Leadership

How the youngest general manager in professional sports history got his job

The Arizona Coyotes made history by naming John Chayka, then 26, as their General Manager in May 2016.
Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes made history by naming John Chayka, then 26, as their General Manager in May 2016.

John Chayka is the general manager of the Arizona Coyotes, a professional hockey organization in the National Hockey League. In his first season with the franchise, he has already been recognized for acquiring several new, key players and has been tasked with the overall goal of team improvement, as the Coyotes finished with just 35 wins and 39 losses to their name last season and have been without a playoff berth since 2011.

While he may have to deal with the same tasks as the over 150 other general managers in North America, Chayka has one attribute sets him apart from any other GM in the NHL, or in any of the major professional sports leagues for that matter: His age.

Chayka was hired when he was just 26 years old. Though he has since celebrated a 27th birthday, Chayka had already secured a spot in the record books as the youngest general manager hired in professional sports history.

To put that in perspective, there is a 16 year age gap between Chayka and Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks, who previously held the title of "youngest general manager in hockey." Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is 46 years his senior, old enough to be Chayka's grandfather.

John Chayka
Arizona Coyotes
John Chayka

So how did a recent college graduate secure a job reserved formerly for only the most practiced and experienced of sports businessmen?

He didn't let his age hold him back.

"No one came up to me outright and said, 'What are you doing?' but there was definitely a large level of skepticism," the general manager tells CNBC. "But for me, preparation was everything. The sports industry is such a results-oriented business and that's how I want to be judged, not by my age."

Chayka has followed a straightforward, two-step plan since he founded his own athletics company, Stathletes, after a back injury at age 19 took him off of the ice permanently.

"I learned quickly that when one thing knocks you off your feet, you have to find other ways to stay in the game," he says. "For me, I found a niche in analytics, analyzing video to address weaknesses and strengths on the ice. It was a market that was still developing at the time, and one that my age actually came as an advantage in."

John Chayka
Arizona Coyotes
John Chayka

The model itself is deceptively simple.

1. Don't consider your age.

2. Remember you are still young.

"Early on when I was a 20 year-old sitting across from some of the most respected managers in the business, I had to throw my age out the window and speak about what I knew I was an expert on," he explains. "At the same time, I had to recognize that I was the youngest person in the room and knew when it was my place to speak or make my mark and when I was better off backing off and listening."

"Why would I go for an internship if I feel I'm qualified and able to go for the real job?" -John Chayka, general manager of the Arizona Coyotes

Chayka is just one example of a general trend taking the sports business world by storm: the hiring of younger and younger business professionals, specifically in areas such as social and digital media and analytics. This trend has been specifically visible in the baseball realm, where Andrew Epstein, Theo Epstein, and Jon Daniels were all hired as GMs at the age of 28.

Regardless of your industry, Chayka believes, your age should not get in the way of getting what you want. "Don't let age influence or determine what you're trying to chase or achieve," he says. "Why would I go for an internship if I feel I'm qualified and able to go for the real job? That's what you have to keep telling yourself."

Especially in the sports industry, he says, finding a common bond is the quickest and easiest way to connect with potential employers and companies.

"Age isn't the most important thing," Chayka concludes. "Everyone in sports has the same mentality: we all want to win, and that's whether you're 20 years old or 70 years old. Find something else to connect with and set yourself apart."