No one can predict the future, but hard work and determination will guarantee eventual success. On Arizona Achievers today, Jerry Colangelo, Arizona entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Sports Executive, talks about his love for his community and the thriving force behind all his achievements here in Arizona.
He shares his thoughts on his role in creating modern-day Phoenix, the future of the West Valley and what it means to be a lifelong learner.
Chris Coraggio: Hey folks, welcome to yet another edition of Arizona Achievers. And this is a special episode because this gentleman is THE Arizona achiever. Jerry Colangelo, thank you so much for being here.
Jerry Colangelo: My pleasure.
Chris Coraggio: We appreciate it. I know the audience is going to really benefit from our conversation. The audience is made up of impressive leaders from all over our state, so they’re anxious to hear your thoughts on some things. Let’s start with where we are. Our studio is in downtown Phoenix, near and dear to your heart. Three decades ago or so, you were the driving force behind the growth of Downtown. You moved the Phoenix Suns from the Madhouse on McDowell to Downtown, that was the big move, right? Why was it so important for you to be involved in that?
Jerry Colangelo: One, we needed a new facility. We were one of the oldest buildings in the NBA, size-wise, etc. And in looking at the options in my mind, being an urban person coming from Chicago, the only place for a new arena was in downtown Phoenix, which was a stretch back then. And there were many naysayers who said, ‘it’ll never happen’. Downtown is dead, shopping centers were the new fad. Metro Center was the beginning of a number of those centers going in, but we persisted on the basis that if we were going to build it, it was going to be downtown.
Chris Coraggio: And that was ‘92, ‘93, right? In that area?
Jerry Colangelo: We opened the building in ’92, ’93, but this process began in ‘87 when I was able to put a group together to buy the Suns. And so immediately announced that we needed a new building and the process began, and the city of Phoenix really hustled me to say that they wanted to make this happen. There was someone involved in community activity that was a proponent, and his name was Danny Moss and I’m grateful to him and the people of Phoenix should be grateful to him for having that kind of interest. So we started the process, looked at other options, but we were always coming downtown.
Chris Coraggio: And then when you were the driving force to bring Major League Baseball to the valley in the 90’s. In your mind, there was no place other than downtown for the Arizona Diamondbacks to build their stadium, right?
Jerry Colangelo: You know, if you look at, the history of professional sports and where franchises are located, it’s really an urban kind of a setting in my mind that makes the most sense. Now, if you’re greedy, and you want to have your own property and have a contained kind of project where no one really shares in the revenues, then go out in the valley somewhere. or go out into the country. But downtown, all roads lead to downtown. Everyone benefits when you have facilities like that; you have hotels, you have restaurants, you have transportation. And basically, that’s where they should be, in my mind.
Chris Coraggio: And so how do you feel now? Okay, so those two things – moving the Suns downtown, getting the Diamondbacks, putting them downtown. How do you feel now, when you’re in this area? You got to be proud. I mean, it’s a real city. People use those words. ‘Phoenix is a real city now.’ How do you feel about that?
Jerry Colangelo: You know, it’s interesting. For many years, I was downtown every day, obviously and lived, you know, 10 minutes away from where I worked. And this morning, I driving down 3rd, with all the development, the Arizona State University and all of the apartment buildings and so forth. The skyline has changed so dramatically, and I always dreamed about a 24/7 downtown, and we’re getting closer and closer to that. It’s come a long way, but it’s only beginning in my mind. What you’ll see here 20 years from now, I won’t see it, you will…
Chris Coraggio: (Laughs)
Jerry Colangelo: …will be something totally different.
Chris Coraggio: Let’s talk about that. Because your group, JDM partners, you guys are focused a lot on the West valley. Can you kind of just describe what, for our community growth, like we did it in downtown, now we’re going west, in your estimation?
Jerry Colangelo: Well, in 1968, when I came to Arizona, there were 700,000 people in the Valley. Today there’s 5 million people in the Valley, and we are one of the three major growth markets in the country. And so it’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s only when. How soon people are coming and the numbers are getting bigger each year in terms of people moving to Arizona and what things that are happening like in California, are forcing people out of California because of the high cost of taxes and other issues there. So we’re on the cusp of a 20-25 year period where you’re going to see a million to 2 million people additionally, coming to the Valley, and you need to land. With all due respect to all the apartment living that takes place and millennials who really enjoy that, there are still a lot of people who want homes, and so for every million people of population, new population, you need 70,000 acres of land to meet that requirement. If you look at available land on the metro map, most of that land is in the West Valley. It’s not a matter of where are they going, there’s only one place to go, and if you look at the growth, if you look at where the one on one intersects with 10. And the 303, you take the next step beyond the White Tank Mountains, and you’re in another area, which is where we have a 37,000 acres and in Buckeye, where we can build the city of 300,000 people, that’s the future of the West Valley.
Chris Coraggio: That’s great. So. we’ll be looking forward to that, no question. Let me ask you this because my most successful people will say, I never stopped learning. I would imagine you concur with that, right? So lifelong learners always seem to be looking for an edge, that’s why they’re successful. Do you have any, whether you’re talking about deals you’re working on now in the West Valley or anything with the Suns or Diamondbacks or anything, the Olympics, anything you’ve been involved in, in your lifetime? Are there some techniques, discipline techniques or routines that you follow that you could share that helped you be successful?
Jerry Colangelo: One very important person in my life was a guy named Red Holtzman, who was at one time the coach of the New York Knicks. And I met him when I was part of the Chicago Bulls startup in 1966. He kind of took me under his wing on some scouting trips, and what he taught me was be a good listener. When you’re with people who have been there, done it, you don’t have much to offer. So, keep your mouth shut, be a good listener. And I give that advice to a lot of people when they come to me for advice, and that is, be a sponge. Learn as much as you can from people who are or experienced, who have gotten the job done already, and take your time when speaking because your time will come. I think life is relational, and so it’s important to get away from the technology of looking down on your little iPhone or whatever it might be. Be able to articulate, shake hands with people, look them in the eye and over a period of time, that’s going to do you more good than anything else.
