Growing up in Minnesota, I was not exactly allowed to be a Green Bay Packers fan. In our house, it was Bud Grant and the Purple People Eaters all the way. All I knew about the Packers was that their fans wore unusual headgear (Cheddarhead hat, anyone?), they were our mortal enemies, and their legendary coach had said, “Winning isn't everything—it's the only thing.”

Such bluntness and overtly stated ambition generally doesn't sit well with Minnesotans, and I recall Vince Lombardi's words being held up to me not as an inspiration, but as an admonition. Whatever someone says, people told me, winning is not everything. (I was too young to ask at the time, but today I wonder just how much the historical Super Bowl performances of Green Bay (3-1) and the Vikings (0-4) might have influenced these teachable moments...)

So, as one might expect, I was positively baffled when a multifamily leader cited Vince Lombardi and his approach to playing football as an example of how to succeed in the apartment business. One month later, another top executive quoted Lombardi. Then another.

Clearly, this Vikings fan had some research to do.

Alison Rice
Katherine Lambert Alison Rice

What I found wasn't what I'd expected. Certainly, Lombardi valued victory (“Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all-the-time thing,” he said), but he also prized the drive and dedication required for success, regardless of where it occurs. “The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel—these are the things that endure and these are the qualities that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them,” the coach said. He realized the importance of leadership. “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men,” he said. “Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way, and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.”

The Packers did just that, following Lombardi all the way to Super Bowl I and II, where they beat Kansas City and Oakland, respectively.

I was starting to see the allure of Lombardi for a business leader. Given his emphasis on teamwork and perseverance, I could also understand his appeal to a multifamily executive. The apartment business, particularly during the past few years, has been extraordinarily difficult. Residents have fled to buy condos. Soft occupancies have required painfully generous concessions. Condo converters have bid up the prices for land and properties. Company financial performances have suffered. Even modest success has demanded dedication and cooperation from everyone at a company, from property-level staff to senior executives.

Lombardi would have understood such challenges. But they wouldn't have daunted him—and perhaps that's the secret to his current popularity with apartment executives. “Leaders are made, they are not born,” Lombardi said. “They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

Just so long as it's not against the Vikings.