RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. – Co-founder and CEO of The Upper Deck Company Richard P. McWilliam died unexpectedly in his Rancho Santa Fe home Saturday, January 5. He was 59 years old.
McWilliam is credited with transforming the sports trading card business by creating Upper Deck, a company that grew to become a leading sports trading card business and expanded to become a major sports and entertainment company. He drove that growth through continuing innovation to improve the quality, breadth of content and the form and style of trading cards.
McWilliam co-founded Upper Deck in 1989 and served until his death as its CEO and chairman of the board. Under his leadership, Upper Deck’s innovations included significant improvements in the graphic quality and statistical information about the sports stars featured on trading cards, autographed inserts in trading cards, game jersey cards, the hugely popular “Piece of History” bat card with a piece of a bat swung in a game by the legendary Babe Ruth, digital trading cards, holographic certification of authenticity of autographs, cards with pieces of players’ jerseys embedded in them, games based on trading cards, expansion of content to players in virtually every major sport, extension into entertainment and other celebrity areas.
He was named as one of the nation's top entrepreneurs in the "1991 Entrepreneur of the Year" listing by Inc. Magazine. Sporting News also has named him as one of the Top 100 Sports Executives in the U.S. In 1998, Beckett Baseball named him one of the most influential people in baseball.
In addition to Upper Deck, he was founder and CEO of Jet Source, an aircraft fixed-base operation and aircraft charter and maintenance company located at Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Calif. Previously, he was COO of the second-largest medical clinic operation in Orange County. He practiced as a certified public accountant for 11 years after receiving bachelor's degrees in accounting and economics from California State University at Fullerton.
Under his direction, Upper Deck sponsored the Field of Dreams baseball game, and charity fundraisers hosted by the Baseball Assistance Team. He has supported youth sports programs and local Boys and Girls Clubs. The company also has partnered with the Make a Wish Foundation and Operation Gratitude, and has made significant charitable contributions to children's and Veterans Administration hospitals.
McWilliam is survived by his wife and their three children. Although the cause of his death has not yet been determined, he had a history of heart disease and had undergone open heart surgery in 2008.
The Upper Deck Company has named Jason Masherah as president. Masherah has been running day-to-day operations of the company for about a year, performing the duties of president. He has been VP of marketing and business development at Upper Deck since 2010, having joined the company in 2006, and was appointed as VP in July 2010. He previously had been a marketing consultant to professional sports teams.
“We are shocked and saddened by Richard’s passing,”said Masherah. “However, he built a company with a strong management team, a focus on quality, and an expanding array of successful products. Upper Deck is well positioned to continue its growth and success, and I am honored to have been chosen to lead the company. Richard was a thought leader and visionary in the trading card industry. It grew from a hobby for some baseball fans into a multi-billion dollar industry because of the multiple innovations that Upper Deck introduced under his leadership. He built a company that has weathered difficult times for the entire industry and is well positioned for future success.”