Episode 42 — Leading the SunTrust Park Project With Mike Plant

Episode #42
Original Air Date: 09.19.2017

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Mike Plant

This enlightening podcast is filled with wisdom from Mike Plant, former Olympian and President of Development with the Atlanta Braves.

As part of the Braves executive leadership team, Plant was instrumental in the Braves’ efforts to secure and plan SunTrust Park
and the adjacent mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, which opened in Cobb County in April 2017. Plant joined the Braves after having served as Executive Vice President of Turner Sports. Plant was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic speed skating team in Lake Placid, NY, and a six-time member of the U.S. World Championship speed skating teams. Since 1980, he has been appointed to numerous committees and boards for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), the U.S. International Speed skating Association, International Cycling Federation, and USA Cycling.

Plant joins the cast of Manage This to share his outlook on leadership and perseverance as well as his role in the SunTrust Park project. Tune in to hear what he looks for in a teammate both on and off the field.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"If I look back on my athletic career and all the things I did after that in the world of sport, young people ask me, what’s the one word that you think would define who you are and where you got your drive from?  And I think it’s really – it’s perseverance.  It’s understanding how to persevere through some very challenging times, daily or project-wise, and don’t lose sight of what the ultimate objective is."

- Mike Plant

"And I think if you can create this camaraderie, you know, you can create this sense of we’re all in this together.  I’m the guy that throws it or hits it.  You’re the guy that makes sure I’m pieced back together every day, that I can do that.  I think that’s just like our project.  I think, as I said earlier, don’t become a legend in your own mind."

- Mike Plant

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● MIKE PLANT

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every couple of weeks we reserve this time to meet together and discuss the things that matter most to you in this diverse and ever-changing realm of project management.  We want to support you, embolden you, reassure you, and maybe even light a fire in areas that have grown cold.  And we do that by exploring the experiences of others who have been where you are or are there right now.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the two guys who fill the room with experience, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  Andy, if our listeners are into sports, teams, leadership, our guest today is the guy they want to hear from.

ANDY CROWE:  We’re bringing it all together today, aren’t we, Nick.  This is going to be a good ‘cast.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s meet our guest.  Mike Plant is in his 14th season with the Atlanta Braves organization, his second season as President of Development.  He’s been instrumental in establishing a new home for the team at the newly opened SunTrust Park and its adjacent development, The Battery Atlanta.

Before he joined the Braves organization, Mike was Executive Vice President of Turner Sports.  He managed the Goodwill Games, has helped organize various phases of the Olympic Games, and serves on numerous committees and boards for the U.S. Olympic Committee.  A former Olympian himself, Mike Plant was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic speedskating team, and continues to lead speedskating and cycling organizations in this country and internationally.  Mike, it is a privilege to have you here on Manage This.  Thanks for joining us.

MIKE PLANT:  Thank you, thank you.

NICK WALKER:  You bring a lot of experience to the table, and we want to get into some of that.  But I’m guessing that that kind of experience is probably sort of a prerequisite for all that’s involved in building, not only this new stadium, but the adjacent shops and restaurants and parking facilities.  That kind of project could probably overwhelm a lesser human.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, well, my dad told me a long time ago, don’t become a legend in your own mind.  So I try to keep that in perspective.  But, you know, if I look back on my athletic career and all the things I did after that in the world of sport, young people ask me, what’s the one word that you think would define who you are and where you got your drive from?  And I think it’s really – it’s perseverance.  It’s understanding how to persevere through some very challenging times, daily or project-wise, and don’t lose sight of what the ultimate objective is.

And so, I mean, you’ll get there.  And if you have to jump over, go under, push over, go on the side of the hurdle, just there’s a way to get to the end.  And if you can align all the people that are with you to understand sort of that philosophy, have fun while you’re doing it, work hard while you’re doing it, but persevere through some tough times.  You’ll get to the end, and you’ll accomplish what you set out to do.

NICK WALKER:  Well, most recently, how did you end up in the position that you’re in right now, the President of Development?

MIKE PLANT:  Well, I mean, fortunately, I’m one of those individuals, and I try to also tell young people this, is you’ve got to find something you wake up every day and kind of pinch yourself and say, I can’t believe they actually pay me to do this.  So if you can do that in your life, and when you set out on your career path, that obviously is something I’ve been fortunate to accomplish.

