Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City, comes to the Astros from St. Louis, where he ventured into baseball as vice president of business development in 2003 and became vice president of player procurement in '05. In that role, he handled the Cardinals' international and domestic scouting and oversaw the First-Year Player Draft.
He spoke confidently Thursday about his ability to help turn the Astros around and stressed the importance of staying the course of building through player development. He even answered a question from the media in fluent Spanish, but warned getting the team back to the playoffs wouldn't happen overnight.
"We've got work to do," said Luhnow, who's a proponent of sabermetrics. "As far as giving you a timeframe, that's difficult to do and I'm a little reluctant to do it. I know it's going to be a challenge and going to be years."
The Ivy League-educated businessman turned baseball executive takes over a franchise that presents several challenges.
The Astros are coming off a club-record 106 losses and are slowly rebuilding a Minor League system that's been among the worst in baseball the last few years. They are also preparing for a move to the American League in 2012. Houston has the No. 1 overall pick in June's First-Year Player Draft.
In the last two years, the Astros have traded former All-Stars in Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence to infuse their system with prospects and last season relied on rookies at several positions.
"There's a plan in place, and it's a responsible plan," Luhnow said. "It doesn't steal from the future to make things a little bit better in the present. It builds the organization for sustained success. That's what we want to do. We want to create a winner that lasts, and we want to do it in the best way possible."
Luhnow appealed to the Astros for many reasons, including his track record of success in running the Cardinals' Drafts from 2005-08, his previous business successes and his fluency in Spanish, which will be key for the organization in a large Latin market.
"He's really been very, very successful in everything he's done, even before baseball," Crane said. "Getting to visit with him, it was easy to tell he's a great leader and has great people skills, and I know he'll do a great job with us. When you look at his track record, he's been a winner at every level of baseball he was put in position to lead. We're very excited to have him."
Luhnow, who received a multiyear contract, confirmed that manager Brad Mills would return for 2012, which wasn't a surprise, despite the on-field results the last two years.
"Brad's our manager," he said.
Like Crane, Luhnow has a successful background in business. After graduating from Penn and getting an MBA from Northwestern, he became an engineer before transitioning to management consulting and then becoming a technology entrepreneur.
"Logically, the next step was to become a baseball guy," he said. "All of my training in all those other fields has prepared me to do a better job in this role, and I'm glad I had those experiences."
Luhnow grew up a huge baseball fan and saw his first Major League games at the Astrodome in the 1980s. Through some of his business connections, he was introduced to the Cardinals and eventually received what he calls a chance of a lifetime when he joined the team's front office.
The Cardinals' farm system was struggling in 2003, but Luhnow helped them acquire several impact players that played a part in St. Louis winning the World Series in 2011, including Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, John Jay and Daniel Descalso. In eight years with the organization, Luhnow won eight rings -- five Minor League championships, an NL championship ring and two World Series rings.
"I don't know if I can keep that pace," he joked.
More importantly, Luhnow helped change the organization's thinking when it came to scouting and developed player evaluation methods that increased the role of data-based analysis, while still blending old-school ways of thinking.
"Technology is changing the game," he said. "There's a lot of stuff that wasn't there 10, 15 years ago, and you have to know how to utilize it. If you don't, you can be confused by it or use it to make bad decisions. There's information about every pitch thrown in baseball that will blow you away -- the spin axis of the ball, the velocity when it crosses home plate, the trajectory of the ball at the plate. It's fun to look at, but how you organize and utilize that information can help make front-office decisions."
Crane, a savvy businessman in his own right, welcomes Luhnow's analytical methods.
"Some of the systems he was able to put in place impressed us a lot and a lot of those were propriety, but we'll have to build them," Crane said. "Being in a business that used a lot of data previously, we've got the ability to build those quickly for him and it's just pushing the data in. We'll get on that right away. Some of the stuff he's helped the Cardinals build, we'll be able to work off that."
Luhnow remembers how electric Minute Maid Park was when the Astros faced the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series in 2004 and '05, and he knows how passionate baseball fans are in Houston. He's determined to have the club battling for supremacy in the AL, no matter how daunting the challenge.
"There's a lot of challenges ahead and a lot of teams with very capable front offices and very capable on-field staff and great players," Luhnow said. "We need to be able to compete with them and beat them, and that's the goal."