2016 Champions of the New Economy
For the seventh straight year, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan, in partnership with DBusiness magazine and News/Talk 760 WJR, selected six regional executives who are driving growth in highly competitive industries.
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George Derderian Jr.
President and Managing Partner, Ultimate Soccer Arenas, Pontiac
Why He’s a Champion of the New Economy
A self-described soccer dad, George Derderian Jr. says he was inspired to open Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac with several partners in 2007 after visiting a slew of what he described as substandard sports complexes. “There was a lot of room for improvement. I wanted a place I would be proud to take my two daughters to,” says Derderian, president and managing partner of Ultimate Soccer Arenas, a 365,000-square-foot sports complex along South Boulevard, just west of Opdyke Road, that includes four multipurpose indoor fields, one multipurpose outdoor field, and numerous amenities like meeting and banquet rooms, an eatery, and an elevated bar. A former ski instructor with a political science degree, Derderian says he opted for the business world rather than become a lawyer. “I sold cars for three years at the former Tamaroff Buick in Southfield, I was a general contractor for 12 years building luxury homes, and I worked for 15 years as director of corporate and retail sales for Ameritech Cellular and Paging, which is now AT&T,” he says. “I left in 2006, and I focused on building Ultimate Soccer because I knew sports transcended any economic downturn. When the economy slows down, families will skip going out for dinner, but they almost always find the money to support their kids’ sports activities.”
Why did you leave the business world and take a risk on a new enterprise?
I had learned a lot in the business world, and one of the maxims was that you take good care of your employees; they, in turn, take good care of your customers; and your customers bring in the revenue. Today we have 32 employees, and they work very hard to make sure the place is spotless — especially the bathrooms. If a mother or a father sees that you run a clean, first-class organization, they’ll be back. We have a lot of security with multiple cameras, and that gives parents peace of mind. We had 1 million people come through our doors last year, and with the (recent) addition of a new indoor arena, we’re planning on 1.3 million people this year. We’re also eyeing an expansion.
What are your plans for the expansion?
We’re talking to a number of different people, including a couple of local universities, about adding a multipurpose athletic complex on the west side of our property. We started with 16 acres, and we added another 16 acres. We’re open every day of the week, except for major holidays, and we have youth soccer, club soccer, high school soccer practices and tryouts, and adult soccer leagues. Our fields are also used for lacrosse teams and gymnastics teams, and at the end of April we’re setting up 38 volleyball courts for a major tournament. We even have weddings and graduation ceremonies here, including commencement for Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. Overall, we’ve invested $26.5 million in the facility.
Are you looking at other growth opportunities?
We’re looking at adding another location in Michigan, and we’re looking at opportunities in Florida and New Jersey. We have a permanent structure here, made of steel that is insulated, so it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We won’t do an inflatable dome because they can’t hold up to cold weather and they can deflate — which is what recently happened at Eastern Michigan University. We’re in a very good spot because soccer and baseball have the most registered players in the United States, with each sport having 15 million players. If you look at football, there are around 7 million registered players. But the fastest-growing sports are lacrosse and volleyball, so we’re really on the cutting edge of the popular sports. We also did a lot of work when we selected the location of the complex. Our numbers show 70 percent of the registered soccer players in Michigan are within a one-hour driving distance of our facility.
What attracted you to working with Junior Achievement?
I like to work with and speak to young people, and JA is just a great organization. They really teach business skills to our youth. When I speak with the students about becoming an entrepreneur, I want to open their eyes to the real world and make sure they take the attitude that you never give up. I tell them, ‘Your workweek starts at 40 hours, and goes up from there.’ I work 60 hours (a week), and it was 80 hours when we first opened. I’d like to get that down to 45 hours.
What else do you work on?
We really like to support our seniors and veterans, so on Tuesdays we have a model airplane club come in and they fly their small planes and drones inside. From 4 p.m. to midnight, when the adult leagues are going, there’s a lot of activity here. I also sit on the board of directors of the Salvation Army in Pontiac, because so many of our residents are in need. The City of Pontiac has been great to work with, so we want to give back and help them any way we can.