I mean, I transcended from my field-of-play athletic career into a world of sport, way back when it was in its infancy.  I mean, I sold my first sponsorship deal in 1980 when I’m 21 years old, banging out a proposal on my mom and dad’s electric typewriter with Wite-Out.  But I knocked down $375,000 from the Atari Corporation, and that kind of got me on my way to saying, okay, I need to manage this now.  And so it’s been a career path that just had some great stepping-stones to it.  But again, it’s one that I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been – every opportunity that I was given, I made sure that I delivered for what I was expected to do.

NICK WALKER:  As far as the stadium is concerned, this is – by the way, I work at a place that’s almost across the street from the stadium, so I’ve seen it go up.  I’ve seen the phases.  It is just an amazing project, not just the stadium itself, but all of the surrounding property, too.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, you know, we’ve had 35 teams come through there.  Yesterday another Japanese professional baseball team, last week got F.C. Barcelona through, next week the Washington Redskins are coming through.  And so we’re spending time with these teams because what we envisioned, what our objective was, is really the model for professional teams in the future.  So we’ve got a lot of guests coming through there and looking at it.  And the one thing I say to all of them is, when they ask me, “Hey, would you do this again?” it doesn’t take long for me to say, “No.  I’m not, you know, I’m not doing this again.  It was a lot harder than I thought.”

But I also tell them, “Look, you shouldn’t do this, either.”  And that gets kind of a stunned look.  And I always make sure I explain what I mean by that is we built 2.5 million square feet of vertical real estate in 30 months.  And most developers around the globe will tell you that’s five- to eight-year project.  But, you know, really had to command a high standard of excellence from everyone that was signed up for it.  I made sure they understood what they were signing up for.  And again, we’re going to persevere through some tough times here.  But as we keep our eye on the ball and that, we’re going to get to that finish line.  And everyone subscribed to that.

ANDY CROWE:  So, Mike, I have a question for you.  As you’re looking at this, you looked back and said it was tougher than you thought.  In what way?  Give me some examples of some of the ways that maybe, you know, you walked into this knowing that building a new major league baseball stadium wasn’t going to be easy.  But in what ways were you surprised?

MIKE PLANT:  Well, one, underestimated my time.  And also, look, I took this role on as quarterback of the project.  I didn’t understand really what that meant when we started, and I told Terry McGuirk, our chairman, that, okay, I’ll be the quarterback.  But got all of a sudden from project management of a 2.5 million square foot project and coordinating all of the construction activity, all the design, all the engineering to the political realities of our partnership with Cobb County, which was fantastic, but took a lot of bandwidth; and then all of a sudden, next thing, realizing that we need to stack about 800, $900 million of debt together.  And I’m looking around saying, okay, who do I have to do that, and you’re looking at him.  So I led that charge.  And I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t a debt finance guy, but I became one pretty quick.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  Because that’s all negotiating terms with banks and lending institutions.  And then involved in negotiating really just about every deal, every major partnership, joint venture, deal with the small partners we have in the residential retail, our Omni partnership, Comcast, the leases.  We had partners that do that, but the difference for us is that we’re a developer now.  We’re in the real estate business.  Unlike most developers – they build this stuff, they flip it, they get out – we’re there for 30 years.  And all those tenants wanted to talk to us.  They wanted to look us in the eye and have that comfort that we’re the guys that are engaged and all-in.  So some of these leases I negotiated for 10, 11 months.

ANDY CROWE:  And you know in the position that you were in during that time, and I guess still are in throughout that, every problem becomes your problem.  So everything that goes wrong or the difficulty encountered comes back to you.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, you know what, I adopted this kind of philosophy a long time ago, long, long time ago, is that my friends in Europe use that word “problem” a lot.  And all the stuff I do in the international Olympic world and cycling and that, I hear in many meetings, well, the problem with this, problem with that.  So I adopted a long time ago saying, “Those are just new opportunities.”

ANDY CROWE:  Opportunity.

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.

MIKE PLANT:  So I don’t use that word “problem” a lot.  And, look, it can hit you in the face all day long.  And you just – some people react to it by, you know, crawling in the hole and saying “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” or biting their fingernails.  I just dig right in and say, all right, who’s at the table with me?  We’re going to solve this, and we’re going to move on.

