Richard P. McWilliam, co-founder and CEO of The Upper Deck Co., died unexpectedly at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., on Jan. 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 the leading sports trading card business and expanded to become a major sports and entertainment company. McWilliam 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 Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board. He was a visionary with a keen eye for quality and innovation. With an awareness of the lack of creativity and quality in the sports trading card and memorabilia industry, he began developing sports products that raised collectibles standards overnight.
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.
McWilliam had been recognized as one of America’s fastest rising executives. 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. It has been voted as one of the top 40 FBOs in the U.S. among thousands of such operations. Previously, he was Chief Operating Officer 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.
He was known for his love of sports, for his relentless pursuit of outstanding quality and perfection, and for asking much from his employees, but even more from himself.
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.
An avid fisherman, McWilliam has been the main source of funding for the Adopt-A-Creek trout-stocking program in Bishop, Calif. It was founded after the Department of Fish and Game began planting fewer fish and smaller fish in lakes and streams in that area. The organization pays for the raising and planting of rainbow trout.
McWilliam is survived by his wife and their three children. The family asks that donations be made to Rady’s Children’s Hospital Foundation in San Diego, in lieu of flowers or other gestures of sympathy. Arrangements for a private funeral service are pending. The family asks that its privacy be respected during this time of grief and unexpected loss.
The cause of his death has not yet been determined. However, he had a history of heart disease and had undergone open heart surgery in 2008.
For the last year, Jason Masherah has been carrying the title of Vice President Marketing and Business Development, while also overseeing day-to-day operations. With Richard’s passing, the company has formalized Jason’s role and named him President.