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SBJ/August 13-19, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship
Who is Mike Dolan?
IMG CEO has gone from Ph.D. to MBA to getting comfortable in sports
Published August 13, 2012, Page 1
|Dolan’s background provides a different view of the sports world.
He presents an altogether different picture from IMG founder Mark McCormack’s vision and creativity. He presents a striking contrast from former IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann’s autocracy and attraction to the glamour side of sports. Even at the most senior levels of sports, there are a surprising number of executives who don’t know IMG Chairman and CEO Mike Dolan’s name, since he did not rise through the ranks of sports properties and agencies.
“The question I get asked a lot is, ‘Who is Mike Dolan?’” said Sandy Montag, a senior corporate vice president, who has been with IMG for nearly 27 years. “People in our world don’t know him, but he really doesn’t care that nobody in sports knows who he is.”
Dolan, 65, is a reformed Ph.D. turned MBA, who’s an expert in medieval literature and a man still becoming accustomed to the dress code among sports suits, which generally does not require a tie.
He served as CFO at Forstmann’s IMG since 2010 and was named chairman and CEO just days after Forstmann’s death last November. From all accounts, he couldn’t be more different from his predecessors. In a business fueled by ego, Dolan is described by contemporaries as low-key, even bookish, fitting for a man who was a professor at New York’s City University for two years before deciding that an MBA and business career were preferable to teaching.
|Dolan (left) joined Dogus Group Chairman Ferit Sahenk in May at their announcement of a joint venture to develop projects in Turkey.
“This will never be known as the Mike Dolan era, simply because he doesn’t have that sort of profile, nor does he desire it,” said Alastair Johnston, IMG’s vice chairman and its second longest-tenured employee with 40 years of service.
Even company outsiders are impressed, including NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who has been negotiating with Dolan about starting a basketball league in India. “He comes across as a man who has a keen sense of the world, which is probably why much of his attention is focused on the global expansion at IMG,” Silver said.
International expansion is one of Dolan’s key initiatives, and offshore revenue at IMG may soon exceed domestic results. While fashioning joint ventures in places like Brazil, China and Turkey, Dolan has logged more than 120,000 miles flying both commercially and on corporate aircraft since he was named CEO.
Dolan is a contrast, an unusual amalgam of marketing and financial acumen, with both the inquisitiveness that’s the hallmark of an academic and a fondness for the structures of corporate governance and finance. Many say that his lack of a sports background helps, since he has no preconceived notions about what fits where in a sports world that can be complicated.
“He is a first-class global businessman, which is refreshing,” Silver said. “As someone who has been in this business for 20 years now, it is the ultimate compliment to this industry that we can attract someone like Mike Dolan.”
For Dolan, it has been about earning respect from his wealth of knowledge about corporate governance and finance, and letting IMG’s wealth of expertise in sports flourish in a company with better fundamentals. While closely guarding the financials of privately held IMG, Dolan said 2011 was the company’s best year yet and 2012 is on track for even better returns.
“Mark and Ted had very strong egos from entirely different perspectives,” said Johnston. “Mark kept score by the number of offices he had and countries he was in and number of employees. He wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about making profit that wasn’t reinvested in the business. Ted brought the capacity to grow by acquisition and the funding for the aggregation of our college assets. At the end of the day, Ted wasn’t a sports marketer. Unless he was buying and selling companies, he wasn’t in his area of expertise. Running a company wasn’t something that he had the best skill set for.”
|While the late Ted Forstmann enjoyed a higher profile meeting with clients — here at a dinner with Eli Manning, new IMG CEO Mike Dolan (below) largely goes unnoticed in a crowd, seen here at Wimbledon.
“He found very fertile ground in the back room stuff of IMG and got everyone’s confidence very, very quickly,” said Ian Todd, who has put in 32 years with IMG and is now special adviser to Dolan. “So as opposed to us cynics within sports marketing saying, ‘What’s this guy know?’ here was a guy coming to our area and making this huge and rather immediate impact by running our business better.”
Ben Sutton, who now heads IMG College, got to know Dolan while selling his company, ISP, to IMG in 2010. Like many within the company, Sutton gives Dolan credit for a management style that boils down to “make your numbers, and everything else is OK.”
“Mike’s not a micro manager,” Sutton said. “He’s as accessible as you want and you get good guidance on how to stay between the white lines, but he’s not there telling you how to stay between the yellow lines.”
Bloomberg Sports President Bill Squadron, himself a former IMG executive, found Dolan to be “low-key, yet decisive at the same time,” while negotiating a recent deal between the two companies. “It’s not unusual for people in that kind of position to assume they know everything,” Squadron said.
Former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, who hired Dolan as his CFO in 2005, concurred. “Mike’s got a very under-control ego, which you don’t see a lot of in entertainment and sports,” he said. “But that low-key nature is sort of a head fake. Underneath that is a guy with great smarts and business ambition.”
