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The following is a Q&A with Mike Greer, the Interim Executive Director of the USAT from Aug. 23, 2004 to March 4, 2005.
"After accepting the job, I asked Bill to put on my desk the entire major concerns that needed to be addressed immediately upon my arrival. I wanted the toughest challenges he could give me."
The following is a Q&A with Mike Greer, the Interim Executive Director of the USAT from Aug. 23, 2004 to March 4, 2005. Greer is a long-time triathlon race director, participant and former USAT National Board Member. This interview expresses Mike’s opinion and he does not speak for the Board of Directors of the USAT. Mike is now back in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, where he and his wife Marti run the Buffalo Lake Springs Triathlon.
Question: After the abrupt resignation of Steve Locke, the former USAT Executive Director, how did you become the Interim Director of the USAT and how long did you hold this position?
Answer: My first contact with the possibility of being the Interim Executive Director came when I was asked to be on the search committee for the new executive director. This committee was created in July-August, 2004 by the Board of Directors at the USAT. [Soon after] I received a call from [a committee member] stating that they would like for me to consider the interim ED job. My first reply was that I had already told them not to hire an interim, just speed up the hiring process and get the full time, professional ED in the job. [But] I reported into Colorado Springs (USAT headquarters) on August 22 and my first day was the 23rd of August, living in a hotel and out of my suitcase.
Question: Since the disputed election of 2003, the USAT National Office in Colorado Springs was thrown into turmoil. When you arrived at the National Office, what was the overall state of operations there?
Answer: The overall state of the National Office was very good, contrary to what one might think. Bill Wengert and Libby Burrell (longtime USAT staffers) had done a very good job in keeping things together, even though they could only make day-to-day decisions and were not empowered to make long-range decisions. Basically, what I found was there was little “fixin” to be done, just hard daily business decisions [that] needed to be made, ASAP. The financials were in good order and the financial condition of the Federation was excellent. The staff, while in question of who its new boss would be, was in good spirits and doing its job very well.
Considering that the long time executive director and deputy director had left the Federation after 13 and 16 years service, you can imagine the overall feelings. But most of the staff was eager to get the job done and represent the Federation in a professional manner. After accepting the job, I asked Bill to put on my desk the entire major concerns that needed to be addressed immediately upon my arrival. I wanted the toughest challenges he could give me. The good news was the Board had given me all of the power to put my 40 years of business experience plus 21 years of triathlon experience to work when I got there. My attitude was that I only had a short period of time, so I focused on getting done everything I could and to assist the staff to do their job. During my first meeting with the staff I asked them to bring me five important goals that I could help them accomplish during my tenure.
My feelings were to help the staff overcome the frustrations and lack of leadership they had experienced in the past 12 months and to offer them solutions to their problems and support for their projects. They did take me up on the offer to help, and we started immediately to help achieve their goals. I am proud to say that 95% of these goals were accomplished [or] are in a good state of progression to get done. Some, like the movement of the membership and rankings to the National Office after being with an outside firm for 13 years, did get started but will take some time to finalize.
Question: What did the financial picture of the USAT look like when you assumed the position of Interim ED?
Answer: As mentioned above, USAT is very financially stable and is probably the most affluent of the National Governing Bodies within the USOC. In my opinion the only unstable part of the Federation is the Governance side, relative to the Board of Directors. In my brief tenure I found that 98% of our problems came from actions of the Board or non-actions of the Board. [Board members] would either micro-manage a point to death or not do anything. They just did not function as a non-profit board. They were supposed to offer long range vision and policy with the actual daily implementation being done by the full time staff. All of the USAT problems and disagreements with the USOC stem from the Board dysfunction, not the staff.
Question: What are the biggest challenges you see the new USAT Executive Director, Skip Gilbert, will have to face as he take the helm of the organization this month?
Answer: Now with the new ED (Skip Gilbert) taking the job on April 1, the biggest challenges for USAT over the next five months will be for him to adjust to the sport, adjust to the Board, adjust to the staff, etc. He will hit the ground immediately with the USOC/USAT controversial resolution that was submitted by one of the Board members for USAT to withdraw from the USOC. [Its author, Jack Weiss, withdrew that resolution on March 18]. Since I was privileged to be in on all of the interviews with Skip during the hiring process, I feel he will do a very good job with these challenges. He has worked within the USOC (USA Swimming, Soccer) before and knows his way around their halls of wisdom. The Board will have to back off and not try to micro-manage, and the staff must be understanding of its new boss.
