If I Was Running A Company…Abe Pollin

I never met or saw Abe Pollin.  The closest thing I came to Abe Pollin is Abe Pollin Way.  However, there was a reason DC name a street after him.

Before owning the Washington Bullets/Wizards and Capitals, Abe was in the construction business.  Abe made tons of money and decided that he (and a bunch of investors) want to buy the Baltimore Bullets in 1964.  He wanted to move the team to the DC area, so in the 1970s, Abe put up $200+ million of his own money and build the Capital Centre.  At that time, it was state of art arena with a big screen TV and box suites.  It was home of the Bullets only championship in 1978 and the first and only championship Abe won.  When the arena was outdated in the mid 90s, Abe wanted an arena in downtown DC to build traffic and swarms of people.  He wanted funding from the DC government, but since DC had no funding at all to pay for Abe’s arena, Abe had a choice of moving his team somewhere or spend another $200 Million plus on a new arena in downtown DC.  He chose the latter and it is paying dividends.

The MCI (now Verizon) Center revitalized downtown DC since people can go to the “Phone Booth” to be entertained and go to numerous bars and restaurants surrounding Penn Quarter and Chinatown.  It open new business and job opportunities and an additional 3 hours to stay in DC.

Why I am mentioning Abe Pollin in the workplace blog post is because he was a rare businessman whose decisions not only effect  his organization, but the whole city.  

One of Abe’s strengths was his charisma and straight forward attitude.  When seeing and hearing Abe, you want to help him out and volunteer for the guy.  Abe wanted to see the big picture and his vision trickle down to his employees.  A great example was in 1982 when the Washington Capitals were struggling and thoughts of relocation were in play.  Abe created the “Save the Caps” Campaign to keep hockey in Washington.  Ken Delinger and Dave Kindred scoffed at the campaign and when Abe read that, he pulled out a full-page ad in the Washington Post calling the writers untruthful and that the campaign was real.  A year later in 1983, the Caps made to the playoffs for the first time.  Another example was the “firing” of Michael Jordan in 2003, where Jordan was supposed to bring the Wizards to the playoffs either as player or President and didn’t get the job done.  People want Jordan to stay, but Abe realize this was not going to work and fired him instead.  It caused an uproar in DC, even calling Abe “racist.” In hindsight, it was the best direction for both parties.

Another of Abe’s strengths is that he gave back.  As a philanthropist, Abe gave money to Jewish Centers, cancer research, and various charities in DC.  As a businessman, Abe made two sacrifices to help rebuild DC.  The first attempt was to show DC was a sports town beyond the Redskins.  The second attempt was a calling to rejuvenate DC.   He succeeded in both.  Also, he was very loyal to his friends and employees.  If you screw up, Abe will guide you and be your mentor.  Abe made you feel you can’t do no wrong, unless you screw up big time.

Which leads me to his main weakness: his loyalty.  As the saying goes, “Your weakness is your reflection of your strength.”  Abe was loyal to a fault. Look at Wes Unseld: He was great friends with Abe since he was on the 1978 Championship team.  He became coach in 1987 and the team never had a winning record under Unseld.  However, Wes stayed on the job for 8 years because of Abe and admit to Abe that he was not a head coach.  Abe wanted to depend on his inner circle and didn’t want to go outside of it (re: Jordan).

Another fault of Abe is he did show favoritism towards his brands.  Basketball was his first love.  The Bullets won the championship and Abe wanted a second NBA Championship.  That never happened because of Bird and Magic and their luck in the NBA Draft Lottery, plus giving $105 million to Juwan Howard.  At the same time, the Capitals were flying high, appearing in the playoffs every year, but when free agency rolled around, Abe didn’t put out the money to future hall of famers Scott Stevens and Mike Gartner, and both had great careers after leaving the Caps.

Of all those faults, the overall point is that Abe made his decision for himself.  Abe didn’t have to stay in DC because the government rejected public funding for the arena nor he had to bring Michael Jordan.  However, he wanted to because he love DC so much that he would donate his body to DC if he wanted to.  Ted Leonsis will be a great owner for both DC franchises and from the looks of it, he will do an awesome job, but he realize he is miles behind Abe Pollin.  

Abe thought he owe his employees and the city of DC something to be proud of.  The Verizon Center was his version of saying, “Thank You” for 12 years and counting.  You can have your cake, Abe!

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