender is hoping to do her part to get all candidates more involved in sports management. “I look forward to partnering with Midland to help more students get experience working in sports,” she said. “It’s about the challenges and the opportunity to grow and to mentor other people. When you have success impacting other people, it’s so much more important than money.”