To understand how Marcel Braithwaite became senior vice president of business operations for the Houston Astros, a Major League Baseball team that soared from underdogs to World Series champions in 2017, you have to understand the way that Braithwaite sees the world.
He was raised in the Netherlands, traveled between there and the United States throughout his youth, was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and totaled a mere 18 months as the longest time spent in any single place.
He only picked his final high school in rural Idaho because they claimed the credits that he’d earned in Europe would be transferable. Two weeks before graduation, he was told the school had reconsidered and he would have to return the following semester if he wanted a diploma. “At that point, I chose not to do so; I got my GED and decided it was time to move on,” Braithwaite says matter-of-factly.
This is what is essential to know about Braithwaite. What might seem like a hurricane of turmoil and fluidity from a very young age doesn’t even seem to occur to Braithwaite as a negative series of events. “I’ve had so many wonderful experiences that in my heart, wherever I am, I feel at home,” Braithwaite says. “Maybe you only remember the good stuff, but I really think it was good.”
Braithwaite says that the choices he made early in life—to get married, to start a family—didn’t offer the chance to pursue his education, a choice he’s made peace with. But it can come with sticky reminders, like his first day with the Astros. “The first question for the bio they wanted to publish was ‘Where did you go to school?’” the SVP says, laughing. “I said, ‘We’re going to break the mold here right off the bat and just not mention it.’”
There was always an upside to his untraditional path, though. It wasn’t so much a chip on his shoulder as a consistent reminder that if he wanted to succeed, he was probably going to have to work harder than his peers. “When I look in the mirror and think if there were two of me, and one had education and experience and the other just had experience, I’d probably go with the version of me that had both,” Braithwaite explains. “So that motivation has been there my entire life, to do whatever I can to learn and seek first to understand.”
Braithwaite began his career driving a freight truck. He’d eventually work his way into the main office and would find continued success building out logistics expertise in increasingly larger roles. “My view has always been to take every opportunity that was there,” Braithwaite reflects. “I would raise my hand to do anything or go anywhere, and if I didn’t know how to do it, I would figure it out. You can build a career based on your contribution, not based upon your past.”
While preparing to fly to Delhi, India, after saying “yes” to another project, Braithwaite’s phone rang in the airport. His old boss, Jim Crane, was calling. Braithwaite picked up the phone and Crane said he had a proposition for him. “I thought he was going to ask me to come work for his new logistics company,” Braithwaite admits. “But he said, ‘baseball.’”
After purchasing the Houston Astros in 2011, Crane wanted to retool the organization and take baseball’s biggest loser into a competitive future. The owner lured Braithwaite down to Houston to tour Minute Maid Park, the home of the Astros. “Jim talked about his vision of making the team better and investing back into the community,” Braithwaite remembers. “I was just trying not to smile the whole time.”
The phoenix-like rise of the Astros over the past six seasons is, according to Braithwaite, a reflection of Crane’s leadership as owner. Braithwaite’s own piece of that has been to serve what he considers are his three clients: the fans, the partners, and the game of baseball. That has meant significant overhaul to the 20-year-old Minute Maid park with offseason upgrades that have been made increasingly difficult with the shortening of the offseason due to the Astros postseason success.
“Almost every aspect of the building has been touched since I’ve been here,” Braithwaite says. “We started with clubhouses, office space, the main concourse, then the club level. We just started doing something big every year.” At this point, Braithwaite ballparks the investments since Crane purchased the team at somewhere around $60 million. The organization recently completed a blend and extend to remain at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston for the foreseeable future.
Over eight years, Braithwaite says the public’s expectations of what they want from their ballpark has shifted with time. Formerly dark and secluded clubs within the ballpark have been made more open and well-lit. Last offseason, another destination was built near right field in the upper concourse as an extension of a larger center field renovation project. “It’s not just coming to the game and filling out your scorecard anymore,” Braithwaite says. “People want a place where they can hang out with friends, maybe watch another sport on the television while also watching the game.” In 2017, the Astros revamped their center field area and created a communal area for fans.
There has been extension work done to make the park more accessible for everyone including new stairwells and elevator access. One can make their way around nearly the entire park without losing sight of the game. This last offseason alone, the Astros were employing three different construction companies (Davaco, Metzger Construction, and Shawmut Design and Construction) who were building at the same time. “I credit each one of those teams for innovation and a teamwork approach to demolition periods, trash removal, trades, and building on top of one another,” Braithwaite says. “We’ve maintained a great relationship with our Cincinnati architects MSA Design as well as our concessionaire Aramark as they’ve been crucial for all of the pre-planning that goes into these projects.”
Relationships, be they personal or professional, are a clear priority for the SVP. They have helped get him here along with his faith and his family. But it was already clear that Braithwaite was going to be successful, because wherever he is, he has home field advantage.