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Sunday, June 02, 2013

MARK MILES Q & A

Let me begin at the end.

The last question I asked new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles as I was about to conclude an almost 45-minute one-on-one visit with him in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway office Friday afternoon before the Indy 500 was: Considering the many disappointments loyal fans have experienced during and after the IRL-CART split, why should they believe his leadership will be different? His answer was the most impressive thing I've heard from anyone, anywhere, in IndyCar in at least 15 years:

"Time will tell to see if it is. To that hard-core fan who has been disappointed for so long we almost have to start by saying, 'We're sorry. We owe you an apology.' Then, the very next thing will be to say, 'Let's get on with it. If you really love this sport, as our hard-core fans do, then it's time to quit looking back. It is what it is and there's not a thing we can do about that.'

"If I have an advantage at all in not being from racing, it's that I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about who was on which side in the past and who said what to whom. We're going to try to connect with fans. I hope I have the track record with events and sports of trying to look at the things that will matter most and be really focused on those things and being open to new talent and ideas to pursue them. We'll see if it works.

"Look, it's very tough to be successful in any business. Sports and entertainment are particularly competitive. The media landscape is like sand, it's shifting so quickly. I know how to build the kind of organization we need to build here to have a chance of being successful. We will do that. Then it's about what the right strategies are and the right partners to execute with. I think we have a really good chance."

I then told Miles I have suggested, for years, to various IndyCar execs that as a PR gesture they apologize for the damage done by the split. Fans were divided, industry jobs lost, sponsors forced elsewhere. Among those I suggested this to were Tony George and Randy Bernard. Now, finally, an IndyCar CEO has done what should have been done five years ago when reunification happened. America is a forgiving society willing to give people a second chance. That's what this series needs. That Miles knew to do this is a source of hope that things will get better.

Here's a link to my Friday Arizona Republic Q&A with Miles. Space limitations didn't allow me to use all I had. His talk of revenue sharing is the first time I've heard that idea in the context of major races. So, after reading this (including his thoughts of returning to Phoenix), please continue with Miles' comments on other subjects:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130529indycar-chief-mark-miles-talks-sports-future.html

On being viewed as IndyCar's latest "savior": "I don't think in those terms. My view is we've got to do 200 things really well and I don't see why we can't do what we have to to make ourselves a high performing organization able to execute on strategy. My focus is entirely on that and putting the optimum team together. I have zero desire to have a public profile in any particular life. I'll do what I have to if it's helpful to our business, the series and the sport.

"People apparently need to feel this sense that there's the one person that they can look to. If that's the case, they can look to me. I'm sure Derrick (Walker, new president of competition), the person on the commercial side, will be close-knit. There will be no sense that there's one superhero in the organization."

As a racing outsider -- and importantly, recruited by the non-family Hulman & Co. Board members -- his thoughts on the IndyCar show: "I absolutely love this product. The closer I get to it the more I believe there are ways to make people understand this is a sophisticated, extreme sport, that will be more attractive than it is. If you look at the history, it's makes me optimistic. We just haven't been able to get out of our own way as a sport for a long time."

On his political ability and authority to work around tradition to fit the needs of the modern sports marketing world: "I think about Wimbledon. It just exudes tradition. But if you actually know Wimbledon -- I had this privileged seat to see it develop over 20 years. The alchemy to them is the traditional outfacing brand with passionate insistence on being cutting-edge. So you have to see what they've done with their facilities over time. How they've adapted to the changing media landscape.

"Especially for the Speedway, more so than IndyCar where tradition is much less the brand, we've got to understand our tradition and history will be our brand, but we have to figure out what's inviolate about that and then feel perfectly free to innovate around that."

Mark Miles is a serious, driven, disciplined business executive. He's not looking for personal publicity as some of those before him have. To me, he appears to be the most powerful and capable non-Hulman-George family member to lead the company. I wish him good luck.

I have a few more important items in my Indy notebook and will get to those next week.

[ more next Monday . . . ]