As the youngest general manager in NHL history – actually, the youngest GM in any professional sport – John Chayka, HBA ’14, knows the value of hard work.
In 2013, Chayka sat with his classmates in the London Convention Centre for his Ivey Orientation Week Opening Gala. Today, he returned to the O-Week tradition, but this time his place was behind the podium as the event’s keynote speaker.
Chayka shared words of advice with Ivey’s 610 newest HBA students. He reminded them that no matter where they came from or how they got to Ivey, it didn’t matter. HBA1 is a fresh start for everybody.
Where it all began
When Chayka was a teenager, he played hockey – and he played it well. In fact, he was accepted to Cornell University on a scholarship. Then, for the first time in his life, he faced adversity.
“I had a pretty serious back injury and I had to walk away from the playing side of hockey,” he recalled. “At that point, I quickly pivoted. If I wasn’t going to play in the NHL, I was going to manage in the NHL.”
Following NHL teams and professional athletes helped him realize that there was a lack of quantitative analysis in the sport. And so he started his first business: Stathletes. He worked on this even while completing his HBA at Ivey. He had to balance his school work with his new rising company, and it wasn’t always glamorous.
“I slept in the office many times. I made a lot of sacrifices,” Chayka said. “It was the busiest time in my life.”
But it paid off. He consulted for a number of NHL teams, and that led to his opportunity as Assistant General Manager of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015. Just one year later, at the age of 26, he became the team’s general manager.
Five key takeaways
From his time as an HBA student starting his own business, to becoming history’s youngest GM, Chayka has learned a few lessons along the way. He shared five pieces of advice with the HBA Class of 2019.
- Be prepared.
“There’s going to be a lot of people along the way who say you’re not experienced, or that’s not the route that’s normally taken,” he said. “If I had thought that way, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I did. Whether it’s cases, interviews, or anything else, always be prepared.”
- Seek out good mentors.
Chayka credited part of his success to the people who helped him along the way. He gave a special shout out to his Ivey communications lecturer, Jana Seijts.
- Accept no excuses.
“In Arizona, I’m trying to sell hockey in a desert. It’s almost an oxymoron,” he said. “We’ve got an uncertain situation ahead of us. If we wanted to look for excuses, we could find one every single day for why it’s not going to work. But if you allow yourself to fall into excuses, you won’t achieve your goals.”
- Know that change is inevitable.
With player turnovers, a new coach, and other challenges, Chayka said it’s been a rough summer for the Arizona Coyotes. No one likes change, he said, but it’s inevitable, and you have to learn to deal with it.
“If you can’t take on challenges in life, you won’t get too far.”
- Embrace the stress.
Finally, Chayka warned the HBA students that they were in for a stressful year in a challenging program. But it’s the stress that makes the experience what it is.
“You have to embrace the stress,” he said. “If you’re feeling nervous, then that’s good. It means you care. If it wasn’t stressful, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”