Lloyd Ward: Victim or Villain?

In an exclusive interview, the former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO tells his side about what led to his ouster. Was it a nasty campaign to discredit him, or did his unpopular business practices and management style derail his career?

Pepsi and served as CEO of Maytag Corp. from August 1999 to November 2000. He then got involved with iMotors, an online seller of pre-owned and reconditioned cars, which went under in June 2001 following the dotcom bust. (A few months later, the company was acquired by Next Phase Media, which continued the service.)

While Ward and the USOC looked like a good fit, he was concerned that the CEO position was vacant for almost a year. He began to learn more about the USOC and its unfortunate history of political turmoil. Created by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 (now the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act), the USOC is a nonprofit company that is responsible for coordinating the country’s participation in the Olympic Games. The act was created to appoint one entity (the USOC) as the coordinator for all Olympic athletic activity in the United States.

The act, however, didn’t accurately explain how power within the USOC should be shared. It suggests that the president, a 23-member executive committee, and a 123-member board will work to set policies for the organization, which will then be implemented by a CEO, who will coordinate a paid staff while raising money for the athletic programs. Unfortunately, this governance structure created discord between the president and CEO over who controls domestic and international matters and how to best use the money that is raised. The political infighting has been so tumultuous that in its 25-year history, the USOC has had 13 CEOs (including Ward) and 11 presidents.

Ward says he was concerned but was intrigued by the challenge of running such an organization. He became one of three finalists, which included Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore who came from a mostly political background, and Scott Blackmun, the interim CEO who was a longtime member of the Olympic family. When interviewing with the board, Ward’s message of change resonated with many of its members, and with some behind-the-scenes lobbying by USOC president Sandy Baldwin, Ward was named CEO some three months before the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. He inherited a tight deadline, which left the organization with little room for error in preparation for the Games, the responsibility of overseeing the USOC’s $491.5 million four-year budget, and all the political turmoil that went with it.

Unbeknownst to Ward, he also inherited a culture that was so steeped in politics that the CEO selection process had itself become a political battleground. Ward says that the board of directors had some unwritten rules, and by gaining the CEO job, he was considered indebted to those who had supported him. Through research, Ward knew that his predecessor, Blake, tried to implement an “all business” approach to change the USOC culture, but failed. “[Blake] took things to a more performance-based allocation of [financial] resources to the National Governing Bodies.…He was changing the structure from one of entitlements.”

Unfortunately, Blake made the mistake of bringing in many of his own people to replace longtime USOC staffers. This created anxiety

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