ANDY CROWE:  Real quickly, along those lines, with the team that you had in place working this, did you have a good structure of people, lieutenants or generals or however…

MIKE PLANT:  Absolutely.  Yeah, no, absolutely.  Look, I don’t play any instruments anymore.  I just need to make sure the band sounds good.  And I make that very clear to everybody.  But that’s, you know, I’m also a huge proponent of self-leadership.  I don’t need to make every decision.  You know, if I do, I don’t need most of these people sitting around the table.  So you’ve got to empower people.

Part of that high standard of excellence that I requested of everyone, to bring your “A” game every single day, is, you know, look, I mean, I had to hit myself in the face every morning when I was getting back on it at 5:30, 6:00.  I mean, everyone laughs about how many emails you got from me before 6:00 o’clock and, you know, the sun was shining.  But it was really inspiring and motivating them every day.  Because we were grinding.  We were grinding hard.

BILL YATES:  Mike, I love this idea of perseverance.  And I get the sense that you had to become an expert on things that you were not an expert on before pretty quickly, or at least understand them so you can…

MIKE PLANT:  Oh, absolutely, yeah, because you’re making decisions.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, you’re having to make decisions.

MIKE PLANT:  I mean, someone had to make the decisions.  And every day, I mean, I made decisions all day long.  But that’s what people, you know, they appreciated because they all knew, I said, hey, 30 months, got to build this, got to be open by the 14th of April.  If I wasn’t decisive, we weren’t going to get there.  And I’m not one that’s going to point the finger.  I mean, all that stuff rolls uphill, as we say.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  How did you avoid being the bottleneck?

MIKE PLANT:  Probably because of, again, I had a lot of key people that were on our project management team.  JLL, can’t say enough about them.  One of the smartest decisions, I think, you know, I made early on, and told Terry this was going to be the way I wanted to go forward was to not have four, five, or six different companies that had certain expertise and expect them all to work together.  I put that all under one roof.

JLL has a strong, strong bench of finance people, construction management, development management, retail management.  And so that’s the team of lieutenants that I had access to, and they were all part of the same company.  So, but it was, yeah, making sure that they knew they were empowered.  And when they needed to bring a decision back to me, then they knew at what level that was.  But empower them to make decisions.

NICK WALKER:  In the future we’ll be talking more about building the new stadium, in another podcast.  But I wanted to get into this idea of teams a little bit more.  You’ve been a world-class athlete, a speedskater in the 1980 Olympic Games.  You were President of the Goodwill Games.  You’re responsible for all sports properties owned by Turner Sports.  You’ve been involved in the United States Cycling Federation, the Canoe/Kayak Team, and our current President of the United States Speedskating Team.  So you’re dealing with individuals a lot, individual athletes; but yet everybody’s on a team.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.

NICK WALKER:  So we’ve got these common threads of individuals and teams working together.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, I mean, look, one of the things you try to get every athlete to understand is that there’s got to be a mutual level of respect for all the people that are there to support them, to try to get them on that podium.  And it’s one of the things way back to when I was the Associate Executive Director of USA Cycling and would take teams around the world, various Olympic games.

I’ve been to the last 18 Olympic Games in one shape, capacity, or form of responsibility, and really not losing sight about the fact that everyone here in this room is going to try to help you get on that podium.  Everyone in our organization today is going to help try to win that World Series and do everything they can to prepare you, help you, coach you, train you throughout the day.  But don’t lose respect of the fact that they’re just not a hired hand here.

And I think if you can create this camaraderie, you know, you can create this sense of we’re all in this together.  I’m the guy that throws it or hits it.  You’re the guy that makes sure I’m pieced back together every day, that I can do that.  I think that’s just like our project.  I think, as I said earlier, don’t become a legend in your own mind.  I mean, look, I’ve got this big fancy title, President of Development.  People knew I was a quarterback.  That doesn’t mean that anyone had less of a role in making sure that we got to that finish line.

So I think when people walk through that door every morning, and everyone checks their ego at the door, and we all know we’re in it together, we’re all going to accomplish this together, we’re not going to do this individually, that helps that objective get achieved.

BILL YATES:  I’ve got a follow-up question on that.  You were a speedskater.

MIKE PLANT:  Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES:  That had to influence so much of your own personal leadership.  You know, as a leader, the first thing you have to do is figure out how to lead yourself; right?

MIKE PLANT:  Right.