Question: What are the biggest challenges that you see for the USAT organization as a whole over the next five years as it moves into a new future after a season of controversy?
Answer: The biggest challenges for USAT over the next fives years would be the Olympics. The USOC is only interested in one thing, “being on the podium collecting medals.” With that in mind, the USAT must be the National Governing Body for the sport to accomplish this. Offering the best possible service to the race directors and the age group athletes, including safe, well administered venues, etc. The biggest challenge to road racing triathlon is securing and keeping safe roadways for racing. With the increased population in all areas of the country, the fancy resort, destination city format will be a way of the past. USAT must meet that challenge and offer alternatives. There is one bicycle death case pending now that when settled, in or out of court, could change the whole complexion of the sport.
Question: What is the source of the USAT instability and controversy these past few years?
Answer: The answer to the instability goes back to the Board of Directors. ALL of the major problems the past three years has been created and implemented by the Board of directors, i.e. micro managing contracts, interfering with daily staff functions, improper election procedures (this prompted the law suit), etc. The only way the Federation will become stable is to let the new ED and his staff do the day-to-day and the Board stick to policy and long-range planning. Ideally, with strong leadership from the new ED many of the policy and long range ideas will come from that direction. The new ED must take charge of the entire execution of the Federations activities and be the “power” rudder for the ship.
Question: How did you think the membership feels about the current USAT organization?
Answer: From my time spent in the ED seat, attending 11 races during that time frame, attending the National Race Directors meeting, attending 3 annual awards banquets and talking to many athletes, I feel that the membership feels basically good about the National office. Again, sounding like a broken record, most members I have talked to that have a distaste for USAT generally express disfavor with the Board actions, possibly not even knowing it was a Board action and thinking it was the staff—at least those actions that are public, i.e. resolution to withdraw from the USOC. The bad part is they only know a small percentage of what goes on, and many times the action of the Board brings criticism to the staff when they have no control over what the Board does. Ironically, most of the membership does not really know what USAT does or what the real function is for our National Governing Body. I had an inquiry from one of our members questioning me on why we did not have a “mission and vision statement”. When I pointed out that we do and they can be found on the USAT web site, he was quite surprised. So, my feeling is that USAT needs to do an intensive marketing plan explaining what they do in and for the sport. I also feel that an intensive survey should be done to determine just exactly where our membership stands on Olympics, Ironman, ITU-style racing, traditional triathlon, etc. Right now I am not sure USAT knows enough about the members they service.
Question: Do you think that USAT has a credibility problem now?
Answer: USAT does have a credibility problem, generally brought on by the Board. While I did experience some problems within the staff in relationship to some race directors, most of the lack of credibility came from Board actions. One example of a Board action that resulted in creating a lack of credibility within the staff was the delay in announcing the site for the National Age Group Championship. This decision was taken away from the staff and given to a re-think committee made up of Board members. Due to their lack of decision and procrastination, the original site was lost. It was then turned back to the staff and it was taken care of in good order, but three months delayed in making the announcement to the membership. Many of the Internet forums blamed the National Office and said some really bad things.
Question: What can USAT do to restore its credibility among members?
Answer: The most important things the USAT staff can do to raise the integrity of the Federation is to be very decisive and forthright in their dealings with the race directors and age group athletes. The sanctioning department is in daily contact with our race-director customer base and it must always remember they are our customer. Tough decisions need to be made relative to oversold races, which create dangerous racing conditions. In dealing with these problems in a professional manner, the integrity of the Federation will certainly go up. Another area that needs improvement is the annual athlete rankings; it must be done within the USAT staff and must have better quality control measures.
Question: Would you take this job again if asked?
Answer: Taking the job as the interim executive was well worth it in many ways. First, I was able to offer immediate leadership and decision-making experience; my training came from 21 years in the sport and 40 years in business. Kind of like the NFL teams do now in the free agent concept. The job also gave me an opportunity to grow both from the positives and negatives. Would I do it again? YES. Would I do some things differently? YES. How do I rate my job performance? A+ in most areas, but C- in some areas. Thank God, I am still willing and able to learn something new every day.
Michael R. Greer, has completed more than 200 triathlons including seven Ironman races, and has been a race director for more than 15 years. He is a former USAT National Board member and ended his tenure as Interim USAT Executive Director in March.
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