RACER's Marshall Pruett sat down with Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles at the Baltimore Grand Prix to discuss a variety of important topics related to the IndyCar Series, including the 2014 schedule, helping drivers and teams searching for money, the financial standing of the series, TV ratings and the ongoing search for a new commercial director.
MARSHALL PRUETT: Of all the topics IndyCar team owners raise as the one that needs immediate fixing, it's the hiring of a commercial leader to bring sponsors to the series, to raise overall awareness and value, and everything involved with getting the series back to a place of financial health. I understand the former San Diego Padres CEO (Tom Garfinkel) was close to taking the position but backed away. Does that leave you with a suitable pool of candidates left to choose from, or do you have to start the search over again?
MARK MILES: Contrary to some folks' perceptions, we never approached it as: "Let's go get that guy and if we don't get that guy we'll go to the next guy." We've always been trying to have a pool and add to it and vet the candidates. You're right about the person that was talked about from baseball. I can say there were probably at least five others at that time a month ago that were in the mix, we brought four of them in so far to Indy, and they wouldn't have gotten to Indy if I hadn't already spent at least a couple of two or three hour sessions with them myself. When they came to Indy, they spent an hour and a half with each member of our executive leadership team during the process.
So we got done with that, and I think this Tuesday our group will talk and I think we'll cut it to probably two and then get serious and do really intense on background checks. I think that will fast-track our ability to get this done. I think we have some strong options, and the choice will be quite good.
MP: IndyCar has often looked for magic personnel – a person who possesses a department's worth of specific skills to save the series. Is the search for your commercial CEO anything like that – like trying to find a unicorn – or are you OK with hiring someone who might not be a motor racing expert but can learn the intricate details of the job once they're hired?
MM: The first thing isn't any of that. That's all secondary. The first thing is, we're looking for people with integrity that you will never question in terms of once you hear from them and they're as concerned with the success of the whole company and their coworkers than they are caught up in their own success.
And there some very talented people who probably aren't the right fit for us but have remarkable Rolodexes and experience sets and all the rest of it but that's not where we're going to go. Like the Indianapolis Colts like to say, they really try to imagine character as well as talent when they draft.
I don't think you can build sustainable success without people of that sort, people with that sort of quality. So that's the first priority. At the same time obviously it's about their credentials and their skill sets and what they bring to the table. A lot of people think what we need is a salesman, and we sure as hell need sales. But we need sales, marketing, media, PR, social, television and licensing; we've got to be better at all of them. So I've come to believe what we need most from a technical perspective is a leader who can build the right team, who understands the environment and each of those technical elements of being a commercial success.
But I've become ambivalent about whether there is a particular strength in sales versus marketing, because you're going to need to bring in team members for all of them. So they've got to know it all, they've got to be good leaders, they've got to work hard, have a sense of urgency. Be able to build relationships.
The other thing I left out mentioning about this job description is we've got to do a better job of coalescing teams and racetracks to act collectively – to market and communicate in everything we do. So there's a stakeholder relationship, not in the sense of “we're buddies” but building a stakeholder's agenda. Being a portal for working with our partners, and not just making sanctioning deals with our promoters and the like and expecting each side to work independently and think it will all work out the way we want it to. This person needs to bring a cohesive approach to elevating everything we do and who we do those things with as one unit.
So there's a lot under this job description – too much for any one person. I don't know anybody who's the world's best marketer and market research person, best at analytics and sales and licensing and TV…
If the person is more of a marketer than a salesperson, then you'll have to figure out how to add extra sales resources more quickly and it's possible that we, at least in the near-term, look more towards working with some agencies to do that because we can extend ourselves faster and farther.
Conversely, if the person was more of a salesperson that has that kind of Rolodex, maybe we work more with some outside folks on the marketing side or some blend of that. But you can supplement whatever area is needed, based on the person you're bringing in.