PETER LUUKKO starts his day unlike many other business executives - his skates cutting into the ice, his exhilarated heart pumping, his eyes looking for a loose puck.
Luukko, the real power broker of South Philadelphia as the president of Comcast-Spectacor, rises before the sun cracks the sky and hustles to the rink.
He gingerly laces up his skates at 6:45 a.m. in a quiet locker room tucked in the back of the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. It is a 45-mile commute, one way, from his home in West Chester but it's worth it.
"There's something about the smell of the rink, the smell of the ice," Luukko says later in his office that overlooks the Broad Street Atrium inside the Wachovia Center. "You light up and you can get out there and you motor around and you can have a few laughs. If you make a bad play you can shake it off.
"But the camaraderie and the exercise - and the smell of the rink, that means so much to me, I think I appreciate that more than when I was a kid."
On the ice, Luukko and his closest allies wear white jerseys. On this day, his team included Flyers winger Riley Cote and former Flyer Ilkka Sinisalo. You never know who will show up.
Last Thursday, Luukko granted the Daily News exclusive access as he tackled his work day. It started very early in a quiet ice rink and was still going late at night as the last notes of the sold-out Billy Joel and Elton John concert rocked Citizens Bank Park.
To some skaters at his morning workout, Luukko is "boss." That group would include Cote and a staffer in ticket sales. Some skaters are sponsors of the Flyers, 76ers or the Wachovia Center. Others are fans from South Philly whom he has met over the years. A few just know him as some guy named Peter.
Even as the head honcho, it is hard to pick him out from any of the other 26 skaters.
"He is my boss but I don't look at him that way," Cote says after the hourlong skate. "He is my boss and my friend. Some bosses look down on you and that makes it tough. Peter isn't like that. I don't feel intimidated by him.
"He comes out here like anyone else - to get in a good sweat and have fun."
Luukko, who potted a goal during the scrimmage, gets up and down the ice pretty quickly even if his stickhandling could use a little work. But the morning skate - which takes place twice a week and moves to the Center and Spectrum during hockey season - is exactly indicative of Luukko's business modus operandi: fun but challenging and expandable.
Luukko, a native of Auburn, Mass., started skating as a child. The inspiration to play before work struck him in - of all places - Los Angeles, where he was the manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena in the late 1980s.
"We just started getting a group of guys together early in the morning to play hockey," Luukko says. "We would have three or four guys to a side and we would just play."
He brought his unique workout regimen with him to Philadelphia when he was named president of the Spectrum in 1993.
Now, 16 years later and the day-to-day operator of Ed Snider's empire, Luukko has branched out and has this "big, huge pool of players" both on the ice and in his portfolio. Luukko jumped from president of the Spectrum to president of the Wachovia Complex to president of the company because of his ability to expand it.
The Flyers and 76ers are now just a part of the business. Global Spectrum, a leader in private facility management, has exploded from five stadiums in 2000 to more than 80 arenas and conventions centers across the world under Luukko's watch.
Luukko has pushed Comcast-Spectacor to delve into all aspects of arena management, including ticketing with New Era Tickets, food service with Ovations and identifying and selling revenue streams with Front Row Marketing.
All of those subsidiaries fall under the Comcast-Spectacor umbrella. And Luukko has an eye on it all - including the minutest of details.
After showering back at the Center and returning a few phone calls, Luukko is at his computer checking on the sale of concert tickets. It's 10:17 a.m., and seats to Bruce Springsteen's last shows at the Spectrum went on sale at 10, with fans lined up outside.
"Looks like we're in good shape," Luukko says after crunching a few early numbers.
His longtime secretary, Cheri Arnao, comes in to wish him a happy birthday. It is his 50th birthday. But he is quick to push aside the "getting old" talk.
"I wasn't too big about birthdays when I was 20, and now I'm 50," he jokes.
Instead, he wants to chat about the Phillies' blockbuster deal for Cliff Lee that went down the day before.
"I think it's a good move," Luukko says. "When your team has a window like that with guys like Rollins, Howard and Utley, you need to take it. We just did the same thing with [the Flyers] acquiring Chris Pronger."
He reminds himself that he should call Phillies president David Montgomery, but doesn't want to bother him.
