Savannah Bananas’ Jesse Cole: ‘At Heart, I Am Still Just A Kid Trying To Make My Dad Proud’

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole
In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with the owner of the Savannah Bananas, Jesse Cole, to discuss how he found his purpose as a leader in his relationship with his father and baseball. 

Many of Jesse Cole’s warmest memories include two things: his father who raised him after his parents divorced, and baseball, which the two of them played in the backyard and Jesse played competitively through college.

When he got the chance, the son bought a baseball team of his own in Savannah, Georgia. The Savannah Bananas have sold out every game since their first season and have a waitlist for tickets in the tens of thousands. They have entertained millions of fans in Savannah and at ballparks all over the country who now come to watch “Banana Ball,” an invention of Cole and his organization that reimagined how fans experience the sport:  from the fixed price ticket that covers everything, to the breakdancing first base coach and the dancing umpire, and myriad innovations designed to give fans what they want — unadulterated fun.

“At the end of every night, to see everyone singing and dancing, with all the players and umpires having fun with our fans, that to me is the greatest joy,” explained Cole, the first repeat guest in the podcast’s history.  “It’s so much bigger than baseball, you know? At the heart of it, I’m still just a kid trying to make my dad proud and create something that he would look at and say, ‘Wow, Jesse, you’ve created something that’s really made an impact.’”

As the author Simon Sinek would say, Cole has found his “why,” and it motivates everything he and his team do in their extraordinary organization. This, by the way, is the subject of the book Cole and I have written called Banana Ball: The Unbelievably True Story of the Savannah Bananas.

Listeners to the podcast can get an advance glimpse of Cole’s extraordinary journey, one that is still very much in progress and full of useful lessons, including:

• Using a “friction audit” to uncover customer experiences you need to improve on.

• The power of daring to fail often and fast so that you can learn and improve even faster.

• Basing innovation on something you loved in the past or would love to have in the future.

In a way, the story of the Savannah Bananas is a love story, based on Jesse’s relationship with his father, their shared love of baseball and Jesse’s devotion to bringing that love to countless others. It’s why Cole still sheds a tear when he sees his father’s eyes light up as those fans come up to Jesse to tell him how much they love what he does.


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