May 15, 2017 – After putting out an open casting call for executive search firms to assist USA Gymnastics in its hunt for a new chief executive officer, Russell Reynolds Associates has taken the rings of this highly coveted sports assignment and commenced a highly anticipated global talent search. Managing director Nada Usina is leading the undertaking with consultant Libby Naumes.
The organization has been without a CEO since Steve Penny resigned in March because of allegations that he and USA Gymnastics failed to properly address claims of sexual abuse against member coaches and Larry Nassar, the former team doctor. Since these allegations against the coaches and Mr. Nassar went public last year, frustrated fans, athletes, and coaches have been demanding greater responsiveness and transparency from the sport’s national governing body.
Ms. Usina and Ms. Naumes are expected to conduct extensive interviews with various constituency groups that comprise USA Gymnastics, and will advise the search committee and USA Gymnastics on the consensus of opinions gathered, including the qualities, characteristics and experience that are most important to the organization’s members, partners and the U.S. Olympic movement.
Members of the search committee include seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller, 1991 world champion and 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal-Burdette, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar, as well as 2005 world champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Chellsie Memmel. Other members of the search committee are current USA Gymnastics board members David Benck and Bitsy Kelley and one former member, Jim Morris.
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The search committee’s goal is to secure a new CEO who best meets the ideals and priorities expressed by the gymnastics community, and is capable of leading all of USA Gymnastics into a strong and successful next chapter.
According to recruiters not affiliated with the search, the incoming CEO will have a big job in restoring the image of the Indianapolis-based non-profit, which is charged with setting the standard for the sport at all levels and selecting the Olympic team.
Tough Search Ahead
“The USA Gymnastics brand has certainly been tarnished over the last 12 months with the report of sexual abuse allegations,” said Daniel P. Rossetti, managing partner of Ascension Sports Partners LLC, a Mason, OH-based executive search firm that specializes in finding sports leaders.
“The incoming chief is going to need to focus in on building trust again with current athletes and parents, constituents who make up all of their membership across the country, their current marketing partners, and all of their fans.” The sport, he said, has a strong following and the new CEO is going to need to listen and work on “fixing the scars” which are now affiliated with its brand.
“Identifying the next CEO for USA Gymnastics will come with a variety of challenges, but opportunities as well,” said Jeff Yocom, president of Marquee Search, a sports and entertainment focused recruiting firm. “The search’s success will hinge on how much consensus there is among the board of directors.” He said he would be looking for alignment around vision, culture, and the type of candidate the board is interested in pursuing.
“Making sure they are in sync will be crucial” in recruiting the top executive for this position,” he added. “If there is discord, the best candidates will sense that and decline. Outside of being qualified for the job, candidates will need to have a high degree of emotional intelligence given the various stakeholders and high profile nature of the position.” Those likely to be in serious contention, he said, will have a track record in strategic planning and in dealing with crisis management and cultural sensitivity issues.
“While the women’s national team has been wildly successful in recent years, and carries significant influence in the organization, that will be only one part of the chosen leader’s mission,” Mr. Yocom said. “The incoming chief executive will ultimately recognize the importance of building the base and promoting the sport through the NGB’s grass roots efforts.”
USA Gymnastics’ mission is to select and train the Olympic teams as well as promote the sport at all levels. The organization, which has more than 174,000 members, is the national governing body for gymnastics.
Russell Reynolds Associates is a generalist C-suite and senior level recruitment firm with operations across 47 offices. The firm provides executive search and leadership solutions services across a wide expanse of specialty subsector verticals, including global media, entertainment, technology and the athletics markets. The firm’s consultants from these practice groups are expected to lend their expertise in assessment, succession planning and culture fit to the assignment.
Ms. Usina is a member of Russell Reynolds’ CEO and board services practice and leads the technology sector for the firm across the Americas. She also co-leads the firm’s global digital convergence and mobile practice as well as its global media, entertainment & sports practice.
She helps companies build leadership teams and boards, advises clients on leadership topics, succession planning and strategy, and focuses on filling board and C-suite positions across traditional media, digital, convergence, e-commerce and mobile on behalf of companies in technology, entertainment and sports that are both high growth and undergoing transformation as a result of digital and technology. Her clients range from Fortune 500 companies to leading media, entertainment, consumer and technology brands as well as venture capital and private equity-backed concerns.
Ms. Naumes is a member of the firm’s digital transformation practice. She focuses on assignments in media, entertainment, sports, retail and convergence for traditional, online, ecommerce and mobile media and technology companies.
In January, Russell Reynolds Associates placed Jamie Davis as chief executive officer of USA Volleyball in Colorado Springs. Mr. Davis stood out in the search process as having the qualities to help USA Volleyball meet and exceed the organization’s short- and long-range goals, said the organization. Russell Reynolds worked alongside a search committee which included various representatives of constituent groups, sponsors and athletes, including Misty May-Treanor, a three-time Olympic Games beach volleyball gold medalist; Tayyiba Haneef-Park, a two-time Olympic indoor volleyball silver medalist; and Brent Rasmussen, the paralympic representative to the board.
Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media