Written By: Beth Atlas, Manager & Curator, 49ers Museum
Contributor: Joe Hession, 49ers Museum Historian
Football is a game of numbers. Points scored, time of possession and statistics are among the variables collected, analyzed and referenced on a regular basis. For the business and accounting side of an NFL franchise, numbers are just as important. Esther Chi, 49ers Vice President and Controller, oversees all accounting functions for the team, including financial reporting, accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll.
"When I was hired as a staff accountant, the Accounting & Finance department totaled six full time staff," Esther recalled. "At that time, we were playing at Candlestick Park and our sole business was NFL football. I was an individual contributor and handled revenue accounting, sponsorship/suite billings and collections, and daily cash management."
Most of the work in 49ers departments varies in scope, with new types of projects and initiatives springing up constantly. Though accounting has its busy seasons, it is generally steady work. Esther explains, "accounting is not really project-based, but more a cyclical routine of getting essential things done on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/yearly basis. With that said, it's always satisfying to implement new systems or processes that result in increased efficiency, accuracy or convenience."
Implementing new procedures that expedite processing is as welcome a change for payees as it is for those on the disbursement end. "A couple of examples are the use of Concur for electronic invoice approvals and expense reporting and utilizing software to organize the month end financial close and audit deliverables."
The biggest game changer, of course, was the construction and ultimate operation of Levi's® Stadium. The endeavor required much more work for which the then-current Accounting team had bandwidth. "During the pre-construction phase, I had been handling the accounting. When it began, we hired a separate team to handle the construction accounting," Esther recalls.
Assembling a team to handle construction finances was just the beginning. Levi's® Stadium completely changed the way the franchise operated. Operating the building and all of the new initiatives planned by the 49ers for the new venue necessitated hiring people for entirely new positions and job functions. "Once the time of opening for Levi's® Stadium drew near, the first official hire for Financial Planning & Analysis was made and the Accounting & Finance department officially split into two branches under the [Chief Financial Officer]."
Levi's® Stadium was designed to be used year-round whereas Candlestick Park was primarily only used for 49ers home games in its later years. Unlike Candlestick, which was maintained by the City and County of San Francisco, the 49ers would oversee operations at Levi's®. "NFL football is still a key line of business for us, but we are now also a stadium management company," Esther said.
We are very proud to see Esther Chi receive the recognition she is so deserving of for her two decades of service and commitment to the San Francisco 49ers! Her hard work and valuable contributions to the team in her role as VP/Controller are outshined by her honesty and integrity as a person and colleague. Scott Sabatino, Chief Financial Officer
The Accounting and Finance departments manage the monetary aspect for the 49ers as well as for the management and operation of Levi's® Stadium and events of all sizes held within the venue. Private and public events were not the only new endeavors for the franchise. The 49ers Museum presented by Foxconn Industrial Internet and the 49ers Team Store presented by Visa, brick-and-mortar features of the stadium, became the first established amenities in the 49ers home venue that could be patronized outside of home game days.
During her 20 years with the 49ers, Esther has successfully climbed the corporate ladder. She worked her way up to Vice President and Controller after serving as Accounting Manager, Senior Accounting Manager and Director.
"I can't believe how quickly 20 years have gone by," Esther said. "I have experienced significant life changes during that time, some were wonderful and some were devastating."
Perhaps the most impactful was the passing of Esther's mother, to whom she credits her career accomplishments. Esther's mother raised her with love and care, even when encountering intergenerational and cultural differences.
"My mother was raised as a traditional Korean woman, so I was raised to not speak up and not ask for anything, but to work hard and do my best, and I would receive the rewards I deserved."
While Esther recognizes that staying silent does not always reap rewards, she completely understands her mother's methodology.
"I feel so lucky to have had her for a mother and I would attribute most of the success I have achieved to her…she was our primary source of support for most of my childhood. My siblings and I owe everything to her love and support. So although what she taught by word or example may have been contradictory, ultimately the result was that she raised two strong and independent daughters."
As such, Esther has imparted advice onto to others, including things she wishes she had done herself. "Take some risks; even if you do not meet every qualification in a job description, go for it anyway. Find mentors early in your career. Take a public speaking class. Seek out career networks and maintain the relationships. Ask for what you want and what you deserve. Express your opinion and speak up in meetings. Take pride and have ownership in your work, no matter what the job. Learn to delegate as needed. Be a student and a teacher. Find something that you enjoy doing. Take the time for the things that really matter to you, spend time with your loved ones and prioritize your health. "
Esther also has one bit of personal finance advice: "Contribute to your 401k and take advantage of the maximum match amount!"
Sage advice coming from someone who certainly knows the importance of numbers.