Arthur Blank: New stadium plans were “nice distraction” from 2013 season

By Maria Saporta

A reflective Arthur Blank expressed “a big disappointment” in the 4-12 outcome of 2013 season of the Atlanta Falcons, but the team’s owner said he has been spending the last several months focusing his energies on the future.

It didn’t hurt that Blank was devoting part of his time working on the development of a new $1.2 billion retractable-roof football stadium, which is scheduled to open in time for the 2017 season.

“It was a nice distraction in a difficult season,” Blank said of the stadium development. “It was able to take my mind off the season. We have a great stadium design. We will have the ground-breaking this spring.”

Blank spoke during a Monday morning press conference, held at the Arthur M. Blank Family Office on Howell Mill Road, to review last year’s football season.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the design,” Blank said. “As you know, we are heavily involved with the community and the work we have to do, not in the next four years, but the next 40 years.”

Blank had been unable to attend last week’s press briefing when Head Coach Mike Smith and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff announced that three members of the coaching staff were being let go, and the team’s owner for the past 12 years wanted to be available to answer questions from the media.

When Blank realized the Falcons would not be in the playoffs mid-way through the season, Blank said he began considering possible changes in the coaching staff and players so the team could be in a position to be competitive in 2014.

“My goal as the owner and the steward and conduit (of the team) is to put rings on the fingers for the players and for Atlanta. That has not changed,” Blank said. “I would wear a ring proudly. If we didn’t have the ability to make that happen in 2014, we would make the necessary changes.”

Blank was asked whether the 2013 season had been an opportunity to reset the attitude of the team.

Blank, a co-founder of the Home Depot who served as its president and or CEO for 23 years, recalled the remarkable success the home improvement retailer had had.

“Sometimes the success was so strong, we would have to create the enemy,” said Blank, who added that the Falcons had enjoyed five strong seasons in the past six years. “I don’t want to go through this every six years to make sure the edge is there.”

But a challenge for every successful organization is to make sure that there is a “built-in edge,”  so that “great leaders continue to win” in business and on the field.

“That ability to always run scared is always important,” Blank said.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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