BILL YATES:  How to get out of bed, how to eat right, how to sleep right, how to exercise, how to reach those goals.  So you, you know, you’re able to step beyond that into someone who influenced others that were wired the same way, to the point where they could share secrets with each other.  I’m thinking of some of these teams that you’ve led.  I mean, some of these people have really, you know, it’s almost like, okay, I’ve figured out for me what works best, and I’ve shaved time off my performance, whether I’m a cyclist or a speedskater.  I don’t want to give that information up for the team.  And I think sometimes for PMs we struggle to get people on our team to share some of those secrets with the team.  How did you overcome that?

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, and that’s probably, as my wife says, sometimes people might look at you as being arrogant.  But I think you have a level of confidence.  I could always say, I don’t think I’m arrogant, but I am confident.  And when you’re in an individual sport, you know, I always laughed about it.  It was like, you know, look, I had to make sure I took a left every 100 meters, not 99 or 101.  That would be bad.  But, you know, went around in circles.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  And so you’re in this individual sport.  You take the ball out of it.  And it takes a different level of commitment and dedication to excel at it.  And so when I look back on it, I think that’s kind of helped my career because it goes back to this just four, five, six hours a day of dedication to try to achieve that objective.

But looking at the team, I mean, I think one of the things I try to make sure people understand is that you’ve got to have a level of confidence in here.  This isn’t about who gets the credit.  And if it’s about kind of keeping things to yourself and not sharing them because you’re concerned about I’ve got to make sure I get credit, or this is my job preservation, you’re going to fail.  No one should think about who gets the awards and the credit.  Everyone’s going to succeed if we work together.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, Mike, I’m taken back.  Years ago I was managing a large IT project, and we did have one personality who was constantly maybe making decisions that were in his best interests, but not necessarily the best interests of the team.  And translating that over to sport, I can think of a prominent football game not that long ago where a quarterback, you know, when he lost the ball, he wouldn’t jump on it or go after it.  He was waiting, you know, kind of for team members.  And he almost sort of gave up at some point.

How do you, in the work that you’ve done and the work that you’re doing, how do you guys work beyond that, push back this individual?  I know we’ve kind of touched on it, but push past this individual ego thing to say, no, no, really, you’re part of a team.  The team’s more important now.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.  I mean, it’s the big things and the little things.  I mean, you’ve got to practice what you preach, obviously.  So, I mean, for me it’s just natural.  I don’t have to think every day about, again, motivating and inspiring people.  I mean, I don’t even do it intentionally, but I’m going to outwork you.  I mean, it’s just…

ANDY CROWE:  I love it.

MIKE PLANT:  It’s my instinct.  I’ve been to Europe three times in the last four weeks for one day:  day trip to Geneva, day trip to Copenhagen, day trip to Lausanne.  While I’m over there, in an eight, nine-hour meeting right off the plane, I’m still doing 200 emails.  And so people don’t even know when I’m gone because I’m staying on top of things because I have this responsibility.  They need answers.  They need direction, you know, where they’re asking me.

And that’s why the project stayed – anything I’m involved in, it stays on course.  If I commit to something, I’m going to deliver.  I’m not going to commit to something and just see my name on the left-hand margin of that piece of paper and pat myself on the back with an attaboy.  So, and again, if you don’t do it – if you do it for the right reasons, it’s being part of something that you can now see come out of the ground or being part of someone getting on that podium and just feeling this inner sense of pride that you helped.  You don’t need anything more than that.

BILL YATES:  When you’re looking for team members, whether you’re putting together an Olympic squad or you’re building a stadium, what kind of culture do you look for?  What kind of traits do you look for in those individuals?  Who do you want on your team, Mike?

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, well, I mean, again, I mentioned respect before.  I mean, there has to be mutual respect.  It has nothing to do with fancy titles.  And so that’s probably the most important thing to me – accountability, responsibility.  Because again, self-leadership, I’m going to give you areas that you own.  And people are going to expect you to deliver.  And so you have to be accountable and responsible.  You know, we talk about being a good communicator, being a good team member.

But again, if you don’t check your ego at the door, and you come in like a bunch of lawyers that think they’re going to start pontificating about where they went to school, and that also means I’m the smartest guy in the room, I could care less about that.  I mean, it’s like, what are you bringing to try to help us get from one step to the next, to accomplish our goal collectively?  So collaborate well with each other respectfully.  Check your ego at the door.  And if you add those things together and have that work ethic, this is what I tell every young person:  “You’re going to be pretty successful, and quickly you separate yourself from the pack because all of us in this room, we all see those individuals, you know, those star performers.”

