Kim Stone is the executive vice president and general manager at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. We recently spoke with her about her career, her industry experience, and the future of arena management.

FM: What are some personal qualities that contribute to your success in the industry?

Kim: I would say for me it’s my leadership style. I’m very team and people oriented, I’m very collaborative, and I believe in having the right people in the room to make a decision and then ultimately, if I have to make the decision, I will do so. But I feel like it’s important that the diversity of opinions can bring about a better result, and so therefore, when staff across all different levels tends to be involved, I don’t just deal with my assistant general managers. If I need to, I will speak to the frontline staff as often as necessary.

I’ll give you a quick example—we installed pedestals in our building in anticipation of the evolution of our mobile ticketing platform. As part of that process, I realized that what we had was just our ticket takers with handheld scanners, and now pedestals required a fixed location and position. That means a very different way of doing the ingress. So I went one day and was a ticket taker for an hour, dressed up in the uniform, and the staff got a big kick out of it. It made me realize some of the small details of what that job entails, and now I oversee those folks. I watch them at every event. I’ve seen them do their jobs repeatedly, but it’s a whole different perspective when you put their shoes on, so to speak, and stand there to do it. As a result, we ended up kind of just angling the pedestals in a certain way so it wasn’t some big revelation that I got from doing that, but it was something that resulted in us creating an even better process.

Another thing I think that helped me throughout my career is that I truly believe my job is to make sure my staff is a success.

One outside perspective, which is really interesting, is Don Rankin, president of Pritchard Sports and Entertainment. I’ve known him since I’ve been team GM, and he says to me, “Kim, your biggest strength is the fact that if you don’t know something, you aren’t afraid to say you don’t know it, and you’ll go and ask somebody or consult with somebody.” I never realized I did that until he pointed it out, but I’m not afraid to say if I have a weakness, let’s go talk to somebody, let’s go figure it out, because I’m not going to pontificate an opinion, an idea, if somebody else has a better one.

FM: Who’s the one person who has had an impact on your career, and how did this person impact your development?

Kim: I’m lucky to be celebrating my 20th year with the HEAT organization. Now the building’s only been around for 15 years, so I’ve been really fortunate to be with this wonderful organization. I never thought I’d be here that long, but I am and the main reason for that is our president, Eric Woolworth. He is somebody that has given me opportunities and has always believed in me more than I have believed in myself at times.

In my 20 years, I’ve had seven different jobs in the organization. I professionally grew up along with this organization, because 20 years ago we were just a tenant in the old building, then we built this building—our owner built this building but it’s a public partnership with the county, so the county now owns it but we run it.

I wasn’t born and bred through the facility industry, but the people who are in the facility industry, just in general, are such good, hardworking, fun people. There’s just something about the arena side that draws a certain personality and a certain type of person, and I really enjoy this job and the people that I meet who are in this profession. Yes, we work a lot, we have hard hours, you miss nights and weekends, and you’re working holidays, but you know what, it is a wonderful group of people, and anytime I call or need something, somebody always calls back and it’s a real sense of collaboration and help.

FM: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today, and what are your suggestions for overcoming them?

Kim: The first three years I worked on the arena side, I worked every event, I did everything to immerse myself in understanding the business because I thought that was critical. I called the first three years my “facility boot camp,” so I graduated with honors. Well, I hope I did anyway. So I see it from a little bit of a different perspective, but to me there are a couple of big challenges facing the industry today. One of them has to do with the post-9/11 world and how to find the right balance between the security that you must do in order to ensure the safety of your guests—finding the right balance so that that doesn’t impede on the enjoyment and the overall guest experience. You don’t want them to feel like they’re coming to a police state. You want them to come and have a good, enjoyable experience, and the best thing we do is never have them feel the level of security we have, but be at a high level of security, and so we’ve kind of had to fine tune it along the way.

I think another challenge is mobile apps and technology and what that means. That can be both a threat and it can be a positive. It’s a threat, because the capital that is necessary to provide this sort of convenience and connectivity that your fans want is difficult to keep up with. It’s very expensive, but the fans now expect to be able to upload their pictures to Facebook. They want to be able to download videos. They want to capture certain moments and share them because social media is such a part of it. We want them to do that, too, because we want them to say, “I was at this Elton John show or here I am at the NBA finals,” and those things are important for us as a brand and for marketing, as well.

Wi-Fi is one of those things that all of us struggle with—how do you do it, how do you do it right? Nobody really quite has the answer, and it’s tough because it has an impact on the guest experience. Then on the positive side of it for us, we do a lot in-game and online surveys, and so then I understand the challenges of what it takes to operate the building and the things you can and can’t do. For me, those two kinds of somewhat opposites—the front of the house versus the back of the house—I have those two intimate views of both, and lots of times we’re able to find creative solutions and the right balance between the two.

Kim Stone
Credit: David Alvarez/Miami HEAT

FM: Speaking of technology, have you been following along what the Sacramento Kings are doing, such as using virtual reality in their arena?

Kim: The wonderful thing is that ownership group has quite the vision, and they were successful entrepreneurs in that space, so I think it is very fascinating. They took bitcoins before anybody else took bitcoins.

I love that these organizations are pushing the envelope and keeping up with what’s happening in technology. The rapid pace of change and how do we, as buildings, manage that—that’s a challenge, because people have expectations, they want Wi-Fi, they want these things that 10 years ago you’d say, “No way, you’re going to have to pay us for that.”

