By Bob Johnston
May 19, 2020

Atlanta Falcons CEO – Steve Cannon

I had an awesome conversation with Steve Cannon,CEO of the Atlanta Falcons. Steve also served as CEO of Mercedes-Benz, is a West Point grad…and…has 9 children!

Yes, lots of lessons from the family side of things in and of itself (hint: patience).

That aside, his leadership advice is spot on. I’ve not met a CEO in a very long time who has Steve's clear-headed style combined with raw smarts and humility. We talk about his time at West Point and why it’s such a special place – they not only have a knack for selecting top talent as incoming freshmen, but also have a secret sauce that spins out leaders four years later. We also discuss what Steve has learned working with Arthur Blank, who is the Falcons owner and founder of Home Depot. We cover the fact that Steve speaks fluent German, too, and was stationed there in the late 80s when the Iron Curtain came down (and he went back 20 years later to work at Mercedes).

Steve Cannon was named chief executive officer of AMB Group, LLC effective February 1, assuming the day-to-day leadership of the company's for-profit businesses. Cannon leads all business operations of the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons; Atlanta United of Major League Soccer; Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company, the developer of Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is scheduled to open in 2017; PGA TOUR Superstore; and Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.

Prior to joining AMB Group, Cannon served as president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) and was responsible for leading operations that generated record sales with annual revenues exceeding $20 billion. During his tenure, MBUSA achieved a first-ever No. 1 ranking on the American Customer Satisfaction Index and was also lauded as one of the best places to work by Fortune Magazine five years in a row. Cannon oversaw MBUSA's successful headquarters relocation from New Jersey to the metro Atlanta area, in addition to crafting a sports sponsorship strategy that closely aligned the premium brand with properties reflective of its category leadership and brand position.

Cannon began his automotive career in 1991 as executive assistant to the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz of North America (predecessor to MBUSA). From there, he moved to Stuttgart, Germany and joined a small team tasked with the development, manufacturing and launch of the M-Class, the first Mercedes-Benz SUV ever made in, and for this market. Following his time in Germany, Cannon served as director of marketing for Debis Financial Services (later Daimler Financial Services).  He also served as principal for The Richards Group, one of the largest independent full-service advertising agencies in the U.S. before re-joining MBUSA in 2007 where he served as the vice president of marketing for MBUSA from June 2007 until he was promoted to president and CEO in 2012.

Cannon graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point (B.S., Economics).  He is Airborne Ranger qualified and served as 1st Lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain. During his time in the Army he also served five years as an artillery officer.

Cannon and his wife, Ann, reside in Atlanta and they are the parents of nine children.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
– on the importance of focusing more on inputs (culture) than outcomes (such as chasing revenue or market share)
Work ethic + gifted talent = excellence"
– on the athletes who truly make a difference to their teams and world

6:45 Minute Marker
Lessons learned from his time in the military
How this has informed his roles as CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA and the Falcons
Views leadership as a “practice” and himself as a student

Importance of creating a compelling vision…that you clearly articulate
His brand and stadium aspires to be Ritz-Carlton level of care and hospitality
People in every function will “ladder up” to this vision

Fanatical focus on customer from his experience at Mercedes-Benz
This is confirmed by what the customer wants
Obsess over the fan and ask what they want - on what Arthur Blank taught him (fonder of Home Depot and owner of Falcons)

Work ethic + gifted talent = excellence - on the athletes who make a difference

Culture eats strategy for breakfast - on the importance of focusing more on inputs (culture) than outcomes such has chasing revenue or market share

West Point and why it’s so special
“Whole Person Concept” - balance of academics, athletics, community involvement
Create men and women who get a 4-year apprenticeship on becoming a leader, built on the backs of incredibly teachers
West Point creates Servant-Leaders; great leaders are servants who are trained to bring out greatness in their organization

Humility is always part of a leadership practice - opposite of the big ,arrogant archetype of a CEO who desires to show everyone else how smart they are

On having nine (9) kids; 7 girls 2 boys ages 32-14
Starts with care and with love … and this should be applied more from business leaders like it is in family and sports
Man to man coverage with two kids, zone coverage with three kids .. to controlled chaos :)
He has become friend and life coach to his older kids

Properties and interplay amongst the Arthur M. Blank Group (wonder of Falcons, Atlanta United, PGA Superstore plus two ranches in Montana

27-year naming rights deal with Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Would rather have fewer, more meaningful partners not slap lots of sponsor logos on the team’s brand
First venue to go cashless

Excited about future of MLS
90 minutes of continuous action
Very few timeouts
Appeals to younger Generation Y and Z
Soccer is the one true global game (basketball becoming that way, too)

Mentors and books that have guided him
Former CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA hired him cold out of Army as chief of staff; spent time with him at end of each day and invested in Steve; helped to launch his career. When mentor got promoted he brought Steve to Germany with him.
The importance of being 'raw material' when you are a mentee
Steve learned German during his military time in Germany

His daily reads and books:
WSJ and NYT for starters
Listens to podcasts, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review studies
Great network of friends and classmates who trade videos back and forth on all kinds of topicsLincoln on Leadership
Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin; Galvanizing a team of rivals into a great cabinet
Approachable, friendly, humble leader – worth emulating
Listens to podcasts, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review studies
Has a. great network of friends and classmates who trade videos back and forth on all kinds of topics

Uses Twitter not to promote himself but to reflect on lessons learned or celebrate big moments for his companies
Quality over quantity


AMB Group (Arthur M. Blank family of businesses-owner of Falcons)

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta United Soccer team

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, by Donald T. Phillips

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

West Point

Steve on Twitter