When Dr. Richard Peddie, best-selling author and the first president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in 1998, stands before the audience at VenueConnect in Toronto on Wednesday, July 25, to present his Executive Track keynote on “Creating a Winning Culture,” there will no doubt be those who do NOT attend because they believe their workplace already has such a sterling culture and environment in place. Perhaps, but that is exactly why such individuals should plan to be in the session from 10:45 – 11:30 am.
“Standing still is not an option,” said Dr. Peddie, whose plaudits also include building Air Canada Centre, BMO Field, Maple Leaf Square and bringing Major League Soccer to Canada with the launch of Toronto FC. “”The world is moving constantly. What wins stadium of the year or arena of the year one year within a couple of years could be way behind. It takes an attitude that you are always looking to improve.”
Dr. Peddie provided an example with the local MLS team. “We always challenged our F&B with the other teams where I was involved, but when we got a soccer franchise I challenged them to come up with a menu that is very international to reflect the fact that football — soccer — is the No. 1 sport in the world. They responded and came up with some pretty crazy ideas.”
The very nature of sports teams dictates that at the end of the year there will be one crowned champion and a number of “runner-ups” who fell short of the ultimate goal. Dr. Peddie noted that obviously every team wants to be a winner, and while it is not possible all the time on the pitch, field, or court, that does not mean that the other aspects or arenas of the venue should fall short of meeting customer expectations.
“Everything is pretty much a meritocracy, and no more so than in sports,” he said. “In most major sports you have 29 losers and one winner. There can be more winners on the business side, the arena side, the venue side. A winning organization wants to be a wining organization and one that attracts and retains people. If you have a good culture that pushes winning with values, you’re going to have more success. When we talk about the whole culture of winning, I am not talking about winning at all costs. There are too many examples of individuals who have done that in sports, but their values were horrible and eventually they are caught. I believe that having a value space in an organization creates a great culture and a great winning organization.”
Dr. Peddie said that much of his session will focus on vision and values, which he calls “the cornerstone of all my leadership pitches.”
“You have to have those in place,” he said. “They have to be the lens you evaluate everything through. For instance, one of our values at Maple Leaf Sports was to excite every fan. In our vision and values statements were 18 words, a far cry from most places that have about 200 words. I always told our full-time and part-time people to excite every fan. You did that through great food and beverage, great service, and really solid on-court or on-ice entertainment. Of course, you ideally did it with the team’s too, but our people were empowered to excite every fan. If that meant that if someone drops a hot dog and you see that happen, you replace the hot dog. It’s giving great service, making sure the place is clean and fresh.”
Dr. Peddie said that he is also a strong advocate of best practices. “Other people call it legitimate plagiarism,” he said with a laugh. “One of the benefits of going to a conference like this is if someone is really smart and has their antenna up, they are not talking a lot but asking a lot of questions.”
Using another example, Dr. Peddie said that when he was chosen to bring a basketball team to Toronto in 1993, he went and toured 20 of the 28 NBA arenas and took notes.
“There are things at Air Canada Centre that I picked up from other buildings,” he said. “I was recently at the new NBA arena in Detroit (Little Caesars Arena) and that place … I mean, if I was building an arena today I told Tom Wilson (president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment) that I would steal so many of your ideas! I had a 41-year career but not sure how many good ideas I had. I was smart enough to see other people’s good ideas and modify them a bit for my marketplace. I told him that they were Air Canada Centre on steroids!”
But even a sparkling new venue must guard against complacency to maintain a winning culture.
“There is always a chance that you get stagnant,” Dr. Peddie said, “and you start resting on your laurels. The world moves too quickly that you will be passed by. Once you lose that momentum there is something called the Sigmoid Curve. It is used in business and shows a curve that goes up and goes to the top. Once there, are you going to go over the top of the hill and start sliding down or are you going to use the top of that hill to spin off into another direction? That’s a challenge.
“We did a strategic plan with our own business and knew we could not stand still. Our owners wanted to see increases in enterprise value and we wanted to be an exception place to work and attract the best people. That’s what best practices can do for you.”