ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make air? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Laura Okmin’s interview with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank..
The idea of PROfiles is to get to know NFL players and coaches off the field. We know WHAT they do, but the premise is to really show WHO they are. Players are almost always easier than coaches because, as you can imagine, coaches tend to keep a wall up and aren’t that keen on showing the world who they are away from the job. When Arthur Blank committed to be the first owner we profiled, I was a little nervous thinking that the wall would be even less penetrable. I was wrong.
I told Arthur my challenge with this episode was to make him relatable. Most of us will never build a billion-dollar company like Home Depot, nor will we buy an NFL team, so I needed to find something that people could connect with.
It wasn’t hard to find. Blank’s father passed away when he was just 15. He left a small pharmaceutical company behind which the family urged Arthur’s mother, Molly, to sell. She had no business experience but she refused to give it up. Molly Blank would turn that small pharmaceutical company into a million-dollar business, a drive and entrepreneurial spirit she passed on to Arthur. While attending Babson College in Massachusetts, Arthur started up several businesses to earn money. He did everything from picking up students’ laundry to cutting grass to baby sitting at nights. I asked him if he had ever been a slacker. He didn’t hesitate. “Never.”
We shot part of the show in Emigrant, Montana, where Blank owns one of the most upscale guest ranch resorts in the country, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch. It’s 9,000 breathtaking acres that back up to Yellowstone National Park. As we stood overlooking the incredible views, I asked Arthur what his father would think if he saw what he had accomplished: growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, now owning this 9,000-acre slice of heaven along with The Home Depot, the Atlanta Falcons and all of his philanthropy work.
“I think he’d be amazed,’’ Blank said. "Not because he didn’t have confidence in me as a young man, but because I think he would be amazed at the level of successes that we’ve achieved and hopefully be very proud of me in most areas of my life, hopefully every area of my life.”
When I asked Blank (an avid golfer) if he would use a mulligan on any aspect of his life, the 68-year-old billionaire sounded more like a 15-year-old boy saying, “I would’ve spent more time with my father.”
There’s a warmth and ease to Blank that I hadn’t seen before (it didn’t hurt that he was wearing jeans and cowboy boots while he rode horses), but every one of his players had told me about it.
In fact, it’s what his employees (of all his companies) love best about him while, interestingly, it’s also the one thing his critics pounce on. Blank told me people continue to tell him he was too close to Michael Vick, yet he still disagrees, saying, “obviously, I didn’t know him well enough.”
He says if the NFL came down with a rule saying an owner couldn’t have a relationship with his players, he would sell the team. Relationships are his favorite part of what he does. I’ve seen that first hand with the Falcons, the physical-therapy centers he owns in Atlanta, his family foundation and his ranch. He knows his employees as people.
I’ve heard, as will you in this episode of PROfiles, Tony Gonzalez asking Blank for advice when it comes to running his own business, about motivating employees and whether you treat all of them the same.
I think the value he places on relationships is what threw him so much regarding the backlash when he pushed Vick onto the field in his wheelchair. He calls that incident the biggest learning experience of his Falcons tenure. He would never do it again, but I don’t think it’s because he wouldn’t want to.
The two were in the locker room when Vick asked Blank if he could find him someone to push him to the corner of the end zone, because the route out of the locker room and onto the field wasn’t designed for a wheelchair. Blank was on his way out there as well and offered his help. Wouldn’t we praise that in our own boss? But instead, the media criticized him for looking like he was too close to his star player.
We talked a lot about what Blank has achieved in his life, but it wasn’t the wealth or fame that he dwelt on, nor what I took away.
“It’s not just the end of the journey but it’s who you’re on the journey with,’’ Blank said. "It’s your family, it’s your friends, it’s your associates. And I’ve been blessed that way.”
Who couldn’t relate to that?
“PROfiles” with Falcons owner Arthur Blank begins appearing on FSN on Friday and will run all weekend long. Check your local listings.