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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Jeff Berding: The Cincinnati Kid is Winning at Life

By Julie Isphording

Every person has an awe-inspiring story with the power to make you cheer, smile and jump up and down.  

Jeff Berding’s life story - so far - is a showstopper. 

FC Cincinnati President & General Manager Jeff Berding addresses attendees at FC Cincinnati’s Mercy Health Training Center groundbreaking on Sept. 19, 2018.
The Mt. Lookout resident is the President and General Manager of FC Cincinnati.  He is also whip-smart, deeply honest, very brave, infuriatingly optimistic and fearless.  At the close of 2019, Berding realized a lifetime dream - something he has been laser-focused on for many years:  Major League Soccer awarded Cincinnati an expansion franchise.  

The announcement day brought international attention to Cincinnati and drew thousands of fans decked out in orange and blue to Fountain Square.  But the significance of that one day will continue to impact millions of Cincinnatians spanning every demographic for millions of days to come. 

The Berding Family:  Jack, Lindsay, Jeff, Grace and Allie

Jeff Berding had catapulted Cincinnati to a whole new place in the sporting world.  We all hit the big time.

Those who work and play closely with Berding marvel at his integrity, talent - well-used talent - and passion for Cincinnati.  

"Jeff Berding has energy and vision and talent," said Councilman David Mann, who has known him since his first job out of college. "There isn't anyone else who could have navigated this journey."

Jeff Berding addresses attendees at FC Cincinnati’s West End Stadium groundbreaking on Dec. 18, 2018.
Prior to his August 2015 founding of FC Cincinnati, Jeff served for 19 years as an executive with the Cincinnati Bengals. He joined the Bengals right after managing the successful campaign to win voter approval of public funding for the Reds’ and Bengals’ stadiums. In soccer, Jeff served for three years as President of Kings Hammer Soccer Club, the second largest select club in Cincinnati.

“Bringing professional soccer to Cincinnati  - something on a grand scale like this - is consistent with Jeff’s track record,” said Rick Flynn, President of the Rotary Club of Cincinnati and CEO of Flynn & Co. “He continually works to make our hometown a bigger player and better place to live.”

Jeff Berding with Pete Rose, Jack Berding and Diego Vallota (Mt. Lookout)
In addition to his role with the Bengals, Berding served on the Cincinnati City Council from 2005 to 2011.  He was a leading voice for the business community and worked with Tom Williams and Bob Castellini to create The Banks Working Group.  This huge, historical initiative has led to Cincinnati’s dynamic, incredible, riverfront. 

Berding is a fifth-generation Cincinnatian, born and raised in Westwood with nine siblings.  He became interested in sports at an early age and played basketball, baseball and soccer in school. He attended St. Xavier High School, graduated cum laude from Miami University, and earned his MBA from Xavier University. 

Jeff and his wife, Lindsay live in Mt. Lookout with their three children  - Allie (20), Jack (19) and Grace (17). 

And there is so much more from our conversation… 

It was an exciting day in Cincinnati when Jeff Berding of Mt. Lookout, FC Cincinnati President & General Manager, led the celebration in Fountain Square after the team’s selection by Major League Soccer was announced.
Looking back at your life so far, is there any advice you would give to young people today?
This much I can tell you – hard times are going to come your way. Grief, pain, anger, disappointment, hurt – you’ll face them all in this lifetime. You can survive more than you think you can, and the difficulties that you face will make you more determined to win at life.

What was the best mistake you ever made?
I missed the requirement for orientation for UC Law School, which would have necessitated missing my honeymoon. So I skipped law school and got my MBA from Xavier University instead.  A few months later, I was hired to run the stadium campaign, which lead to a career in sports business instead of law.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? 
I dug ditches for Corporex.  Yes, every summer I moved mud around.  It was a hard job, but it paid my way through Miami University and afforded me the opportunity to be the first Berding to have a college degree.  I learned that nothing is given to you, and you have to live hard and well.

If you had one hour to spend with any person anywhere, who would it be?
These questions are tough!  Can I give you three people?   On a personal level, it would be my grandma. She was so instrumental in raising me and giving me the confidence to go after what really mattered.  In sports, I would like to talk more with Bob Howsam, the Red’s general manager. He was the architect of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" who powered its way in the 1970s to six division titles, four pennants and two World Series. And my third choice would be Winston Churchill, he was such an inspirational statesman, speaker and leader.

What makes FC Cincinnati so successful?
It’s a combination of a lot of things - patient capital, experienced management, a great coach, a new stadium and smart branding.
FC Cincinnati has broken attendance records in the club’s two seasons in the USL averaging more than 24,000 fans a game so far.  Unthinkable?!
Think again.  It’s exciting, but there’s no time to rest.  We have so much more to do.

Do you have any sports heroes?
Pete Rose.  He loved the fans.  He loved baseball.  He loved Cincinnati.  He worked hard. He prepared, and he was relentless in trying to be the best player he could be.  He once told me that “Somebody's gotta win and somebody's gotta lose, and I believe in letting the other guy lose.”  
What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your career?
Leaving a 19 year career with the Bengals.

You played a lot of sports growing up…
I played sports all year round. Soccer. Baseball. Basketball. I practiced hard and played hard. In soccer, I was the goalkeeper with the motto “the ball or the player,” which meant that once I came home with my teeth in my hand.

I would most like to learn how to…
Speak Spanish
What’s your favorite book(s)?
Wow.  Too many to name. Fiction? Nonfiction? Here are two:  Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer) and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Best hidden talent?
I think I’m a pretty good singer.  You should hear me belt out "The House of the Rising Sun."  

What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Balancing dreams and realities.  Balancing ever-changing priorities with people and their ambitions.  Keeping our entire organization focused on our vision.

What is winning to you?
Making a mark.  What really matters is if I added meaning and value to the people I have met and the City that I love.

…And that is a mark of a well-lived life and my personal mark of a Cincinnati kid winning at life.  julie

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