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Kim Pegula says she stepped in as Bills, Sabres president to bring stability

ATLANTA — Before Kim Pegula assumed the role of president of the Buffalo Bills, Sabres and three other professional sports franchises under the Pegula Sports & Entertainment umbrella, she and her co-owner husband, Terry, considered their options.

One was to hire someone to replace Russ Brandon, who resigned as the company’s managing partner and president on May 1 for what The Buffalo News has reported was due to workplace and personal misconduct. Another was for Kim to carry the title on an interim basis until a full-time replacement was found.

In the end, they decided their flagship sports properties, the Bills and Sabres, had already experienced enough upheaval and they didn’t want to create more by bringing in a new person to head their business operations.

The Sabres and Bills have general managers and coaches who just passed a year with the organization.

“(Terry) was like, ‘Well, who are you going to get for the job?’ ” Kim told The News on Tuesday night while attending the NFL spring meetings. “I said, ‘Honestly, I don't think we need anyone.’ We've had a lot of turmoil. Between both hockey and football, with new GMs, new coaches, even presidents. We’ve changed a lot in the years (since) we bought the hockey team (in 2011), including the football team (in 2014). And both our GMs and coaches, they only have one year under their belt. So we felt like bringing in another person, another management team, another business philosophy, another personality ... I just felt like we needed stability. Our staff did, our coaches, our GMs, they needed not to have to learn a new face, a new person. That was one of the things I thought.

"And, two, I've been involved all along, from the time we bought the Sabres. Now, as we expanded, my time with each of them has gotten less and less. But you can ask anybody there that, on both teams, I've always been involved in the background. I'm at all the (NFL) owners' meetings, I'm at pretty much half the NHL meetings, but I've always prided myself in knowing what's going on and the people we have working for us.

“So it wasn't a big hardship for me to jump from owner.”

Laughing, she added, “Actually, I think it was a jump down — from owner to president. But we said, 'Who else is going to be (better) able to guide the organizations with leadership, vision, what we want to do in the future than ownership itself?' So just completely cutting off a layer of that decision-making process. It just made sense to us that I would take on that role.”

The thought of wearing an interim tag on her presidency was a nonstarter for her, Kim said. She saw it as a bad look for the organization and felt it would indicate that her taking on the role was merely a knee-jerk response to Brandon’s sudden departure.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to do that, because, honestly, I don’t want people to think that this is just something temporary, I’m just going to jump in and say I’m going to do it just for optics,’ ” Kim said. “I am — and I told my staff this — committed to being in that role of president. But I have a far more experienced, skilled staff than most clubs do and, so, I feel like some of that is going to be on their shoulders. And they were all very supportive of it. I mean, they probably weren't going tell me no" — laughing — "but I did ask.

“Plus, we have a little bit different organizational structure than, I think, other clubs, so with PSE and combining both (the Sabres and Bills), I’ve got a very, very high-level executive team that manages all the business aspects of both the teams and, actually, all of our organization. So I feel like they were the ones on the ground executing every day and they are, I would say, as high a level as any club individually. So I didn’t feel like this would be something, a new undertaking, that I would have to go on my own. They were already in place. These are people that were hand-picked to be in that role and, so, I just didn’t think it would be a stretch for me to assume the role.”

Kim said that Terry, who skipped the NFL meeting to be in Buffalo for Sabres scouting meetings in preparation for next month’s NHL draft, is “in the background” of the PSE operation.

“This isn’t his forte from a business standpoint, of course,” Kim said.

Kim Pegula breaks silence on Russ Brandon departure

However, she said Terry is still involved and that communication within the PSE’s hierarchy is far more efficient since removing the “layer” that was Brandon.

“I’m much more engaged in more detailed, day-to-day things that are going on, so I'm in much more direct, one-on-one communications with the executive staff than I was before,” Kim said. “Obviously, I was always in our biweekly meetings that we would always have. And sometimes (the NFL) sends communication that’s just to (team) presidents — they don't send it to owners — and some of that is really linked to operations on a day-to-day basis. So now I’m getting all that information.”

Kim said she acts as “kind of that filter” with Terry, taking only the issues to him that they need to discuss.

“There are some day-to-day things that I don’t think any owner generally wants to deal with, so those things I don't put on his plate,” she said. “And then, obviously, anything related to the team — playing rules, any of that stuff  — I’ll make sure that he knows that.

“Honestly, it’s so much easier just because the staff will talk about things going on. We’ll have a discussion. Sometimes it’s in groups, sometimes it’s one-on-one, and then we make a decision and if I think Terry needs to be in on that decision, I’ll say, ‘Well, let me discuss it with Terry.’ And I can talk to him like 24/7. I can bring something up at 11 o’clock at night. I don’t have to wait for office hours to get those answers and make decisions and move quickly if we need to.

“Before, I would hear about things maybe after things were vetted and they needed a sign-off. Now, I’m part of the planning process, which I really enjoy, because now it’s easy to steer conversations or add something to it or expound on something we’re doing. I've cleared my table of some of these — I call them pet projects — that I don't need to be doing. Luckily my kids are all grown up, they’re out of the house, so that helps a lot. And I’m making sure I’m more organized; I’m more focused, and I make a lot more lists now.”

Kim stressed, however, her new duties won’t mean she is going to be “in Buffalo all the time, because I’m still not. It’s going to go ebb and flow with the way the work is in my schedule.”

She said she and her husband intend to keep Boca Raton, Fla., as their primary residence, even though public records revealed they recently purchased an 11,159-square-foot brick mansion on a 57-acre estate in Aurora. She said they also planned to keep a residence they purchased on Buffalo’s waterfront in 2011, but they wanted the Aurora home to serve as a “gathering place” for when family and friends come to town.

“Honestly, we’ve been looking for a house for a while and we’ve tried a couple of times and they fell through, but finally this one came through,” Kim said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property.

“I count my days to make sure my residence is still in Florida. Don’t forget, we still have an office in Florida — our family office, all of our accounting, investment (oversight). I have staff and employees that are there in Florida, so because my kids are out (of the house) doesn’t mean that I don’t have any reason to stay in Florida. We definitely do.

"We’ve got video conferencing. I’ve got video conferences at the Sabres, at the Bills and at our PSE offices that I can jump on any time. And then now, with texting and video chats and calls, I just make it my time to be organized about it.”

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