ANDY CROWE:  Bill, I want to ask you, answer that same question.  What do you look for with team members?

BILL YATES:  Some of the keys that you’ve hit on, humility, that’s huge to me.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Checking the ego, having the humility, feeling like the team is bigger than me.  It’s more important.  I like your – I have to be careful, but I really like your attitude of “I’m going to outwork the team” because in my past sometimes I think I’ve communicated that in a way that wasn’t positive and had to be careful with that.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Setting expectations properly.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  And I like, you know, when I think about the role that you play in the community, there’s a very clear expectation as to your role as a communicator and who you represent.  And I think for project teams that’s a great thing to know.  I want to know my role when I step into a project team.  Who is going to be the communicator with the customer or with the public?  And I think you guys have done a great job of being clear on that.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, well, another example I’d give you, as well, is we had, not a double-header, but we had a makeup game, I don’t know, six weeks ago due to a previous rainout and, you know, built a system with the staff that we had 45 minutes to turn that park around.  So we had to move 18,000 people out and then clean all the stuff that was there and make it look presentable for 28,000 people coming back in.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  Well, Derek Schiller, the other president and I, we put the gloves on, we had bags, and people saw that.

ANDY CROWE:  Perfect.

MIKE PLANT:  We cleaned up trash for 35 minutes.  And in 35 minutes that entire ballpark top to bottom was cleaned up because everyone went all hands in.  And, you know, it was funny.  People said to me, “Yeah, we saw Mike down there.”  And I was like, well, why wouldn’t I be down there?  I’m not going to sit here and just ask everyone else to start cleaning up trash and then sit down in a bunker having a cocktail.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s awesome.

MIKE PLANT:  So that just works.  Check your ego at the door.  We’re all in here.

BILL YATES:  That – you’ve careened right into a topic that I wanted to hit on with you.  And it’s star power.  Some of the projects that we lead will have people that are on the project, that they have a special degree, they’re from a particular school, or it could be something as simple as they know the customer better than anyone else.  And there can be a tendency of we’re around the room brainstorming or trying to come up with a solution.  People will just gravitate to that one person.  Now, on the sports side, you’ve certainly been a part of that.  You’ve been the star in the room, and you’ve had to kind of overcome that.

MIKE PLANT:  Right.

BILL YATES:  You’ve also flipped it and been, you know, the team that you’re on now, you’re on an executive team that includes two hall-of-famers.  You have Hank Aaron, and you have John Schuerholz in the room.

MIKE PLANT:  Right.

BILL YATES:  So when they ask an opinion, how do you, you know, do you defer to Hank?  Or how do you step into that with confidence and go, okay, this is my role on this team, and here’s what I do?

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, I guess it really kind of depends what the topic is.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

MIKE PLANT:  I mean, if you’re going to start talking about how to build a winning team on the field, John knows a lot more about that than Mike Plant does.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah.

MIKE PLANT:  And so, you know, I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know.

BILL YATES:  Got it.

MIKE PLANT:  And, you know, as they say, one of your greatest strengths is to understand your weaknesses.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  And don’t look at that as a failure or, again, just that, you know, you’ve got to have enough self-confidence of what your contributions are to make that work.  And believe me, when I feel I’ve got the expertise to back something up, I’m going to make sure that I put my opinion on the table.  There are times – this Monday we had a two-hour discussion about our short and long-term strategy of the guys on our roster.  I mean, and still as we’re looking forward this year, next year, and 2019 about what’s going to make up getting us back to that World Series, well, I’m not the GM.  But I’ve got an opinion about it and put it on the table.  So – but respect the fact that I’m not the GM.  So look at Hank and John.  And again, the team that I was able to build for this project, they all brought a lot of value to the table.  And I’m not going to denigrate that value.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.  And just practically speaking, do you have any advice for project managers who they’re observing that behavior in their project team, where people are shutting down because of someone in the room?  What do you do in that case?  How do you encourage them to share their thoughts?

MIKE PLANT:  Well, yeah, I mean, as a leader, obviously, a lot of times you need to kind of draw them into the conversation because you can, you know, you’ve got to be smart enough to observe that you have people that have expertise, but maybe they’re a little intimidated because you do have that hall-of-famer or that legend in his own mind at the table.  And so, yeah, you need to be smart enough as the orchestra leader to draw them into the conversation because you know they have expertise.  But they might be a little intimidated.  And, you know, you can understand, that’s human nature.  But once you draw them in, they get engaged.  And again, you know, no one ever needs to get their ego involved in it.  But I think that’s the responsibility of the leader.