Despite being hand-picked by Forstmann, contrasts between the two men crop up repeatedly. Forstmann grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and attended top-of-the-line Greenwich Country Day and Phillips Academy. He was the son of Julius Forstmann, a textile magnate, who was once one of America’s wealthiest men. Dolan is a first-generation son of Irish immigrants, born in Queens. He attended Power Memorial High School in New York City. Forstmann owned a jet, courtesy of his buyout of Gulfstream. Dolan walks to work from his home on the Upper East Side and doesn’t own a car. Forstmann’s name was linked romantically to numerous global glamorous women, including Princess Diana. Dolan has been married to the same woman for 40 years.
Some revel in the dissimilarities of Dolan and Forstmann.
“Ted didn’t really understand our industry enough to be beneficial or helpful to clients,” Johnston said. “Mike is not someone who wants to meet all of our sexy clients. He’s a much better manager in the true sense of being a manager than either Mark McCormack or Ted Forstmann. He is leading the team as opposed to dominating the team.”
Still, there are those who maintain that Dolan shares more with Forstmann than is immediately apparent.
“They both have the vision to see how things can come together,” Squadron said.
When you ask people about Dolan’s management style, they’ll tell you that it’s deliberate and without bluster.
Todd quickly dubbed him “the smiling assassin” for the way he makes even the largest decisions quietly and with no emotion.
“Michael is a deceptive duck,” said Y&R Chairman Emeritus Peter Georgescu, who hired Dolan as his “nontraditional CFO” three years before the agency went public. Two years after that, Y&R was purchased by WPP Group for an astounding $4.7 billion. “He’s a no-bull guy who will tell you anything, including that you are full of shit, with the most delightful twinkle in his eye.”
The NBA’s Silver described Dolan as man with “a modest confidence, not a lot of bluffing and puffery. He is direct in terms of what his goals are in a negotiation.”
While McCormack’s skill as a negotiator is celebrated, Dolan gets some high marks from those who have worked with him. And, as you might expect, his boardroom manner is different from previous chairmen.
“He’s so low-key, it can be disarming,” said former Y&R Chairman Tom Bell, recalling the negotiations to sell his agency, during which WPP execs would pose complex arguments disguised as questions that were four or five minutes long, which would be deflected by Dolan with a terse “yes” or “no.”
Shortly after assuming the IMG chairmanship, Dolan made plans to gather some of his top executives at the Danesfield House hotel in London in April. For any other company, particularly one with roots as deep as IMG’s, what was being planned would have been routine. Dolan addressed the group of 50 executives, with equal representation from McCormack’s “legacy IMG” and Forstmann’s company. He reviewed company financials and strategic plans, and, at IMG, that degree of transparency was a revelation.
“He laid out all the numbers and everyone was just blown away,” said Todd. “And now there’s a feeling that there is no hidden agenda and that there’s a common goal.”
Johnston agreed. “The company is a lot more disciplined,” he said. “It’s a lot less driven by the personality of the leadership, whether it was Mark or Ted.”
“He’s very calm, very transparent and it shows at times like that,’’ said Chuck Bennett, president of golf, tennis, fashion, events and federations, and an IMG executive for close to 30 years.
Industry chatter of a private equity sale or IPO of IMG continues to roil throughout the sports and financial world, even as Dolan flatly denies that a deal is close (see related story, Page 32). The party line is that IMG is staying single.
“They’re operating like they are not selling the company,” said Steve Horowitz, a partner at Inner Circle Sports, which advised Bloomberg Sports while it was setting up its recent joint venture with IMG. “Conventional wisdom would tell you they’ve got to be looking for a buyer, but the Bloomberg investment is not something you would do if you were about to sell. They are still building.”
Going forward, whatever Dolan may be lacking as far as knowledge of the intricacies of properties, events, rights and federations, his agency background is serving him well in the clubby world of sports marketing.
“Mike understands clients,” Todd said. “However brilliant and whatever a genius Ted was, he didn’t understand clients.”
“Mike is used to dealing with the egos and the problems that arise when you have a lot of competitive people working for you,” said Barry Frank, IMG executive vice president of media, who has been with the company for 40 years. “Nobody feels threatened.”
Dolan explained his management style as generally laissez-faire: “You can’t tell agency people what to do. You have to persuade them, and then you get out of the way, because they are generally very self-motivated. So I wanted them to hear everything, and I think they left [the London meeting] feeling like partners.”
There are many adages describing the ability of those who work with numbers to obfuscate: “Figures lie and liars figure,” or the equally proverbial: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies. Damned lies. And statistics.” An axiom from Dolan, the English literature Ph.D. who morphed into an MBA, is one the former Y&R Chair Georgescu still counts among his favorites. “Michael always used to say: ‘Profit is opinion, but cash is fact,’ said Georgescu. “I’ve used that line ever since. You can play with definitions of profit, but cash is either there or it is not. That’s definitively Michael.”