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2024 Michiganians of the Year

Hamp's Detroit Lions aim to last, deliver on 'noble cause' for city, loyal fans

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Sheila Hamp, principal owner and chair of the Detroit Lions, is a 2024 Detroit News Michiganian. She says 'football is the ultimate team sport, and we have a real team. Nobody is me-first. I think we're built to last.' Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

In a corner of Sheila Hamp's windowless office, a framed drawing hints at the foundation for the renewed success of the Detroit Lions.

Drawn by former linebacker turned Hamp adviser Chris Spielman, the sketch shows three words: leadership, culture and staff, with an arrow pointing to culture — "Stay Focused on This!," underlined four times. Under Hamp, principal owner and chair of the Detroit Lions, the chronically underperforming NFL franchise now led by General Manager Brad Holmes and Head Coach Dan Campbell is doing just that.

The turnaround — so far — is remarkable, and it shows. Last season, the Lions won two playoff games and advanced to the conference championship before losing 34-31 to the San Francisco 49ers. Expectations for the coming season are higher still, a testament to how deeply the Lions are committed to burying their losing reputation with good, old-fashioned winning.

The Detroit Lions' principal owner, Sheila Hamp, considers herself 'a steward' of the NFL franchise her family has controlled since the mid-1960s: 'The team belongs to the city of Detroit, and Detroit is a football town, for sure.'
The Detroit Lions' principal owner, Sheila Hamp, considers herself 'a steward' of the NFL franchise her family has controlled since the mid-1960s: 'The team belongs to the city of Detroit, and Detroit is a football town, for sure.' Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

"It's gotta be the right people and the right people fitting together," said Hamp, 72, a daughter of longtime owner William Clay Ford Sr., who died in 2014. "Football is the ultimate team sport, and we have a real team. Nobody is me-first. I think we're built to last."

Lions Nation hopes so. With the arguable exception of some of the Barry Sanders years roughly three decades ago, the Lions proved a reliable disappointment for its long-suffering fans. Behind the scenes, Hamp found a divided, bureaucratic organization that communicated poorly, tolerated mediocrity and too often mistook pedigree (see the tenure of New England Patriots alums Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn) for leadership.

The firing of Patricia and Quinn after the Thanksgiving Day debacle in 2020 "was an opportunity to really kind of rethink this whole thing and bring in some people that I thought would buy into the thought of an open, honest, communicative, aligned organization," Hamp said. "And this theory of culture change was the basis for what I think has happened here."

Job one: "dig into kind of what happened over the last several years" and determine '"why the Lions had not been able to sustain success." She found a Balkanized organization that didn't communicate with itself, one that chose business talent more for proximity and familiarity than for competence.

She didn't like it — starting with the isolated owner's office on the southwest side of the Allen Park facility, whatever its view of the practice field. She lasted there just one day, moving instead to a windowless conference room on the hall with Spielman, Holmes and President Rod Wood. In the center of the action. Part of the team.

"Sheila Hamp showed great wisdom in assembling the leadership of Rod Wood, Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. "Their success brought great pride to Lions fans across all generations."

2024 Michiganian of the year - Detroit Lions principal owner and chair Sheila Hamp
2024 Michiganian of the year - Detroit Lions principal owner and chair Sheila Hamp

In a league filled with egos from owners' suites to locker rooms, Hamp reveals something different. She calls the Lions culture "egoless," a place where the coaching staff collaborates with the management team, where Campbell on Tuesdays takes to Zoom with the Ford family to answer questions and review film, where Spielman does the same at Ford Field for maintenance crews and marketing staff, to name two.

The goal: to get everyone on the same page, whatever their role. To understand what Hamp calls the "noble cause," a phrase she learned from a college friend-turned-CEO she consulted after becoming principal owner of the Lions.

"'Define your noble cause,'" she recalled him saying. "The noble cause was the city of Detroit. The fans. The fans that have been with us for so long with not much success. And, you know, both Chris and Brad and Dan were totally into it. You know, Dan played here. He loves the city. And that's kind of where it all began.

"I think of myself as a steward of the Lions. The team belongs to the city of Detroit, and Detroit is a football town, for sure. If we could actually put together a winning organization for our fans, for the city, it would really be something. And you know, that's turned out to be the case."

Principal Owner and Chair, Detroit Lions
I think of myself as a steward of the Lions. The team belongs to the city of Detroit, and Detroit is a football town, for sure. If we could actually put together a winning organization for our fans, for the city, it would really be something. And you know, that's turned out to be the case.

Sheila Hamp

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Occupation: Principal Owner and Chair, Detroit Lions

ܳپDz:Yale University

Family: Husband Steve; three adult sons, ages 36 to 40; four grandchildren, ages 2 to 5.

Why honored: Under Hamp's leadership, the Lions transformed their culture and rediscovered their winning ways in successive seasons, reaching last year's NFC championship — one step from a coveted Super Bowl berth.

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