November 13, 2019

Lessons on Teamwork from the Locker Room to the Boardroom, with John Sabatalo

Episode 62:

John Sabatalo is the President of Planes Companies – a global moving, warehousing, logistics, and project management firm located in Cincinnati, Ohio. As one of 15 members of the board of UniGroup – a $1.7 billion transportation company – John plays a key role in transforming the industry. John has been with Planes Companies since 1991 and has served as President since 2003.

Prior to becoming a leader at Planes, John enjoyed a very successful career in athletics. In high school, he was a four-year baseball varsity starter and captain and a three-year football varsity starter and captain. He then attended the University of Massachusetts on a football scholarship. Even after he hung up the pads, John’s love for the game never left him: his coaching career began at the University of Cincinnati, where he was recruited to be part of their graduate assistant program. He then spent six years as the offensive coordinator of local powerhouse St. Xavier High School before becoming the school’s youngest-ever athletic director. Following this success, he spent five years coaching football at Lakota High School, where he earned the accolade of the Division I Coach of the Year.

John’s passion for athletics is a fundamental part of his character, as he is affectionately still called “coach” by many to this day. His leadership style mirrors that of a true motivator, as his presence visibly energizes those around him. John’s competitive spirit and his uncanny ability to align business acumen and strategy to the x’s and o’s of the sports world resulted in the birth of Planes’ TEAM culture in 2016. Originally introduced to 50 business unit leaders as part of a six-month leadership series, TEAM rolled out to the entire company in 2017. The success of the rollout – evidenced by Planes being voted a Top Workplace in Cincinnati by its own employees for six years running – has led leaders of businesses and teams all over the country to seek John’s coaching on the creation of high-performance teams. John is a passionate believer in the importance of culture in transforming teams of people to work with a shared mindset and win together.

John and his high school sweetheart, Lynn, have been married for 40 years. They have two sons, Brian and Stephen, and three beautiful grandchildren. Beyond athletics and business, John’s passions lie in spending time by the ocean and making memories with family and friends.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How John first discovered his love of athletics as a child growing up in Massachusetts, and how he went on to become a football coach
  • How John made the transition from athletics and football coaching to joining the business world with Planes Companies
  • Why it’s important to show the people you work with that you genuinely care, whether in a sports team or a business team
  • Why every meeting at Planes Companies starts with high energy music, and why getting people energized is so important to John
  • Why a sense of being a team is central to Planes Companies, and what the acronym T-E-A-M stands for at the organization
  • Why John prizes the ability to show vulnerability, and how being vulnerable shapes his role as a leader
  • Why John and the team at Planes Companies uses the term “fierce dialogue” so often, and why it is the key to being a high-performance company
  • John shares the story of creating an accidental litmus test for a new hire and immediately recognizing that she wasn’t a team player
  • Why a business leader should be engaged, connected and visible to the team members they lead
  • Why John utters the same two words “Game On” to himself when he arrives to work every single day

Additional Resources:


  1. Bradley A Estrin says:

    John, very well done. You hit the nail on the head when it comes to leadership and culture. Will definitely share this with others

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      Thanks for listening, Brad and for taking the time to comment and share.


  2. Kelly OConnor says:


    Great job as always. Just one of many reason the Planes organization is such a dynamic company. I’m fired up! Game on!!

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      Thanks for listening, Kelly! Game on!

  3. Bill Locke says:

    Couldn’t be said any better. Culture kills execution every day! Great job John… Thanks for sharing you formula on success…

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      Thanks for listening, Bill! John nailed it when he was talking about culture eating strategy for breakfast, didn’t he?

  4. Stephen Vayo says:

    Great Job John,

    Congratulations on your successes. I always remember you as being such a serious person in high school. Since then I can tell all your hard work has really paid off. What your message is about culture and teamwork are the messages all great places to work for should follow.

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      Thanks for listening and taking the time to comment Steve! John is something else, isn’t he? As you said….such a great message about culture and teamwork.


  5. Don Bailey says:

    Well done John, enriching information!

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on John’s episode. He is the best and I am really happy to hear that you enjoyed the content!


  6. Brian Castner says:

    I really enjoyed listening to John Sabatalo’s podcast! Actually my wife Andrea & I listened to it last night sitting by the fire! We were both moved in the area of our daily consistent mindset on attacking life! We said over & over how much we can relate to the positive outlook with all of our daily events/Huddles! Love the huddle approach!
    I am going to take 2 items into our Leadership huddle tomorrow! Game on! 4-3-2-1

    1. Ed Molitor says:

      I absolutely love this Brian….John offered up so much and it gets me fired up to hear from folks who identify how they will apply it to their world. Thanks for taking the time to listen and comment!


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