SBD/Issue 34/Leagues & Governing Bodies

New LPGA Commish Michael Whan Shows Desired Attributes

Writer Says Whan Appears
To Be Earnest, Approachable
The LPGA yesterday named Michael Whan Commissioner, becoming the "eighth person to lead the world's most successful professional sports organization for women," and a "call to central casting couldn't have produced a character actor closer to the attributes the tour had defined as important," according to Ron Sirak of GOLF WORLD. The LPGA in Whan "may have found the man to repair relationships and rebuild the business model, but time will be the judge of that." Whan: "Golf is special to me. It's been special to me my whole life." He added, "I have a personal philosophy about leadership that maybe not everybody understands, so I'll just say it this simply. I believe in listen, learn and lead, and you do it in that order." Sirak noted Whan, who "appears to be earnest and approachable," emerged as a "somewhat surprise winner in the search sweepstakes that began soon after" former Commissioner Carolyn Bivens stepped down in July. Search Committee Chair and LPGA BOD member Leslie Greis said there was an "incredible amount of interest in the position" and the search committee had "many, many, many candidates to choose from." Meanwhile, Sirak noted Whan has "several large mountains to climb," including addressing the '10 schedule. Also, "just as important, and just as challenging, will be rebuilding morale in LPGA headquarters." There have been "two waves of layoffs this year, which eliminated at least 14 people," and there is still a "residue of a culture of fear within tour headquarters that extends beyond concern for the future of the tour" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 10/28). Golf Channel's Charlie Rymer said Whan is "really going to have to pull a rabbit out of the hat moving forward" to ensure tournament stability, but the "product is so good, I think the upside is there" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 10/28). 

SOLID BACKGROUND: In N.Y., Larry Dorman writes Whan "brings to the LPGA a demonstrated ability on the business side of sports." Whan: "If you look at my background and the brand growth that I’ve been lucky enough to be part of and lead, they all started with businesses that would have said the same things -- that there are a lot of challenges and opportunities and obstacles." Whan said he plans to be "smart enough to be quiet for 60 or 90 days and to really listen to the different player constituencies and board members, people who have more knowledge than I do as it relates to the LPGA right now." Dorman notes Whan is an "experienced marketer who began his business career at Procter & Gamble, where he rose to manage the Crest toothpaste brand before the age of 30." Whan "learned about the business of golf at Wilson Golf and later at TaylorMade Adidas Golf North America." TaylorMade-adidas Golf President & CEO Mark King: "The guy is literally a superstar, in my opinion" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/29). LPGA BOD Chair Dawn Hudson said that the tour "needed a commissioner familiar with the sports business -- even if that experience didn't come working for a league." Hudson: "At this particular time, with the struggles that all sports have had and some of the controversy of the past year, we really need a commissioner who can hit the ground running" (AP, 10/28).

BRAND BUILDER: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's John Paul Newport writes Whan's past history suggests that the "three most important issues for the troubled tour are brand, brand and brand." Whan yesterday said his top priority will be to "grow the global brand," and his second priority will be "connecting the LPGA brand with other corporate brands in partnerships." He added that his third priority "will be building pride -- pride in the LPGA brand." Meanwhile, Newport writes LPGA Acting Commissioner Marty Evans and the BOD "did a remarkable job of keeping secret Mr. Whan's pole position for his new job." His name "never surfaced publicly, but he fits the criteria that the Tour laid out even beyond brand building: business experience in golf or a sports company, an ability to build consensus in a high profile environment and a passion for and understanding of the game itself and relationships within the golf industry" (WSJ.com, 10/29). Golf Channel's Adam Barr noted Whan has experience in golf brand-building and endorsements and said, "Upper-level executives who have worked with Whan in golf told me today that he's the man with the skills and the drive to weave all these threads together. Expect him to be a tough and savvy business negotiator who brings innovative ideas, but still makes everyone in the meeting room feel comfortable and energized" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 10/28). Golfer Helen Alfredsson said that one of Whan's first jobs is "to reassure players that the LPGA is headed in the right direction." Alfredsson: "To get the players' confidence (is important), because that is something that's been on the low side" (GOLFWEEK.com, 10/28).

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