New USOC chief Stephanie Streeter: ‘This is not a palace coup’

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The U.S. Olympic Committee board’s surprise decision last week to pressure Jim Scherr out of his job as USOC chief executive and replace him with board member Stephanie Streeter as interim CEO has caused controversy among several USOC constituencies, including the USOC staff, leaders of national sports federations (NGBs) and the Chicago 2016 Summer Games bid.

Chicago 2016 Chairman Patrick Ryan reacted Thursday by saying, ‘I was disappointed. I don’t think it helps in any way, but I don’t think it damages us. [But] I was shocked. I’m surprised. Not happy.’


NGB officials reacted Friday by asking USOC Chairman Larry Probst to explain the decision on a Monday conference call. Probst told NGB council Chairman Skip Gilbert he cannot be on the call but invited Gilbert to meet at Probst’s California office later this week.

After she and Probst addressed the USOC staff Thursday, Streeter, 51, went back to her home in Neenah, Wis., where she and her husband are raising 17-month-old twins, She will return to USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs this week.

Sunday, the former chairman and CEO of Banta Corp. addressed several questions about the controversy and her plans in a telephone interview.

Some highlights:

Q. The leaders of the national Olympic committees in the other countries with cities bidding against Chicago have enormous experience in this area. You and Larry have no experience. Why is that not a liability?
A. First, I don’t see it that way. I have been on the scene with the U.S. Olympic Committee since 2004, heavily involved in the bid, heavily involved in supporting the organizations at the [2008] Olympic and Paralympic Games, and [have been on] the 2016 board. I believe Larry and I have other experience that will help, both board and business experience.

Q. How many International Olympic Committee members have you met so far? [There are currently 107.]
A. Probably 25 to 30. I intend to meet quite a
few more at Sport Accord [a conference in Denver later this month] and, obviously, the E.C. visit [the IOC evaluation commission visit to Chicago in early April].

Q. IOC President Jacques Rogge brought up the frequent turnover in USOC leadership when he met Larry in January. How do you address that when you meet President Rogge?
A. Certainly, I have not met President Rogge, but he has experience with [USOC Vice President] Bob Ctvrtlik, [former Chairman] Peter Ueberroth, [international relations chief] Robert Fasulo, [IOC and USOC board members] Jim Easton and Anita DeFrantz and [USOC board member] Mike Plant. I think there is a lot of continuity within the USOC and within our board.

Q. Will you resign from the USOC board?
A. We will decide whether that needs to happen depending on how long interim is.

Q. What about the several other corporate boards [Green Bay Packers, Kohl’s, Goodyear and Catalyst] of which you are a member?
A. I have offered my resignation, as is standard corporate governance, to all the other boards I am on. They will determine whether they would like me to go through with that resignation.

Q. Some leaders of national governing bodies feel they don’t know who you are and that you have never made an attempt to engage them.
A. Several of the first calls I made were to NGBs.

Q. Prior to this?
A. I have been at many different events and met lots of them -- Bill Marolt [skiing], Chuck Wielgus [swimming], Doug Logan [track], Steve Penny [gymnastics], Skip Gilbert [triathlon]. I don’t see how they can say they have never met me and don’t know anything about me.

Q. Skip Gilbert said he never knew who you were until [he made a presentation] at the board meeting last week.
A. Well, I knew who he was.

Q. The question a lot of people are raising, with the Chicago vote coming up in October and the next Winter Olympics in February is why this couldn’t have waited another year.
A. Clearly, Jim and the board agreed now was the right time.

Q. The USOC is on the verge of signing one or two sponsorship renewals and three or four new sponsors. It has an unprecedented [for the USOC] $100-million cash reserve. To an outsider, it seems that situation is fine.
A. The board fully understands the impact of change. The same is true of Jim. There was a careful consideration by everyone involved as to timing and why this needed to happen.

Q. The last two corporate executives in the CEO job [Norm Blake and Lloyd Ward] proved completely unable to understand how the Olympic world works. Why do you think you will be able to overcome this relative lack of knowledge of how this world operates?
A. With all due respect to those other executives, I start this assignment with so much more information and experience with the USOC and IOC. Four years with the [USOC] board. I have worked closely with management. I understand how the organization is structured. How it operates. How it interacts with the IOC, the NGBs, the athletes, Congress. I understand how the successes were achieved.

Q. Now that you have had a couple days to think about it, do you feel you should move to [USOC headquarters’ home,] Colorado Springs?
A. I am thinking about it seriously. I will decide in the next few weeks.

Q. Past managers who spent little time in Colorado Springs were inclined to think the [400-person] USOC staff is bloated, does little work and escapes supervision because of its location. Do you have feelings about the staff capability and competence?
A. Like any organization, there is a lot of talent scattered throughout. Whether it has actually reached its full potential –- clearly, I hope that it hasn’t. But I haven’t had time to completely assess what the organization’s strengths are or the talent of the individuals.

Q. Jim Scherr has been blamed for keeping [chief marketing officer] Rick Burton on too long. [Burton was hired in August 2007 and left in November 2008.] Rick Burton was Peter Ueberroth’s choice. Was Jim unfairly blamed for Rick Burton?
A. Any time a CEO has a member of their team, they are responsible for that person. I won’t say whether Jim kept him on too long or was unfairly blamed, but he was a member of Jim’s team.

Q. People familiar with the dynamic of the [USOC] board over the last several years have told me that almost as soon as you became a member you were dissatisfied with Jim and that what happened last week was, in effect, a palace coup.
A. I think Jim is a very talented guy. I think the record of what he and his team have accomplished since he took over in 2003 speaks for itself. I would not characterize that I have been dissatisfied with Jim’s performance. This is not a palace coup. That is patently untrue.

Q. The other hypothesis promoted is you thought you were going to [take over for Ueberroth] as chairman, decided it might not be such a good idea with two young children at home but, once Larry became chairman, realized this CEO job was a way to get a more prominent role in the organization.
A. Not true.

Q. Any of it true?
A. Certainly, we spoke about who was going to be chairman. To suggest that was my motivation is ridiculous.

Q. At no point did you think you were going to be the next chairman?
A. As I said, there were discussions about it. This is about being asked many times by my colleagues to take on this [CEO] role and basically, finally saying yes.

Q. How long ago was the first time?
A. I am not going to comment on that.

Q. Are you going to work for the same salary [$570,000 a year] Jim was, pro-rated?
A. We are still working that out.

-- Philip Hersh