"I will exchange a text message here and there with [Montgomery]," Luukko says. "I'd say that we communicate more with the Phillies than the Eagles, because we manage Citizens Bank Park. But we stay in touch with Joe Banner.
"We're dealing with a lot of the same issues. They are different sports, but when it comes to a contract negotiation or a trade, it's the same thing."
Luukko says that the Phillies capturing the World Series last October doesn't add any extra pressure because, well, there always has been pressure from Snider.
"I don't think it adds pressure, not for us," he says. "When you work for Ed Snider, he wants to win every year. We may not win every year but we go after it.
"I think it's good when the other teams win. That means sports are hot. We always do better [with sales] when the other teams win."
Luukko is an incredible multitasker. He takes the time between phone calls to answer questions, but he has a constant eye on his e-mail - which you can hear piling up with a new "da-ding" every few seconds.
"Sometimes when I don't hear back from him within an hour I get worried," says Ike Richman, Comcast-Spectacor's vice president for public relations. "The only time he isn't available is when he is on an airplane."
While on the phone, Luukko has one hand holding it to his ear while the other punches keys on his desktop to cut down on the mounting messages.
"You try to prioritize and do everything as quickly as you can," Luukko says. "If you get someone a quick answer and they can get moving forward, then you can accomplish things. But if you let things pile up, people start to stop.
"I don't send the longest e-mails. It might say 'Great, go ahead' or 'Can I call you right now?' but the idea is to answer and also delegate.
"This business is a lifestyle business. Your family has to understand that. I e-mail basically until I go to bed. And I still find plenty of time to enjoy things and have fun."
In his office, a 20-foot desk is adorned with pictures of Luukko's family - wife Casey, and children Nick, Dana and Max. His kids are usually with him at the morning skate or Flyers or Sixers games.
It is Luukko's communication and "people" skills that make him likeable, not only in a meeting or business setting but also in the real world.
He makes himself approachable. If he is noticed by a fan, he doesn't just brush it off. If time permits, he will chat for a few minutes about the state of a team. He isn't afraid to hand out his cell-phone number or e-mail address.
In a brainstorming meeting about the Winter Classic with 12 Flyers executives, in a traditional board room with images of the Flyers' glory days, it is easy to see those skills in action - even if he wasn't trying. He listens intently, encourages, but also gently nudges the managers of various departments into working better together.
"The key to being successful is being a good listener," Luukko says. "If your job is to do marketing and promotion, that's all you're thinking about all day.
"They're focused and they each know the most about their department. And I'm sitting thinking about how they mesh together. You just make a comment or two. They realize how they can work together . . . they get excited and take it one step further."
And he even throws in a few jokes.
"Look at you, you're a typical finance guy - worried about expenses and not revenue," he says, as everyone at the table barrels into laughter.
"The only bad part about playing hockey in the morning is that you're ready to eat your arm by 11 o'clock," he quips during lunch.
Luukko is not overpowering and he does not dictate. There is give-and-take. He is open to suggestions.
"I never rule the hockey guys out," Luukko says. "Paul [Holmgren] has come up with a few marketing slogans."
Something that Luukko values is honesty and frankness.
In another meeting later that afternoon - one with a potential vendor at the Wachovia Center - Luukko is wearing the same casual, short-sleeve button down and slacks he wore after hockey.
"Going casual today?" the vendor asks. Luukko just laughs.
What you see is what you get. He doesn't wear fancy clothes. He wears a suit on game days and keeps one hanging on the back of the door in his office, just in case.
"We're all adults here," Luukko says afterward. "We want everyone to be comfortable."
During the meeting, he doesn't pull any punches when asked about dollar figures, either. He doesn't try to swoon prospective clients. He lets them draw their own conclusions.
"His frankness not only allows us to know where we stand with the overall goals, parameters and objectives," says Luukko's righthand man and Global Spectrum COO, John Page, "but he is very clear that he wants us to embody a team persona to get the job done. That allows us to do our thing."
Sometimes, Luukko says, it isn't always easy to get away from being a fan when you run two sports franchises. He is, admittedly, a competitive person.
He is intense during games, but his passion for winning is rarely on display with cheers or protest from the executive's box or the courtside seats.
