The Pursuit Of Absolute Power
The US government is set up with three basic divisions or branches; the Executive Branch (the President), the Legislative Branch (Congress) and the Judicial Branch (the Supreme Court). In simplest terms, it was set up this way to prevent any one person or persons from becoming too powerful and abusing such power.
This post is not about politics, so please refrain from a political discussion. I mention these three branches however, to illustrate that someone acquiring too much power is a bad thing in any government, company or organization. In this case, I’m referring to IndyCar.
First of all, we need a little history lesson. No, not US history; but a look at some of the recent goings-on with IndyCar and the board at Hulman Motorsports, which oversees IndyCar. Jeff Belskus was Chairman of the Board when IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was fired in late October of 2012. Shortly after that, Belskus “stepped aside” and board member Mark Miles was named Chairman in the midst of the search for Randy Bernard’s replacement.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Miles put himself in charge of IndyCar, instead of hiring a replacement for Randy Bernard. I thought at the time that it made for an uncomfortable arrangement since the CEO of IndyCar was now reporting to himself. Since then, Miles has taken it upon himself to make some rather curious decisions, such as ending the IndyCar season prior to Labor Day, designate some races as double-points races and awarding a point for leading a race, and completely revamping the qualifying format for Indianapolis 500 qualifying, which included moving Pole Day to Sunday.
Miles has also let races at Fontana, Edmonton, Baltimore and Houston drop off the schedule; while allowing financial debacles at Brasilia and NOLA to take place.
All the while, Miles buries himself into his bunker and is heard from only when he sees it appropriate. Unlike Randy Bernard or IMS President Doug Boles, Miles is rarely seen at race tracks where fans have access to him. When he is spotted, he usually has an entourage around him and appears very unapproachable.
Is it necessary for a corporate CEO or head of a sports entity to be visible to customers or to mingle with fans? Not always, but when your company is perceived to be on life-support, it certainly helps. Steve Jobs was very visible to those that bought iPhones, iPads and Macs; but I couldn’t tell you who the CEO for Coca-Cola is. That doesn’t stop me from drinking Coke. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get out and yuk it up with tailgating fans before football games, but his sport seems to grow no matter what kind of bad press it endures.
Would it hurt for Mark Miles to get out and talk to IndyCar fans and listen to their desires and concerns? No, but that doesn’t seem to be in his comfort zone so you can probably forget about that ever happening.
Once we found out that Derrick Walker, former President of Competition and Operations, was leaving IndyCar at the end of this past season, there has been speculation as to who might take his place. Some point to current Hulman Motorsports Chief Revenue Officer Jay Frye, who was hired by Miles, as a possible replacement. Others have been campaigning for Al Unser, Jr. among others.
In an article last week on Racer.com, Robin Miller reports many of Walker’s former duties will now be handled by – Mark Miles.
A few months ago, I wrote a post wondering why we rarely see or hear anything from the two “super-hires” that were hired by Miles that were so heralded at the time; Frye and Chief Marketing Officer C.J. O’Donnell. Both were touted as the Mark Miles “dream team” as experts in their field and were both interviewed on Trackside, shortly after they came on board in November of 2013. We’ve hardly heard anything from them since. I surmised then that Miles must not confident in turning the keys over to those he had hired. I wondered then if Miles was one of those that preferred to do everything himself, rather than delegate responsibilities to others that he had already hired.
In that same post, I suggested Miles should drop the double-duty of Chairman of the Board and IndyCar CEO. It seemed to almost create a conflict of interest. While IMS has Doug Boles to serve as a buffer between IMS and the board, there is no such buffer for IndyCar. Instead, it now looks like Mark Miles is opting for triple-duty by taking on many of Walker’s duties as well.
To use a famous movie quote, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?” Is Mark Miles trying to save money on salaries by filling all the roles with himself; or is his ego so big that he thinks that he, and he alone, is the only one capable of saving IndyCar? Either way, it’s not good.
In my professional career, I’ve had excellent supervisors and some that were, well…not so excellent. The good ones delegated duties to their subordinates, freeing themselves up to focus on the bigger picture items. Even if the subordinates screwed up, that was how they learned.
The not-so-good ones did not seem to trust the very people they had hired and chose to do all the work themselves. In the process, they complained about how overworked they were and how inept their staff was. I currently manage a staff of nine people. I am committed to adhering to the management style I described first and it has been very effective. The best managers allow their employees grow into their roles. They are given enough autonomy to make mistakes and learn from them.
If Miles thinks he’s doing IndyCar a favor by filling several of the roles and saving salaries, he’s not. Good leaders delegate. The best football coaches are those that don’t have their hand in everything. They hire good assistants and stand back and let them do their job. Standing over employees does nothing but make employees feel inadequate. Miles could be stunting the growth of his own team by insisting on doing everyone’s work for them. I don’t know that he is doing this, but from what we’ve seen – all indications are that he is trying to do too much himself.
Of course, I’m just theorizing here. That’s what we do in the offseason, we kick topics around and speculate. But I’ll bet I’m not too far from the truth.
My personal opinion is that Miles is making a big mistake by putting himself into Derrick Walker’s former position – even if it is only temporary. He says he intends to hire someone to replace Walker, at some point. If memory serves me correctly, he said the same thing when he inserted himself into Randy Bernard’s job. That was before it became permanent.
There are no checks and balances in place. Unless I’m wrong, Mark Miles reports to no one other than himself and ultimately, the Hulman-George family. As Miles assumes more duties for himself, he is also accumulating more power. There are fewer decision makers for him to deal with. He can make all the decisions himself and not be questioned along the way.
The problem is, who is going to say no to Mark Miles? Is the board? That’s doubtful since he’s chairman of the board. Can IndyCar? Hardly, since he is now in the two most powerful positions in IndyCar. The way I understand it, the only one(s) who can oppose Miles on this is the Hulman-George family. For a number of reasons, Mari Hulman George is somewhat disengaged lately. That leaves Tony George and his sisters, who couldn’t agree on anything if they had to.
Right now it appears that IndyCar, as an organization, is in the grasp of an unchecked power-hungry dictator who insists in having his hand in every minute decision. It was this scenario that had the US Founding Fathers set up a system where no one had absolute and unchecked power. They realized such a situation is far too dangerous when someone with the potential to abuse power is in there. It’s too bad that the board of Hulman and Company didn’t have such safeguards.