20 Questions with Paul Franks, President and CEO of The Sports Construction Group.

Originally published: 10.01.08 by Terry Tanker

Publisher Terry Tanker met with Paul Franks, president and CEO of Cleveland, Ohio-based Sports Construction Group, which designs and installs athletic fields. They discussed how Franks sold his company, and then bought it back after it went bankrupt and transformed it into a leader in its market. The Sports Construction Group.

1. Your company designs and installs athletic fields for the NFL, MLB, major colleges, and high schools. Any problems getting tickets?

Never. Just call me.

2. Where is the best tailgate party?

Johnny’s on West 6th Street in downtown Cleveland before, during, and after a Cleveland Browns game.

3. What event was the most exciting for you to watch?

Honestly, watching my two sons’ lacrosse games.

4. Do you have a sense of ownership and pride when you see sporting events played on fields your company has installed?

Without a doubt. We’ve created a great team atmosphere at our company. All projects have their own challenges, and we make “game adjustments,” just like our clients, to ensure we are successful at delivering a winning project.

5. What projects are you working on?

Our natural turf projects are New York Yankees’ new stadium, New York Jets’ training facility, Altoona Curves’ minor-league stadium, and renovations to the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field.

Our synthetic turf projects include UNC – Chapel Hill, University of Connecticut, Old Dominion University, Dartmouth, Cornell, New Jersey College, and Lehigh, to name a few.

6. How many projects can your company handle at one time?

Our onsite-employee levels peaked at about 150, and we had in excess of 20 projects running concurrently.

7. How do you deal with the logistics of moving people and large pieces of heavy machinery around the country?

This is one of our toughest challenges and requires a strong team and great project management. We have traveling crews, some of which have been with us since the 1980s. Our equipment is specialized, and our crews transport it to each jobsite.

8. How do you overcome the challenges of internal communications with crews all over the country?

I don’t think we can ever overcome those challenges, but we strive to improve them every day. As with most large construction projects, there are multiple relationships to manage — owners, architects, operations, manufacturing, vendors — all with different priorities but all trying to reach the same goal. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: In construction, nothing is simple. We need to stay focused, and we need to meet and resolve issues daily.

9. How has technology impacted field installation?

Our equipment is laser- and GPS-guided. Monofilament fibers have been developed that feel and act like natural turf, and let’s not forget heated natural fields with aeration and drainage systems.

10. What’s the best innovation you’ve seen in the past three years?

Technology advancements related to our equipment, including the ability to monitor equipment usage and location. Laser guidance enables us to achieve tolerances across the playing surface in fractions of inches.

11. How do you interact with heating and cooling contractors?

We’ve partnered with mechanical contractors to build fields for the Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Bears, and others. The fields are hydronically heated and zoned. Basically, it is the same system used in snow-melt applications — glycol-filled piping connected to manifolds serviced by a steam or boiler plant. Then it’s connected to a control system used to adjust temperatures. The growing season starts earlier in the spring and extends well into the fall. To help cool fields, we use the aeration system by using forced air within the drainage system. The system can also be reversed, creating a vacuum to accelerate drainage.

12. What has been your most challenging project?

Renovating both Yankee and Shea stadiums following 9/11. We started Yankee Stadium around Thanksgiving. Security was very tight, local union halls were completely empty, and trucking imported materials around the city was a logistical problem. We hadn’t finished Yankee Stadium when we needed to start the Shea project.

Both fields and systems needed to be completed and ready for opening day 2002.

13. As a result of those jobs, did you make changes and improvements with regard to operations of the company?

Every project has very different demands and requirements. We continue to adjust, grow, and learn with every project.

14. What gives your company a unique competitive advantage?

We internally handle all aspects of a project from start to finish. No company we compete with has this ability.

15. How would you summarize your company’s philosophy?

Inch by Inch – as in the speech Al Pacino gave in the movie “Any Given Sunday.” I sold my company and then bought it back when it went bankrupt. I relaunched and rebuilt it with this very approach. You can listen to the speech on YouTube to better understand what I mean: http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=WO4tIrjBDkk. We have a printed version hanging on our conference room wall.

16. What is your management style?

I’m hands off and I give the people who work for me room to do what they need to do.

17. How do you encourage them?

I look for individuals who are risk-takers. They are the ones who can help to grow our company. More risk, more reward. I encourage them to go out there on the ledge. The worst that can happen is we learn from a mistake.

18. How do you motivate key managers to help you get those inches?

Equity stakes in the company have worked well for us. I know this sometimes is controversial, but for our company, it’s worked.

19. In what area of management have you grown the most?

Without question, it’s the financial area. The new software that has become available for the construction industry has really helped. If it were available when I was in school, I probably would have passed those accounting classes.

20. Are you working on any pet projects?

We’ve hired a company to totally revamp our Web site. It’s just about complete, and I’m really excited about it. I believe it will help to increase our business significantly.

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