Kraken CEO Leiweke Urges Graduates to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Success

Vince Carbonneau
June 13, 2024  (5:10 PM)

Tod Leweike
Photo credit: The Journal

Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke Urges Graduates to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Success

"It's hard. It's arduous. It's something I didn't do, and most people didn't do."
These were the powerful words of Seattle Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke at Seattle University's graduate schools commencement. While many might think he was talking about winning a Stanley Cup or a Super Bowl, Leiweke was referencing an even more significant achievement.
Having held executive positions with the Seahawks, the NFL, and multiple NHL franchises, Leiweke spoke movingly at the commencement ceremony held at Climate Pledge Arena. Though he didn't earn a graduate degree himself, Seattle University bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate.
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Overcoming Personal Tragedies
Before discussing achievement, Leiweke shared a deeply personal story about his own life challenges. He spoke from the heart about the adversity he faced growing up in St. Louis, where he experienced the loss of two family members within seven years.
"As a young kid, I knew that my mom was really sick. For much of my early life, I saw my mother battle cancer. She lost her life when I was nine years old," Leiweke recalled. His father's subsequent remarriage ended in hardship, leading to another significant loss when his stepmother, who had been a figure of love and stability, also succumbed to cancer.
"My stepmother, in one lucid moment, said to me, 'I'm not going to make it. You are. Make the most of every day,'" Leiweke shared. Despite a rough senior year of high school, poor SAT scores, and rejection letters from universities, Leiweke never forgot that advice.
Drawing Inspiration from Adversity
Leiweke also found inspiration in civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., who, despite suffering from deep depression, managed to lift up an entire generation. "He is truly one of my mentors," Leiweke noted.
Reflecting on his career, Leiweke described how he helped transform the Seattle Seahawks into Super Bowl contenders. "What was missing was not fans, not a beautiful stadium, not a beautiful city; but a passion and a commitment by the organization to fight through adversity," he said. By 2006, the Seahawks made their first appearance in the Super Bowl, a testament to the culture of resilience and pride that Leiweke helped build.
### Returning to Seattle
After ascending to the position of COO at NFL headquarters, Leiweke received a call from his brother, Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. Tim proposed a solution to Seattle's arena situation, which had been a barrier to bringing back pro winter sports.
"There was something I missed; direct community connection, being around fans. I had a pretty good job, but I thought, 'What if you could finally fix a 30-year problem?' I told (NFL Commissioner) Roger (Goodell) I was leaving, and coming back to Seattle," Leiweke recounted.
Transforming Challenges into Success
Despite naysayers doubting the feasibility of a privately funded arena and the viability of hockey in Seattle, Leiweke and his team built Climate Pledge Arena, a world-class venue known for its sustainability and community integration. "On any given Kraken game, 25% of the people take public transportation. We embed an ORCA pass in every ticket we sell," Leiweke highlighted.
"The Kraken I couldn't be more proud of. How loud this building is. How we've made Seattle a hockey town. Our training center just five miles from here (Kraken Community Iceplex) drew a million people since it opened," he added.
Words of Wisdom for Graduates
Leiweke's advice for the graduates was clear: "Don't let people tell you that things can't be. People all along the way are going to tell you why it won't work. Don't listen to them."
"In this building, I get to see teamwork all the time. The ability to think in a positive way is how it all works. No team ever followed a coach that was a pessimist. Our best days are in front of us. It's up to us to make it happen."
Leiweke's journey from personal tragedy to professional triumph serves as a powerful reminder that adversity can be overcome, and success is within reach for those who persevere.

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Kraken CEO Leiweke Urges Graduates to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Success

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