Luukko mostly keeps to himself.
"During the game, I'm pretty serious," he says.
"We're all fans of the game," he adds. "But I also need to keep an eye on the business side. It is a business. I worry about ticket sales, parking, food sales and merchandise."
His cool demeanor has not gone unnoticed among league executives.
"The Flyers are a model franchise, and Peter is a key contributor to that status because he is so good at what he does," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says. "Peter is passionate about his work and about the issues that impact the league. He is an energetic advocate on behalf of his team and is never shy when it comes to sharing a considered, professional, well-reasoned opinion.
"Best of all, he still seems to have fun at his job."
While he is always abreast of the latest personnel moves and trade talks, Luukko tries to observe more and assert less. He is in constant communication with both general managers, Holmgren and the Sixers' Ed Stefanski, and helps with the direction of each franchise in the offseason.
To him, the linchpin to a successful franchise is trust in the sport-specific staff.
"I think the key is - and Ed said this to me many times - you hire good people and let them do their jobs," Luukko says. "The key is to know my role. At the end of the day, they are the experts on the players, not me. I never cross that line.
"It's not that we don't give Ed [Stefanski] and Paul [Holmgren] feedback. You just never dictate."
If you listen to Luukko talk for just 5 minutes, it is easy to tell what kind of impact Snider has had on his career - besides elevating him to the board of governors in the NBA and NHL. Every other anecdote involves a story about Snider or an important lesson that was learned as a result of working under Snider.
Like Snider, Luukko got into sports through sports - not another business.
"Many of the owners in today's game were successful in another venture before buying a franchise," Luukko says. "You know the stories about Ed putting everything he had - and borrowing money - to get the Flyers going. He has become successful through sports.
"I started out as an intern and worked my way up."
Page thinks that success makes Luukko only work harder. He would know. Page has been with Luukko since 1991 when they worked in LA together in the outfit part-owned by Snider.
"Peter has always been the same hard-driven guy, but I think he has relished in his career advancement," Page says. "Since working directly with Ed, he has a more visionary perspective. He is so supportive with the other entities and is able to communicate the big picture."
Perhaps Luukko's relationship with Snider - which is not molded in the standard boss-employee form - helps.
The two communicate regularly, even when Snider is at his Montecito, Calif., home.
"We don't have this direct reporting where I have to report to him at certain levels," Luukko explains. "He gives me all the room in the world to grow. He has passed his contacts on to me. We're so interactive that I'm constantly getting in touch with him just to get his feedback and trying to get his spin.
"Ed doesn't make you feel like he is the boss. You certainly know he is, but he makes you feel like a partner. He is a boss and a mentor. I always look at him as your favorite coach. He is fair, he is challenging, and he is behind you 100 percent."
Snider can rest easy knowing that his dominion is in the hands of someone with a similar approach.
"There is a certain style and philosophy that I developed in all of my years," says Snider, now 76. "Peter is well-versed in that.
"I am comfortable knowing that we are in conjunction for whatever happens to me or when I am not there."
As the sun begins to creep behind the Wachovia Center facade, Luukko heads outdoors to walk to the Billy Joel and Elton John concert.
There, he is working but he isn't. His relationships with the agents of two of music's biggest names date to his days in Los Angeles. They are no longer contacts to broker deals. They are friends.
Backstage, Luukko enjoys a lobster buffet dinner with Joel's agent, Dennis Arfa, and John's agent, Howard Rose, while concert technicians buzz around them.
But that dinner - under a tent in the bowels of the Bank - doesn't stop him from thinking like a businessman.
"Every time you go backstage it costs you money," Luukko jokes. "Someone doesn't like the catering or this or that. But I go to say hi to the managers and agents. One thing that I like about this job is that it's all about relationships. You come to love the people."
For some, the rapid expansion and growth would be too much to handle. The e-mails, the appointments, the deadlines and the pressure would surely catch up.
But Luukko finds a way to slow everything down.
As Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" blares on the speakers, Luukko is chatting with Flyers sniper Jeff Carter and equipment manager Derek Settlemyre in a little cutout in rightfield. And as he did early that same morning on an ice surface where Carter earns his living, Luukko is conducting business his way - composed and comfortable, his eyes always on the puck. *