Forum: Finchem a fitting honoree for Lifetime Achievement
Tim Finchem is a fascinating subject. The recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award brings to bear all the traits of effective leadership: preparation, work ethic, communication and humility. We’ve known many of the leaders in sports business over the years, but Finchem is one of the most interesting to me for his style, approach and vision. Talking to him in his office at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in mid-March provided a lesson in principled leadership, and you’ll understand better by reading John Lombardo’s detailed profile of him (see story). But here are the elements that stood out to me and demonstrated why Finchem is so successful.
■ WORK ETHIC: Finchem’s relentless work ethic came from his childhood. The son of a Marine and the oldest of six children, he learned to play golf not at a club, but on a Marine Corps base near Tidewater, Va. He had a paper route at 7 years old and worked during the summers growing up. That shaped his relentless work ethic. Our interview time with Finchem originally was scheduled for 7 a.m. When I asked a longtime associate to guess what time we were scheduled to meet, they didn’t miss a beat, “Tim always sets his meetings for 7.” It got switched to later in the day, but Finchem’s early morning meetings and workouts are well known in golf circles.
■ HUMILITY: It took a long time to convince Finchem to accept our honor. He didn’t want the attention, interviews or to sit for our photographer. It was telling in our interview how much he focused on others: the lessons from his mother; the influence of his mentor, Deane Beman, who “does not get, by any stretch, the recognition that is deserved.” Or his admiration of Arnold Palmer: “It’s hard to put it in words what an incredible individual he was,” or the thousands of players, from Tiger Woods, to Hale Irwin, to Davis Love III, who he credited for helping him. His humility also informed his decision to leave his job, as he recognized there was a broader, more sophisticated expertise needed from today’s commissioner. Jay Monahan “was a superior individual and would take it multiple notches up,” he acknowledged.
■ PREPARATION: In my own research for our tribute to Finchem, I was struck by how many executives cited his incredible preparation. Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer called him one of the toughest negotiators he ever faced because of his detailed preparation. Finchem was seemingly prepared his entire life — from moot court debate team to when he was tabbed as PGA Tour commissioner at the age of 47. “I was prepared to take the job. I don’t recall any hesitation,” he said. Later, he told us about his negotiating style: “The key thing about negotiating is being prepared.” Work ethic drove that preparation.
■ LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNICATION: From his youth, Finchem was drawn to leadership. “At a very young age, I found myself comfortable with different kinds of people. I wanted to lead,” he said. “I just enjoy the challenge of leadership.” His style of leadership: “Communication, encouragement, education, leading the way.” The only time Finchem seemed taken aback during our interview was when he was asked if he delegated well. He paused. “It’s an interesting question,” before acknowledging, “I asked more for day-to-day detail than I needed, but it was because I liked it.” I was also fascinated by Finchem’s view of his role as PGA Tour commissioner. “The biggest challenge is taking advantage of opportunity. Are we smart enough to understand how to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there?” As one former colleague told me, “Tim was always pushing us to come up with ideas, and he kept coming up with ideas, and they always seem to come out right.”
■ FINALLY, USING HIS LEVERAGE: A veteran golf executive told me they didn’t interact much with Finchem during their career. “Tim went CEO to CEO,” she told me. He acknowledged he did, and said it was one of the reasons he’d go on TV during tournaments and be interviewed. “Having me on for three minutes did not add a lot, but I am firmly convinced it helps get your phone call answered,” he said. “I can think of only one CEO during my tenure that didn’t take my call, so it’s valuable if you can get on TV and tell your story.”
I’d encourage you to read more about Finchem’s skills and style, and you’ll see why he was able to lead the PGA Tour to unparalleled levels of growth during his two decades, making him well deserving of our Lifetime Achievement Award.
First Look podcast, with issues Abe is watching this week, at the 28:28 mark:
Abraham Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.