ANDY CROWE:  Mike, I’ve got a question for you.  Suppose I’m a project manager for you on one of these large components, or maybe the overall project.  What’s the best way to communicate with you?  How do I give you updates?  How frequently?  Are you a face-to-face guy?  Do you prefer email?  You seem to do a lot of it.  What works?

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, it’s probably all the above, yeah.  I mean, I went all day long, back to back, eight, nine hours a day in meetings, from one to the next.  And then I’d do emails till 1:00 o’clock, 2:00 o’clock in the morning to get caught back up.  And the next day, you know, reset the clock and do it all over again.  But again, I always told the team that, look, you can copy me on things.  I’m not one of those guys that has to feel like I’ve got to hit Reply All and respond.  But knowledge of this entire project was important to me.

ANDY CROWE:  Sometimes we refer to that as an “ambient awareness.”  You just know what’s going on all around, even if you’re not in center of it.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.  Exactly, because three months later someone in a meeting starts talking about a various topic.  I don’t want to just say, well, I don’t know what you are talking about.  And it has a financial implication to us, has a schedule implication to us.  So, yeah, just understanding the various aspects of the entire project was important.  But then again, when it was decision-making, I mean, we spent eight months VE’ing just the ballpark, another six months VE’ing weekly.  We’d sit in there with a massive log with a team of people, and someone had to make decisions.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.  And that’s, I know, the one thing the JLL guys have said to all the other teams that have been through that they’ve interacted with is that, look, if you don’t have somebody making decisions, we’re not finishing that in 30 months.  So some people didn’t like it.  There’s times I would engage other people on our executive team that I knew had more interest and creative interest in certain aspects of it.  And I’d say, look, you’ve got until Friday at 11:37 a.m.  You don’t make a decision by then, I will.  And they learned a tough lesson a few times.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, because at 11:38, boom, we were going forward.  And I didn’t send them an email to say, hey, you’ve got an extra minute here.  No, we’re going.  And that’s just – it’s a tough lesson, but they got it.

BILL YATES:  What were some of the reports that the JLL team gave to you that were most helpful?  Again, I think you were really the spokesperson throughout so much of the project…

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  …going on with SunTrust Park.  What were some of the most helpful things they gave you?

MIKE PLANT:  I mean, managing money was important.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

MIKE PLANT:  A project of this size, at close to $1.4 billion, 2.5 million square feet, and a schedule that was very aggressive.  I’m proud to say that, you know, we were either on time or ahead of schedule on every single vertical stack there and either on-budget or under-budget in every vertical stack there.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

MIKE PLANT:  Which doesn’t happen much in a project of this size.  And so budget was frequent and important.  I had another two-hour budget meeting yesterday.  We would meet on biweekly, actually weekly meetings on the multiuse, weekly meetings on retail.  All my office components, I mean, residential, those were all weekly meetings with the team as we were stacking forward, you know, in design and selection of FF&E and construction and budget and all those different components.  And then from a JLL standpoint, I mean, they were involved in all of those.  But we had just weekly meetings on the overall schedule of the entire project as it related back to budget in each one of those individual components.

So, yeah, I read a lot of documents.  But again, I would read them.  I’d sit in every one of these meetings every single week.  And then I’d run to, I mean, we spent 2.5 years, you know, I started leading the charge, and quickly – not quickly, late in the game, shifted into letting other people run the whole Traffic Management Engineering and Parking, which we knew was a big, big part of our success.  And fortunately, as I sit here today, we didn’t ruin people’s lives.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  It was three years of, oh, my god, my life is over.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah, and we didn’t ruin people’s lives.  And I attribute that to the team of experts, the amount of effort we put in, the money we put in, and looking at a really good plan, building a really good plan that was going to make that all effective.  And it worked.

ANDY CROWE:  I’ve been multiple times.  I was there on opening night, was there for probably a half a dozen games this year live, and for the Billy Joel concert and other things.  And every time the experience has been as smooth as silk.  So at least from a spectator’s standpoint, it’s just been amazing.

MIKE PLANT:  That’s great.  That’s good to hear.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, it’s good stuff.

