By Jayna Morris
Assistant Editor, NKU Magazine
Learn from your losses. Evaluate your competitors. Practice, practice, practice.
Derek Fields learned many lessons during his time on Northern Kentucky University’s basketball court. The 1990 graduate of NKU’s radio, television, and film program is still motivating his team and teaching them the strategies of success. But these days it’s far beyond the three-point line.
Today, Fields serves as the vice president of sales and retail business development at Warner Bros. Entertainment. There, he focuses on strategies to get Warner Bros. brands into the hands of consumers, and collaborates with the right people to make it happen. But his experience on the court and status as a member of NKU’s Basketball Hall of Fame has never left him. “They call me Coach Fields at work,” Fields says. “I think that’s been one thing I’ve been blessed with—to take everything that’s been given to me and give that back to the people I work with. I want someone to take away what they’ve learned from me and instill it in someone else. That’s how we get better as individuals. I’m all about building other people up and creating something dynamic.”
Fields teaches his team to play fast, play fair, and always work for something better—inside and outside the office. He has his coaching hat on no matter where he goes.
That might be because the former point guard, who ranks No. 6 on NKU’s all-time scoring list with 1,664 points, always has the principles of basketball on his mind. His dedication to the Norse earned him NCAA Division II third team All-American honors and The Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year title in 1989.
After graduating from NKU, Fields was drafted into the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), a now-defunct professional men’s basketball minor league, and shot hoops for a few seasons with the Columbus Horizon. He was offered a chance to play professionally in England, but Fields had his heart set on something bigger.
“I wanted to be an NBA All-Star,” he says. “Honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about playing overseas and making money to get experience and come back. When I got my first offer, they said they would pay me $20,000 to go overseas. I was like, England? No, I’m going to the NBA. We all had that dream.”
When Fields stopped playing basketball professionally a few years later, he took his court skills and radio, television, and film degree and went into another competitive arena: sales. He began in an entry-level sales position at Kraft selling perishable and nonperishable food items to area grocery stores. For the next 20 years, Fields worked his way up the corporate ladder, keeping his eyes open for any opportunity to advance—from Kraft, to Corning Consumer Products, to Sara Lee, to Schwarz Retail Supply Services, to a 12-year stint as the director of sales at Disney.
When it comes to the myriad of consumer products being marketed to the world, chances are Fields has had a hand in touching almost every category. But if there’s one thing he’s learned from his tenure in sales, it’s that the nature of success is tied directly to success in building partnerships.
“Our number one objective is to ensure that not only are we growing our business, but it’s important to have great relationships,” Field says. “That’s how you find ways to get your end consumer to touch your brands.”
Fields has come a long way since his days on the court in Regents Hall. He never made it to the NBA like he dreamt throughout his childhood, but he’s established himself as a coach, a leader, a mentor at a one of the most well-known companies in the world. And he couldn’t be happier.
“Everything that happens to us—good and bad—happens for a reason,” Fields says. “We are where we are in our lives because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Warner Bros. is where I want to end my career, but I’m not finished. I’m a VP, and I love what I do. But I’d like to be an executive vice president or president before I’m done. I’d like to be on top. I’d like to be leading and building a team, being a person that’s developing people, and helping and growing our brand.”
This article will appear in the Spring-Summer 2017 issue of NKU Magazine.