Lessons from the Blank Family of Businesses

The Blank School Panel
Leaders from the Blank family of businesses on stage during a recent visit to Babson College. Each participant followed Babson’s Return to Campus protocols throughout the day. (Photo: Michael Quiet)

When Arthur M. Blank ‘63, H ‘98 and his senior leadership team talk about living their core values, expect to hear stories of listening and responding, of acting with humility, and of business strategy that exists to serve its customers.

You just may hear stories of hot dogs and tailgate parking lots, too. This is, after all, a family of businesses that includes the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United FC, and PGA TOUR SuperStore, to name a few.

From The Home Depot, which he founded, to professional sports teams and philanthropic work with The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Blank’s actions and work are guided by a set of six core values.

These values are the founding principles on which Babson College established The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “These are the values that we want driving our actions with our students, with our staff, with faculty, with alumni, and with the world,” said Associate Professor Scott Taylor, the Arthur M. Blank Endowed Chair for Values-Based Leadership.

Taylor, along with Rachel Zelcer MBA ’21, president of the Graduate Student Council, moderated a panel discussion during a campus visit by Blank and leaders from four of the businesses in Blank’s portfolio. The group shared stories and reflected on lessons learned from leading values-driven organizations in a conversation Taylor described as a “real life case study for Babson students.”

Values in Action

Soon after Blank bought the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, on a flight home following another less, he walked to the back of the plane to introduce himself to players. “I can’t help you on the field,” he remembers telling them, “but tell me what I can do to help you out.” Team consensus was that Blank’s top priority should be filling the stadium and building a home-field advantage.

To bring fans back to the stadium, Blank and his leadership team started listening and responding—a core value of the organization. “It’s not complicated if you’re a listener and can check your ego at the door to the people you’re serving,” he says.

They honed in on Falcons fans who weren’t coming to games, with a mission to unearth the fans’ biggest complaints and systematically fix them. The theory, no matter the business, was “if you innovate to what customers want, they will take it,” says Dick Sullivan, President & CEO, PGA TOUR SuperStore.

As they listened to fans, the group heard about how difficult it was to park. Blank and his leadership team took an afternoon and walked from lot to lot. “We doubled the parking capacity, making long-term deals with local lots,” Blank said.

They also heard complaints about high ticket prices. “We knew the price was too high, and we wanted to make a clear statement to the fans,” he said.

So, the team created a season-ticket package for just $100, or $10 per ticket. “The commissioner of the NFL told me that I had the right to do it, but that I’d be making a lot of the other owners really pissed off,” Blank recalled.

His response? “I’m not selling tickets to the other owners; I’m selling them to the fans.”

They also heard from fans who felt taken advantage of each time they paid $6 for a hot dog inside the stadium. The Falcons responded with an award-winning fan-friendly pricing menu, which cut prices in half and yielded one of the best values in all of Atlanta.

“We had to be willing to walk the talk and trade off profit for a lifetime relationship with our fans,” said Steve Cannon, CEO, AMB Sports & Entertainment. “We invited fan councils from both Atlanta United and the Falcons to taste test as we formulated the menu. They had amazing feedback, and today, our menu is curated based on that direct input from our fans.”

The takeaway, as always, is the value of listening and responding. “Don’t challenge the issue, just understand it and then try to solve it with a fierceness that makes it clear you’re hearing the issue,” Blank adds.

No Finish Line

As Cannon is quick to point out, each of the six values is an actionable verb: Listen and Respond, Put People First, Give Back to Others, Lead by Example, Include Everyone, and Innovate Continuously.

“The power in the values comes from action. Values that aren’t put into action don’t really help anybody,” he says. “If the values stay static, you actually regress, so there’s always more innovation out there. If you stop innovating in this dynamic and crazy world that we’re living in, you’re actually moving backwards.”

Much like Babson students, these business leaders see themselves as students in the Blank School of Entrepreneurial Leadership, always eager to learn more and innovate continuously.

“You don’t get to graduate from The Blank School, because Arthur always reminds us that there’s no finish line,” Cannon joked. “But, it’s a fun place to be.”

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