Leadership Rises To The Top
Most of you that have followed this site very long know that I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Mark Miles, who seems to hold several titles within his organization – Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Company, Chairman of Hulman Motorsports and IndyCar CEO. I’m sure his organizational skills are impeccable and he probably does an excellent job with his top-priority assignment from the Hulman-George family – improve the bottom line.
But it’s that last title where I have a problem with Miles – as IndyCar CEO. Along with many others, I’ve documented my misgivings with Miles over the years. He’s an easy target and I’m not going to dwell on the negativity of that topic.
Instead I want to focus on two of the top people that report directly to Mark Miles. They are the bright spots in the Hulman Motorsports chain of command. They have shown the ability to lead and get things done, while engaging with fans. They are IMS President Doug Boles and IndyCar President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye.
I’ve been to the last two races, Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and I did not see Mark Miles anywhere at either one. I saw Doug Boles many times last weekend at IMS and saw Jay Frye many times at both races. Is it important for our IndyCar leaders to be seen by fans? In this day and age, the answer is yes.
Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay and growing by the day. The following is an example about the use of social media, and not a political statement: Say what you will about Donald Trump, but one thing that you cannot deny is that he knows how to campaign in today’s social media world. He utilizers Twitter, Facebook and You Tube better than anyone I’ve seen in any campaign or industry. He has recognized that the old way of campaigning doesn’t work in today’s world. His success may be confounding at times, but the numbers don’t lie.
Some ridiculed former CEO IndyCar Randy Bernard for his use of Twitter, but fans loved it. They felt they had a connection to IndyCar leadership and that they were being listened to. Randy’s problem was that the teams and drivers felt they were not being listened to – especially regarding issues like double-file restarts at the Indianapolis 500.
But to go from the open book of Randy Bernard to the perceived bunker mentality of Mark Miles, was a shock to fans and they didn’t like it. As transparent as Randy Bernard appeared to be, Miles seemed to work in secrecy behind the scenes. Probably neither case was as extreme as they seemed, but you know what they say about perception being reality.
If you follow Doug Boles on Facebook or Twitter, you know how much he keeps fans up to date on what’s going on. Whether posting photos of the progress being made at IMS throughout the winter, or a formal video of himself addressing the fan base; Boles recognizes the power of social media and uses it brilliantly. That is the personality of Doug Boles. He works tirelessly to let fans know he listens. He has contacted me on Twitter in the past to let me know where the classic tenderloins are (although he hasn’t yet, this year).
Jay Frye is not as outgoing on social media, but he is pretty free with the tweets. But Frye is a natural-born leader in his own right. First of all, he has a commanding presence. He played football in college at Missouri and looks as if he could still play today. But it is his demeanor, more than his size, that lets you know that this is a guy that knows how to get things done. While he can be jovial, you can tell right away that he is a no-nonsense kind of guy.
From what we’ve seen in his new role, he appears to be someone that can admit to a mistake and can learn from it. The no-call at Long Beach is a perfect example. Race Control simply dealt with the parameters they were given by the owners four months earlier in meetings. By the next week at Barber, Frye had instituted a new procedure to monitor the blend-line situation that occurred at Long Beach.
Not only has Frye dealt with the details, he has an eye on the big picture. If you listened to Trackside this past Tuesday night, you heard a very decisive Frye explaining his vision for how IndyCar can grow going forward. Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee pointed out that it was Frye who pulled a miracle to replace the failed Boston race with the popular Watkins Glen in a matter of days. They also noted that it was Frye who got the series back at Phoenix and Road America. Frye was quick to redirect the attention away from himself and even went out of his way to give Derrick Walker credit for making Road America happen.
With Frye’s background in NASCAR, he certainly has built close relationships with those in the NASCAR community; more specifically, those at ISC – the sister company that owns the portfolio of tracks that IndyCar covets.
There is more to being a leader than engaging with fans on social media and at race tracks – but it doesn’t hurt. Both Doug Boles and Jaye Frye have different styles and personalities, but they share one thing – they have the ability to listen, learn and admit mistakes.
Fans may not be pleased about who sits atop the open-wheel chain of command, but one thing cannot be denied – he has hired great people that report directly to him. Perhaps his being invisible at the last few races mean he has learned to step back and let them do their job. In that way, maybe Mark Miles knows what he’s doing after all.