Uniquely approachable for the head of any corporation, Green Bay Packers President and CEO Bob Harlan always answers his own phone without the assistance of a secretary, speaking directly to any fan, NFL official or reporter who chooses to call.
On Thursday morning the phone did not stop ringing.
That's because he juggled numerous phone interviews, regarding the Packers' Board of Directors new succession plan. On Wednesday the board approved a plan, electing Harlan as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer and John Jones as President and Chief Operating Office, effective at the May 2006 meeting.
"Bob restored the hope and strength of the organization in the Packers as competitive force in the National Football League," Jones said. "It was Bob who dedicated the resources of the organization."
Harlan will continue to chair the Board of Directors and Executive Committee until May 2007 when they will elect him Chairman Emeritus and Jones as President and CEO.
Until that date, he will continue to oversee the operations of the Packers. That included hiring Ted Thompson as executive vice president, general manager and director of football operations in January and supervising every other facet of the organization.
"What this does is puts the succession plan in black and white," Harlan said. "In the next year-and-a-half, I'll continue to run the team and John's role will further evolve so he'll be in the perfect position to lead this franchise."
After Jones succeeds him, Harlan said he will be at the beck and call of the community relations department, delivering speeches whenever called upon.
"I hated to walk out and just leave the organization behind," Harlan said. "I will be like a goodwill ambassador for the organization."
Harlan will remain a presence, but Jones will assume his former duties and the run the show.
"I would back off," he said. "I'll have an office here, but I'll be very selective when I use it."
He has made good use of his office during his 16 years as president and 34 years with the organization. He counts the $295 million redevelopment of Lambeau Field, a project on which Jones greatly assisted, as the crowning business achievement of his tenure.
"This was enormous for us," Harlan said. "If we didn't do that stadium and have a stadium that could be open year-round, we simply couldn't have kept up with our opponents. We were falling further and further behind the teams that were building new stadiums."
To ensure the referendum passed, Harlan greeted factory workers at 5:30 a.m. He went door-to-door, knocking on various houses throughout De Pere, Wis. He stood in front of local department and grocery stores, encouraging people to vote for the renovation. On the Saturday before the vote, he attended 15 restaurants and roamed from table to table, talking up the potential of an updated Lambeau Field. He made 15 trips to Madison, Wis., the state's capital, to meet with state politicians.
"It was an ordeal," he said.
On the field he helped the Packers return to their winning tradition. After only four winning seasons in the 1970s and 1980s, the Packers have compiled 13 straight .500-or-better seasons. Harlan, inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2004, set those seasons in motion by hiring Ron Wolf in 1991 to run the team's football operations.
"Even as president he stayed in the background," Jones said. "He let Ron Wolf put together a successful team."
Wolf would rejuvenate the franchise, signing Mike Holmgren as head coach, trading for quarterback Brett Favre and signing the late Reggie White in free agency as the team's feared pass rusher.
Since Harlan hired Wolf, the Packers achieved 10 playoff berths, six division championships, three consecutive NFC Championship Games and back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. In January of 1997, the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, returning the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay, Wis., for the first time in 29 years.
"We went back among the elite teams in the National Football League," Harlan said.
The 68-year-old Harlan will become Chairman Emeritus in 2007 because he will have reached the board's mandatory retirement of age.
Harlan originally joined the organization as assistant general manager on June 1, 1971, before becoming corporate general manager in 1975. The Packers appointed him corporate assistant to the president in 1981 and executive vice president of administration in 1988. Harlan assumed his current position in 1989.
A 1958 Marquette University graduate, he embarked on his career in sports at the school following brief stints with the U.S. Army and as a general reporter for United Press International. After six years as the sports information director at Marquette in 1959, he joined the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club as their director of community relations and public relations, among other jobs.
Three-and-a-half years later, he joined the Packers, the team he rooted for since his birth in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1936.
As his tenure with Packers heads into a different direction, one thing remains the same, he will continue answering his phone, no matter who calls.
"Absolutely," he said. "I'll talk to them whether we're 0-4 or 4-0."