Thoughts on Upper Deck CEO Richard McWilliam’s death

Today, the industry lost a major player and a highly influential force when Upper Deck Co-Founder and CEO Richard McWilliam died suddenly.  Here’s the story from Beckett for any interested in learning more.

My thoughts upon hearing the news were conflicted.  Of course I feel for the families and co-workers affected, and I’ll touch on that soon, but I can’t keep my mind from drifting to the companies myriad legal troubles.

Almost immediately upon the company’s formation, former colleagues and athletes were suing the company and a lot of those lawsuits stemmed from disputes with McWilliam.  We’ve probably all heard about the allegations about Upper Deck back-dooring extra Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards.  We all know about the Yu-Gi-Oh forgeries made by UD.  We know about 2010 Upper Deck and the logo and licensing fiasco.  You may have even heard about various players associations suing for unpaid royalties or how Upper Deck was suing and counter-suing itself.  The list goes on and on, and it’s hard to imagine that the recently departed was completely guilt free or managed the business in such a way that led to these implications and charges.

So, in that regard, I’m sad about his passing, but another part is hopeful for Upper Deck’s future.  Perhaps this will turn out to be a much needed shift in leadership and business acumen for what certainly seems to be a struggling company.  Sure, they still need a large infusion of cash, but perhaps the change in management will draw less contention and build more goodwill to accomplish that.  Of course, at the same time, the company will need to maintain the competitive and industry-leading innovative attitude that brought it to the forefront of our minds over 20 years ago.  I don’t see that being a problem.  Their releases look great and the products are quality, but they’re unfortunately not in the collecting wheelhouse of (arguably) a majority of the consumers.

I want to speak briefly about what it means to the co-workers to lose such an influential figure.  Before I recently quit, I worked at a law firm for nearly 8 years.  Somewhere around three years into my employment, we were all brought into the conference room at the start of the day and were told that our co-founder and CFO had died.  I won’t get into specifics, but I can honestly say that I’ve been there and I know how difficult it can be.  I’m talking both on a personal level and trying to get yourself back into a normal routine as well as on a corporate level and figuring out what is happening with the transition, with who, when, and how.

It was a massive struggle for our company, one that we nearly didn’t recover from.  But we never let his spirit and passion die.  I’m truly sorry that everyone involved has to be dealing with this situation in the first place, and I don’t envy their path going forward, because it’s going to be extremely tough.  I wish everyone at Upper Deck the best, and I think we can all agree that the spirit and passion of Upper Deck won’t die with collectors anytime soon.

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