Don't ask Lloyd Ward a question and expect a yes or no answer. The new CEO of the United States Olympic Committee has been fielding plenty of questions since starting his job last week following a long and controversial selection process that split USOC insiders between him and acting CEO Scott Blackmun.
A former Maytag CEO with no previous Olympic experience, Ward, 52, has taken over the hot seat that's seen three other CEOs in the past two years. Ward, who likes his staff to call him "Coach," takes over the day-to-day operations less than three months before the start of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Independent sat down with Ward for an extensive, hour-long interview. Here are some excerpts:
On his controversial selection: "There are two kinds of people: ones that see that glass is half-empty or [ones that see] the glass is half-full. What's around the USOC is a lot of folks who are starting to look at the half-empty part and ask what's not there. They did that with me. I should think I came with the glass that's more than half full. The people that were on the other side of the issue in terms of my hire were asking what wasn't there."
What he's done so far: "I am literally spending all the normal office hours in meetings with staff and support constituents. Meeting and talking to people, listening, learning and contributing. At my level, you have to do two things: perform and learn at the same time."
How he sees his mandate: "The Olympic movement is a broad and robust movement that has two central elements. One is to win medals in Olympic competition and two is to win hearts and minds in everyday living. Most people inside and outside the movement know all about winning medals, but there's this equally powerful mandate and accountability to win hearts and minds."
On making changes within the USOC: "There's an incredible foundation to come in and to build on. I don't see I have to come in and shake this upside down. I need to come in to understand, make an understanding of what's working and what's not working, what needs to be built on and what needs to be improved, then start marking the additive contributions to take it to the next level."
On power sharing with USOC president Sandy Baldwin: "This is not a traditional corporation. As a CEO, from a business point of view, I know what that role is all about -- [as] CEO, the buck stops here. Because of this organization, the buck doesn't totally stop with me. The buck stops with Sandy and I. She's not an expert at running organizations. I am, but the buck stops between both of us."
On his role: "I see my role at USOC as head coach. Sandy's [the] president/athletic director. Head coaches report to athletic directors. Athletic directors do not run the team. They do not make the game plan or the personnel choices for the team. But the long-term strategies and policy issues are worked together between the athletic director and the head coach."
How he sees operations: "There is overwhelming agreement on why we're here. Vision of operations is where it starts to have its challenges. I did enough due diligence [during the interview process] to know there were 'issues.' I think this is about building on what's preexisting but I believe we have to get clear on what our roles and responsibilities are. The board is responsible for constitutional and policy issues. The issue is if the board becomes a de-facto operator. If they're making operating decisions instead of policy issues, then it's difficult. If there is a board that wants to operate as [though] they are the head coach, that can become dysfunctional in a high-performing team is my message."
On the reality of a large governing board: "A lot of people could see that as a negative. How can you manage a board of 120 people? Typically people would say that is something that is very challenging and something that is not desirable. In this movement, I would say that it is something that is very desirable, because the broader the network, the more we reach, the more we can connect and the more we can win hearts and minds. ... I like the challenge of mastering this structure and this network. We haven't mastered it yet. The reason I believe it can be mastered is because we are aligned in intent and purpose."
On the challenge of no U.S.-based Games until at least 2012: "Most companies are global in nature today and their agenda is larger than a domestic agenda. That's not to say there's not more interest in the homeland. We know that Olympics on American soil is highly desirable. The reach of the Olympics is broad enough that it provides an opportunity that most sponsors would be interested in."
On securing sponsors despite an economic slowdown: "These are cycles, but the power of the Olympic movement transcends those cycles. Will it be more difficult? Yes. Will it dry up? No. Will we have to work harder and make more connections to get those sponsors? Yes. Am I concerned that we won't have sponsors? No, I am not. We might have to dig a little deeper, but the opportunities will be there."
On the past and his departure from Maytag after only 15 months as CEO: "I wouldn't have written the script that way. The market at that point in time was in a correction. It was not a unique experience at Maytag. The question about Maytag was what do you do about it and how you move forward, and there was a significant difference between the CEO and the board of directors. They made a decision based on that and we made an amicable decision and I decided to move on."
On his tenure as CEO at imotors.com, which folded last summer after start-up money dried up: "That was a lot of fun. It was a small dot-com and something I really enjoyed doing. The only issue was that the capital dried up. Investors stopped putting money into it. It wasn't that the business model wasn't working. We were pulling in $100 million a year in sales on a dot-com. We were building momentum but investors pulled out."
How long he plans to stay at USOC: "I don't have any other thought in my mind than doing this job and doing it in a world-class way and becoming best the CEO that this organization has ever had. As long as I am effective and successful to adding value to that cause, I'd want to do it. I don't know how long that will be. I certainly hope to do it for awhile."