Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
John Jones will soon be the man.
Jones is Green Bay Packers president and chief executive officer Bob Harlan’s hand-picked successor. Jones will take over the reins when Harlan retires in 2005.
Known in Lambeau Field circles simply as "J.J.," Jones brings an easygoing demeanor and an impressive resume to his role as the executive vice president, chief operating officer and the heir apparent in Green Bay.
The 50-year-old New Orleans native spent 11 years as a teacher and a journalist after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University of the South in New Orleans in 1973. He won awards as a sports writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper and worked as the editor of the Packer Report, the team’s official newspaper.
Jones also spent 10 years at the National Football League Management Council, serving as the executive agency’s public relations director and its director of operations.
The following is a transcript from an interview with Jones by Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler.
SBT: How has the fact that Bob Harlan has publicly designated you as his heir apparent been of help to you in conducting business for the Packers? Have you been able to leverage that? Does it give you more credibility?
Jones: "I think it’s been helpful. Green Bay is a very important franchise for the league, and, hopefully, my closeness to what is happening to the league in New York will benefit the Green Bay Packers. In terms of hiring or the direction our organization is going, I think it is an advantage."
SBT: In general terms, how has the Lambeau Field renovation project gone to date from the Packers’ perspective?
Jones: "It has progressed just beautifully. We have worked very hard with the project managers, the architects and the contractor to prepare and plan so that the things that could be reasonably anticipated, we had a plan on how to execute the project.
"The wonderful thing for us is that events beyond anyone’s control have seemed to turn to our favor to this point. For example, we had a very mild winter, and the project is so well organized and so focused, we were able to take advantage of that.
"At the point of buying steel very early, one of the earliest key moments in the project that has never really been focused on … the perception was that the economy was turning down a little bit (in 1999). We not only got good pricing, but good delivery."
SBT: How closely did the Packers, Hammes & Co. and Turner Construction Co. monitor the Miller Park project, and what was learned from that?
Jones: "Miller Park is a wonderful facility. It was a major project unfolding just a couple of hours south, and we watched it very closely. We would reach out and speak to executives that were involved in it. We were under a different set of circumstances here. Cost overruns would come at the expense of the Green Bay Packers."
SBT: How important was that in getting the Brown County stadium tax referendum approved? Was the notion that the team would assume any cost overruns debated internally by the Packers?
Jones: "Well, that was an extremely serious decision, because the reason we came to the community to ask for help to have this stadium project was that our future was at risk. To assume responsibility of cost overruns, we were accepting a significant level of risk in the project.
"But we also felt, given the history and tradition of this franchise, given the fact that we were coming to this community for a referendum, where the voters would decide, that was the right direction to go. We believed the voters would have more confidence in that decision.
"We did extensive planning to understand what the potential variables were. We looked at every turn to minimize risk, to anticipate costs, to try to find efficiencies where we could. The voters’ level of commitment to the project would have a limit, and it does. And we’ve been very fortunate."
SBT: When fans come to Lambeau for the first time this season, what do you think will be the one thing that will blow them away, something they didn’t expect?
Jones: "I think they’ll be surprised and pleased when they enter for the first time that one of the first things they’ll experience is that the concourses are so much wider, so much more comfortable. They’ll be able to move around the concourse and not have the overcowding we had in the old building. They will be surprised when they walk up a ramp that never existed before in the old stadium.
"The scale is bigger (with the new seats on the top of the bowl), but it still feels like Lambeau Field to you. A member of our executive team, Jim Temp, who played for (coach Vince) Lombardi, said he thinks the stadium will be even more intimidating to visiting teams, because you are even deeper into the heart of Packer country. You are surrounded now. The sides are higher. You will feel an even greater mass of Packer fans on you than you felt in the old Lambeau Field."
SBT: Tell me about the Titletown Atrium.
Jones: "There’s going to be a food court. We’re looking to involve some local Green Bay restaurants in that. We will have an anchor, a major Packer-themed, intimate Packer experience."
SBT: Will that be a chain restaurant or something totally unique to Lambeau?
Jones: "I think we would probably prefer to have more independence than being involved in a franchise chain type of partner. We have good theming consultants we’re working with. I don’t think we’re to the point of announcing the specifics of how a partnership might work, but I think we are ready to say this will be one of the ultimate dining experiences a Packer fan can have.
"We’re still working on some companion retail. Our focus is going to be on making business partnerships, so that this building becomes part of the business community. Our boxholders who have businesses are allowed to use their box year-round now. If you have clients in the Green Bay area, and you want to bring them to lunch at Lambeau Field, we can provide that."
SBT: As for the team on the field, as I’m sure you know, the expectations of Packer fans this year are just delirious. The man on the street thinks the Packers are going to the Super Bowl. Internally, what will be an acceptable season for the Green Bay Packers?
Jones: "I think we all are so amazed and pleased by Mike Sherman’s success in the off season. I mean, he is an outstanding coach. We knew that. In the new role as the general manager, he has really distinguished himself …. The free agent acquisitions we have, the tone he sets with our players.
"We know the expectations around the state of Wisconsin and Packer fans everywhere are just sky high, but Mike, at our annual shareholders meeting, told the shareholders, ‘That’s what should be expected of the Green Bay Packers.’ We expect that of ourselves."
SBT: From the perspective of the NFL salary cap, so many teams that were once strong fell, like Dallas and San Francisco, yet the Packers have avoided that serious slip and appear to be ready to compete at a high level again this year. How has that happened, and is the team in a position to continue to improve, given the salary cap?
Jones: "We feel we definitely are. It is a balancing act, and whenever you deal with large player contracts, you’re playing with fire. The playing personnel leadership under Mike Sherman, and on the administrative side …. Quite honestly, to learn from some of the decisions that other teams have made that have not proven to be the right decisions. We are doing that.
"We always look ahead two or three years. We always want to win now, but we want to be able to tell Mike Sherman, ‘We want to be prepared in the future to build to where you want us to go. You tell us where we want to go, and we’ll find a way to get there.’"
Aug. 30, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee