Arthur Blank has started the process of hiring a chief executive officer to oversee all of his for-profit businesses, including the Atlanta Falcons, in a move that will allow the owner to pull back from day-to-day management responsibilities.
“My role will be different going forward,” Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “… I think it’s a healthy time for somebody else to take the reins in terms of certain responsibilities in our organization.”
Blank, who will turn 73 next month, said creation of the new position will enable him to align his schedule with “my own goals at this stage of my life,” which, he said, include spending more time with family and on philanthropic efforts.
In two exclusive interviews with the AJC this week, Blank said the planned change is unrelated to his health, which he said is good, and “absolutely does not” foreshadow any intention to sell the Falcons or other businesses.
“Our plan is to keep all of our businesses, to keep all of our franchises, and it’s part of our estate plan,” Blank said.
But the management change will be a substantial one for Blank’s businesses, which he has guided in a visible, hands-on manner, and for him personally.
In addition to the Falcons, the businesses include a new Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United; a nationwide chain of golf and tennis stores, PGA Tour Superstore; and a Montana ranch, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
For the Falcons, the change will mean that team president Rich McKay, who currently reports to Blank, instead will report to the new CEO. However, the leaders on the Falcons’ football operations side — head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff — will continue to report to Blank.
Atlanta United President Darren Eales and PGA Tour Superstore President Dick Sullivan will report to the CEO, Blank said.
Blank described the position, which he hopes to fill by the end of the year, as “a huge job with a big public profile.” The position will report to Blank.
“I have a strong desire to spend more quality time with my family, which now includes four-going-on-five grandchildren, as well as to concentrate more of my time on our philanthropic endeavors,” Blank wrote to staff members in an email, which was obtained by the AJC, explaining the plan. “And while I will always be heavily involved in our business strategies, I now feel that the best role I can play in our businesses is one of founder, chairman and most senior cheerleader, spending less time on the day-to-day management oversight.
“Our businesses are strong and I’m in good health,” Blank wrote, “which makes this a terrific time to make this move and allow me to be able to back away a bit and start putting check marks on my bucket list.”
Blank elaborated in the interviews with the AJC, describing the change as “part of my responsibility to make sure that we have healthy succession planning.”
“Wish I was getting younger, but I’m not, so I want to make a healthy transition,” he said.
“I don’t plan on not working. I’m still going to be involved in strategy, still will be involved with the businesses, also will be a cultural ambassador for the organization in a variety of ways. I’ll spend more time doing things I want to do than things I have to do and leave more of the have-to’s to somebody else.”
He noted that several other NFL team owners use similar management models.
Blank said he doesn’t expect to find it difficult to back off on day-to-day involvement.
“If I was disengaging from the businesses, I think it would be (difficult), because I’m not the kind of person who would do well sitting under a tree reading books all day,” Blank said.
He said several candidates have been interviewed for the position — the title is chief executive officer of AMB Group, which is the parent company of the Falcons and Blank’s other businesses — and added that several other interviews are scheduled. An executive search firm is assisting with the process.
Blank indicated the position likely will be filled from outside the organization.
He said that although there are “extraordinary” executives at his various businesses, “I don’t necessarily think today there is anybody in that group that has the bandwidth or the experience that I’m looking for. But I don’t want to say no, necessarily. They all have very full plates. That I will tell you.”
He is seeking a person with CEO-level or similar experience and isn’t limiting the search to specific industries.
“I want to bring in somebody who has the energy (and) the enthusiasm and most importantly understands our culture and will continue to support it and see it grow and do it in a way that is seamless to our associates,” Blank said.
“I’m less concerned about, are they coming from the sports industry or the entertainment industry or the consumer industry or branding?”
Blank bought the Falcons in 2002 and since then has been Atlanta’s highest-profile sports owner.
The timing of the planned change, he said, is related to progress on construction of the Falcons’ new stadium, which was officially named Mercedes-Benz Stadium this week under a 27-year sponsorship deal.
“Given the scale of the stadium project … I wanted to feel like that was stable, was moving in the right direction,” he said. “I would say a year ago … I felt I needed to be more involved as we reached that point. So I wouldn’t have done it then. Now, my comfort level with the stadium and its progress is very high.”
In addition to the other businesses, the new CEO also will be charged with management oversight of the stadium and AMB Group’s human resources, communications and legal groups.
The position is drawing interest from highly qualified candidates, Blank said.
“All the businesses are healthy and people see that,” he said. “Also, these are businesses that are fun, to be honest with you.”