FM: Yes, because as soon as you put something in, by the time it takes to get all the money raised and installed, there’s already new technology superseding that.

Kim: Yes, absolutely. Our CIO, Tony Coba, and I have this conversation quite a bit about having a fiduciary responsibility to run a fiscally responsible organization. You look at the cost for Wi-Fi, and as you said, how quickly it can be out of date. What do you do? We’re looking for, we’re waiting for, that magic bullet.

We’ve got a very good antenna system here, so we don’t get too many complaints. We’re not state of the art when it comes to that, but we’re also not bumping people off because our data system is really top notch.

FM: What are some positive trends you’re noticing?

Kim: I think it’s great that, in particular in the NBA, we are putting an emphasis on the overall guest experience and trying to make it the best. As such, they’re really challenging the arenas to raise their level. The goal is to really elevate the guest experience, because think about how easy it is to sit at home and watch a HEAT game on TV versus what it takes to get in your car, drive down here, find your parking, and get into our facility. Our competition on the HEAT side is really with the TV, because it’s so easy and simple.

And so we’ve got to stay focused on always constantly challenging ourselves and trying to get better when it relates to the guest experience and what the end game entertainment is like, what the concourses look like, how clean are they, are you greeted, is it easy and simple to come, or are things difficult. I think it’s great that we, particularly the NBA among those arenas, we’re very focused on trying to keep moving forward and being cutting edge. That’s a positive trend I’m happy to see and look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve, because once you do something, in service in particular, once you create a benefit and you give it to your guests, they no longer see it as a benefit, it becomes an expectation.

FM: As an executive, what kind of advice would you give students and young professionals?

Kim: I have the good fortune of mentoring a couple of students, because when I was in college there were some alumni who were kind enough to do that for me. I think you have to pay it forward or pay it back, and so I have always had probably two every semester, and what I try to tell them is the realities of this job. The positives are the type of people you work with and the type of entertainment you get to be around. We work in the toy department of life. We’re putting on events and shows, and what we do is what other people pay money to come and be a part of, and this is our job. How fantastic is that? It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.

There are lots of opportunities for students starting out in the facility industry, but I tell them you have to be willing to work hard. There’s just no shortcut in this profession. You’re not nine-to-five, and you’re not Monday-to-Friday, and so I try to give them the realities of the job. If they want to get married and have kids and have a family, you can do this in this profession and I talk to them about that, too. You’ll just have a very different lifestyle than a traditional job.

Also, I’m fascinated by multi-generational leadership. Just on my staff alone, I have people who are in their 60s and I have people who are 22, and I have age spans in between that. Managing across these multiple generations is very fascinating to me.

We’re very harmonious here in our group, but I think there are things that older folks can learn from the Millennials, and I try to tell the Millennials, “The thing you can’t Google is experience. You have to go through hosting back-to-back Madonna shows, no AC in August, to understand how to do that. You can’t Google that, figure it out, and suddenly become an expert.”

Then conversely with the veterans and the Baby Boomers, I say, “Hey, these Millennials can really show you how to be more efficient when you’re doing research.” We can learn from each other, and I think for students and people coming into the workforce, it’s kind of respecting your elders but also working with them and trying to learn from them and finding balance.

FM: What does being an IAVM member mean to you?

Kim: Being an IAVM member means that you’re part of a fraternity and sorority of some of the best minds in the facility industry. More importantly, this network of people is helpful and collaborative. So somebody like me who didn’t grow up through the facility industry and kind of came about being general manager through a very different path, I have found all of my counterparts to be wonderful and open and kind. When I had a question, I could call them and they graciously helped me and have always embraced me. I just can’t say that enough and I know that’s so basic, but you don’t always find that. People can be competitive and not return your phone calls, but you never see that in the facility industry.

FM: What are you reading right now?

Kim: It’s a book called Rework. It’s very much a Millennial book. It talks about exactly why you are doing this and how to redesign and redo things, which I think, again, speaks to what I mentioned before. I always like to try and think of things in different ways. So Rework is one.

Another one is called Mindset by Carol Dweck about her theory that people have two types of mindsets: you have a growth mindset and you have a fixed mindset. The book explains how having one or the other in various things that you might do in life—whether it’s how you look at business, how you look at your relationships, how you lead people—reacts in different situations. It clearly makes the case for the growth mindset and why it’s important to learn and continue to grow throughout your life and what it can mean and bring to you versus a fixed mindset.

My undergraduate degree was in journalism and public relations, so I was raised on newspapers. My preferred thing to do is sit down and read a newspaper or a magazine. I don’t read fiction; instead, I’ll sit down and read a magazine. That’s my idea of fun reading. Books for me are always more business based or self-improvement based. My fun comes from flipping through a magazine and reading articles about real simple habits.

FM: This leads me to the final question. My guess would be a magazine editor–would that be another job you’d have if you weren’t in the industry you are in?

Kim: Sure. Yes, but the real or the first answer to that would be that I would like to be an entrepreneur. That would be my dream job. I know that my strengths are taking business and elevating it to the next level, and that’s what I really love to do. When I got my MBA, they had an entrepreneurial business plan competition, and I got third in that competition. I was pretty proud of myself. I don’t envision myself being an entrepreneur, so that sparked me: “I wonder if I could really make it as an entrepreneur.” Maybe in my next life.

It’s either be an entrepreneur or be a real estate mogul. Down here in Miami, this real estate market is rather dynamic, first the boom and the bust, so I think one of those two would be my ideal. FM

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