Chris Coraggio: Sure. It just gives you respect I guess, right?
Jerry Colangelo: Correct.
Chris Coraggio: Well, feeding off that. Let me ask you this in your time, okay? So, from the time when Red took you under his wing to now you’ve become, an icon you really have especially here in the Valley. So many people I would imagine if come to you, Jerry and asked that advice, ask for your opinion, asked for your help, asked for money, asked for you to help raise money, asked for a job. How do you navigate through that? How do you know who to help? And how to help?
Jerry Colangelo: First of all, I have a philosophy. Quite often is I look at my life, and all the things that have happened in my life, I couldn’t look in the mirror and say, ‘Why did this happen? How did this all happen? I’m no smarter than anyone else. Why? Why did these doors open? Why did opportunities present themselves, and I’m a Christian, and I believe God had a plan for my life. So, it’s not anything I’ve done. I’m basically following His script, and so when opportunities present themselves, it’s there for a reason. And you go ahead and do what you think you need to do. My advice to people is keep your eyes and ears open, be willing to take risk, calculated risk, be willing to step out on the, on the plank, knowing you could get pushed, you could slip, a lot of things could happen. But then you get up, and keep going and be able to be the one that finishes and when people say ‘you can’t,’ you need to show them how you can.
Chris Coraggio: When people doubt you, and they’ve doubted you over the years, you look them in the eye, right? And what do you say to those folks?
Jerry Colangelo: Basically, you’re entitled to your opinion, but this is what I believe and I think I could make this thing happen, and I will. And then you go trying to do your best to make it happen. It doesn’t happen all the time, obviously. My involvement with the Grand Canyon University in the business school that was named in my honor, gives me an opportunity to use that as a platform with young people. And so a lot of these philosophies that we’re talking about, that’s basically what I do. I don’t teach a class, but I’ll walk in the classes and just start talking and telling stories because the one thing I found out about life, and that is older people are pretty good storytellers. And there’s a reason for that. Because they forget the facts.
Chris Coraggio: I was going to say experience. (Laughs). That’s funny. Well, tell me a story then if you can about because everyone knows Jerry Colangelo, and they see the word ‘success’ after that. But obviously, there’s been a lot of things, I would imagine, where you thought something was going to go one way, and you had to adjust and you had to maybe, maybe took a misstep or maybe changed. Are there are there some tricks that someone could follow or tips maybe is a better word when you’re involved in something and you realize, ‘oh boy, this might not be going,’ How do I adjust like a halftime? Like a coaching halftime?
Jerry Colangelo: Well, let me make this comment. People are successful. People make mistakes. People would like to do things over again. I am no exception to that. And I can honestly say I’ve learned more from the mistakes than I have from successes. Most people will tell you the same thing, I believe. It’s pretty hard to learn the lesson while you’re on a roll. but if if things aren’t going well for you look around and say you know, “I might I did something wrong here”. And so that’s pretty good advice for people.
Chris Coraggio: And the ring that you wear., folks, I know you can’t see it but this is not the Diamondbacks World Series ring.
Jerry Colangelo: No, it’s an Olympic ring because by my tenure with USA Basketball, which began in 2005, we’ve won three gold medals in the Olympics in ‘08, ‘12 and ‘16. I was asked to do that, and I responded to it. And that’s another thing I would say, when you’re asked to serve. I think you need to serve. Well, within reason. I mean, you can only spread yourself, so much, and then it’s a little bit too much. But when people offer opportunities…I don’t know if you remember this, but there used to be a group here in town called the Phoenix 40. The Phoenix 40 was a group of bankers, real estate people, a handful of people who kind of control the city because they needed leadership at the time. It was kind of a wide open town, now I’m talking about the 40’s and 50’s. And I remember when I first got here, I heard about the Phoenix 40 and this seemed like this elitist group. And lo and behold, it wasn’t too long after I was here, what I was asked to join. I said, ‘I’m not sure I want to be part of that’. They said, ‘no, we want you to take a good look.’ Not only that, they wanted me to chair it. And as it turned out, in my lifetime, most every organization, I’ve never put my hand up to say ‘I’ll chair’, have always been asked to be chairman. and I’ve, in those circumstances, I’ve decided to serve. But my first thing with the Phoenix 40 when I said ‘yes’, was I want to change the name because I wanted to change the culture of what that all meant. It became something other than the Phoenix 40, and then more diversification, and we opened up the membership and it changed, and I put my two, three years in, and then you move on with other responsibilities and other things. I’ve enjoyed taking leadership roles when asked to serve, and I think people should be willing to do that. One other thing I would say for people in terms of advice is quite often people would call, come in to see me and ‘woe is me’, ‘I can’t get an opportunity’, I just, you know, blah, blah, blah. You know, you’re so busy with your head down, you missed opportunity walked right by you. You missed it. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a shot, be willing to fail, because you’re not going to succeed until you do.
Chris Coraggio: That’s a great piece of advice. And a great way to end this. Jerry, I’ve interviewed you a lot, over the years, but this one was special. Thank you so much for being on Arizona Achievers.
Jerry Colangelo: My pleasure.
Chris Coraggio: We appreciate it. Good luck. Folks, we’ll see you next time.
Successful people make lots of mistakes and those who want to be successful would have to form a habit of doing things over and over again until they get it right. Opportunities are out there every single day, if you don’t keep your eyes and ears open and take a chance; it will be gone before you realize it. Keep your eyes on the ball.