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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
|"He'll be loyal to NASCAR. He'll be loyal to Brian France. You can talk all you want about attributes, and he's got great attributes, but that's what you look for in the end: that the guy comes in to work every day wearing the same color jersey as you."|
— Fred Wagenhals, CEO, Action Performance Cos.
|"He's been a great lieutenant to the France family. He's been able to help shape their leadership and give really good insight to where the business world is headed and to make some of those key things, like moving from cable to network and bringing in Nextel, happen."|
— Bea Perez, vice president of sports marketing and access, Coca-Cola North America
|"If I was an owner of a franchise or commissioner of a league and I had to have one guy who can make a difference, one guy who can change everything, it would be George Pyne, more than anybody I've met. And I've been around a lot of people."|
|—Brett Yormark, vice president of corporate marketing, NASCAR|
Since taking over as chief operating officer last year, Pyne has been involved in decisions involving aerodynamics and tire science.
"If you look back at what I've done, I've never really been qualified to do any of it," Pyne said, tracing back through a career path that included stops in his family's real estate business and with a group that studied Atlanta's public schools. "What I tell people is that I know how to ask questions and I'm good at details. I may not be an expert in any area, but I know how to study things and I know how to plan and how to execute. Those are the skills I've relied on the whole way."
Pyne's chameleon-like ability to deftly cross disciplines and succeed in areas that are new to him strikes many who have worked with him.
When he headed licensing, he reined in a fragmented NASCAR merchandise business, pushing it grudgingly toward the models used by the other major sports properties.
As vice president of marketing, he put an emphasis on developing a better understanding of the NASCAR fan base and identifying the attributes of NASCAR as a brand.
As chief operating officer, with a seat on the family-owned company's board of directors, he has put his stamp across NASCAR's management structure, requiring that department heads submit business plans that identify tangible objectives, rather than simply budgets that identify expenses and projected revenue.
"In the sports business, and in all businesses, really, you find a lot of people who do one thing well," said Brett Yormark, NASCAR's vice president of corporate marketing. "George has the ability to do it all well. And it amazes me."
Pyne traces his versatility back to his job at the Portman Cos., a major real estate developer that had its fingers in a wide array of businesses.
Pyne's first job at Portman was in strategic planning, analyzing businesses and writing plans, most of them about industries in which he had no background. He also worked on the company's debt restructuring, which involved 42 lenders and at the time was the second-largest debt restructure in the world.
Pyne points to that restructuring and a time of crisis in his family's real estate business as two experiences that shaped him as an executive.
"I think I've always had the ability to think things through," he said. "When I worked for my father and we were faced with significant business challenges, I learned at a very young age how to prioritize and distill what was important and figure out how to solve problems. When you're challenged in the midst of real estate depression and you're overleveraged, you learn a lot of lessons about things that never change.
"You learn to look at a situation, understand the fundamentals and focus on what needs to be done."
That's how NASCAR approached the negotiation of its title sponsorship this year. A landmark, $750 million deal with Nextel came together after extensive scouting and study. Yormark said that was emblematic of Pyne's dedication to detail and planning.
"We role-play a lot," Yormark said. "If there's three different perspectives on something, we might role-play on all three. We'll go as far as we can with each scenario, and ultimately that helps us come up with the right solution."
In his current role, Pyne hopes to have a greater impact on all segments of NASCAR, even though he has less opportunity to touch any one. In a 30-day span that began midway through October, Pyne was scheduled to lead 52 hours of planning meetings with various departments.
"The great part about what I do is that the subjects are so wide ranging," he said. "One minute you can be talking about downforce and aerodynamics and the next minute you can be talking about a broadcasting issue, a marketing issue or a legal issue.
"You have to deal with people that range from Johnson City, Tenn., to Madison Avenue. That's a pretty wide spectrum of people. To me, that's almost an invigorating thing. You have to change up your game. You can't just throw fastballs. And you always have to be ready to adjust."