MIKE PLANT:  Now, one thing I would say – so Uber didn’t exist 10 years ago, I don’t think.  I mean, we love it.  And, you know, it has served so many different purposes.  We have a great relationship with them.  But by Easter morning, so our third game, we basically had a real come-to-Jesus meeting with Uber and said, guess what, we’ll take this over.  You guys, you’re not good at on-the-ground operations.  And that’s not being critical.  They just don’t do that.  They don’t operate like the New York/LaGuardia taxi stand does.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  And so we created a stronger collaborative effort with them to say, here’s what we’re good at, and we’re doing this traffic management for all the rest of this.  So let us incorporate you into that.  You do what you’re good at; we’ll do what we’re good at.

ANDY CROWE:  And did it help?

MIKE PLANT:  It’s made a huge difference.

ANDY CROWE:  Excellent.

MIKE PLANT:  You know, but the numbers or the volume of it is huge.  I mean, for Billy Joel, for example, there were over seven, I think 7,000 drop-off and pick-ups for that one night.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  That’s a lot of people and a lot of volume of cars.  But, you know, I’m happy to see – and there’s more and more great information coming out.  I call us the “evil empire” because that’s, for three years, that’s what it was.  And, you know, I told my kids this.  They learned it a long time ago when we built our stadium in Gwinnett.  And for four months in front of Turner Field and three months down in Peachtree City, where I live, a 50-foot by 4-foot sign said, “Shame on Mike Plant.”  And my kids saw it every day; you know?  And I just said, look, you’ve got to just not let that kind of stuff bother you.  I sleep well at night because I’ve got integrity and ethics, and I don’t have any ghosts in my closet.  It was all union tactic to try to wear me down.  And it was like, they’d send – everyone in my neighborhood got every month a “Mike Plant’s a Rat” letter in the mail.

BILL YATES:  Geez.

MIKE PLANT:  You know, you’ve just got to have thick skin through that stuff.  And so I knew that the “evil empire” eventually, that all the noise was going to, like, you know, die down.  And you’re going to start seeing more and more numbers that are coming out of – in our first 70 days we put almost $2 million into Cobb County’s general fund.  They didn’t have that before.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MIKE PLANT:  And into the schools and the SPLOST.  And that number just grows.

BILL YATES:  Mike, I cannot let you out of our studio without asking you, who are some leaders that have influenced you in the past?  Who’s made you who you are today?

MIKE PLANT:  Well, you know, it sounds cliché.  We all give credit to our parents.  But, you know, my dad and mom – my mom was a really strong project manager.  Not in the workforce.  But she had a plan for everything.  And I learned my operational organizational skills from her.  And, I mean, when I was a kid I’d go back and forth to Europe.  And, you know, I mean, I wrote lists.  There was no iPad to use.  But, you know, I made sure I always had a plan.  My daughter is into project management and planning now, the senior at UGA.

So, and then my dad had incredible work ethic.  He was a very humble guy, but people respected him because of how he eventually became the police chief and built a force of just people that wanted to walk on glass for him because of the way he treated them.  And so I try to walk around that ballpark and every single person there go shake their hand and give them a fist pump.  And I know that resonates with them, that they don’t feel like just a maintenance guy; you know?  They’re a valuable part of our team.  So that’s the foundation where I come from.  And, you know, don’t ever lose sight of your roots.  And that’s one thing I’ve never done.

BILL YATES:  Well said.

NICK WALKER:  Mike, thanks so much.  It’s a privilege to have you here with us.

MIKE PLANT:  Thank you.

NICK WALKER:  We have a gift before you go.

MIKE PLANT:  Oh.

NICK WALKER:  It’s this…

MIKE PLANT:  Nice.

NICK WALKER:  …special Manage This coffee mug.

MIKE PLANT:  Cool.

NICK WALKER:  So in between the 200 emails that you’re writing every day, enjoy a cup of coffee on us.

MIKE PLANT:  Thank you.  I like it; it’s a big one.

NICK WALKER:  Yes, holds a lot.

MIKE PLANT:  Yeah.  Thank you very much.  I enjoyed it, guys.

NICK WALKER:  Well, thank you, Mike.  And Andy and Bill, as always, thanks for the expertise that you bring to the table, as well.

We here at Manage This want to give you a little something extra for listening to our podcasts.  Free PDUs, Professional Development Units, are yours for the taking, just for joining us.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Then click on the button that says Claim PDUs, and just click right through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on October 3rd for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We are here for you.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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