Spencer Stuart Recruits CEO for U.S. Olympic Committee

Olympic organizations and sports teams continue to turn to executive search firms to find new leaders. The latest: Spencer Stuart has found a transformational leader for the top post at the U.S. Olympic Committee. Let’s take a look at this latest search.

July 16, 2018 – Executive search firm Spencer Stuart has recruited Sarah Hirshland as the 12th CEO of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in Colorado Springs, CO. She brings a unique and proven set of skills and experiences to the USOC at a time of transformation and change for the organization.

“The USOC is at a critical time in its history and requires an energetic, creative and inspiring leader who is capable of building on past success while making sure that the athletes we serve are protected, supported and empowered in every possible way,” said Larry Probst, chairman of the organization. “I’m thrilled that Sarah has accepted the position and thankful to the diverse slate of candidates who participated in our process to hire the very best person for this important responsibility.”

“I’d also like to acknowledge Susanne Lyons for her superb leadership of the USOC for the last several months, while ensuring that America’s athletes continue to receive the support they need during our period of transition,” he said.

Ms. Hirshland, who will start her new role at the end of August, currently serves as chief commercial officer for the United States Golf Association (USGA). In this role, she is responsible for the organization’s global media and content distribution, corporate partnerships, merchandise and licensing, marketing, communications, community outreach and Golfer Handicap Information Network.

Among her accomplishments at the USGA, she established a centralized marketing function, transformed relationships and service offerings with the Allied Golf Associations, oversaw media rights negotiations, secured and managed global corporate partnerships and guided the transformation of tournament management services.

Ms. Hirshland formerly worked as SVP for strategic business development at Wasserman Media Group. She also previously served in Wasserman’s consulting division, leading the development of sports marketing strategies for clients such as American Express, Nationwide, Nokia, Scotts and Wachovia. In addition, Ms. Hirshland has held key executive positions with sports and entertainment firm OnSport and sports news and technology company Total Sports.

Others Weigh In

“Sarah brings a wealth of sports business experience and a unique perspective to the USOC at a transformative time in its history,” said Max Cobb, chair of the USOC National Governing Bodies Council. “Her appointment is an opportunity for the Olympic and Paralympic community in the U.S. to come together, continue to make progress on the critically important area of athlete safety, and support the constant advancement of sport in our country.”


Sports and Entertainment Expansion Elevating Search Business

Over the last quarter century, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Much of that has forever changed.


“I know firsthand that Sarah is a visionary leader and exactly the right person to lead the USOC as we collectively build to the LA 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said LA 2028 chair Casey Wasserman. “I look forward to reteaming with Sarah plus the entire team at the USOC to deliver a new Games for a new era that benefit athletes and our communities alike, and connect the Olympic and Paralympic movements to the future.”

Serving Sports Organizations

Spencer Stuart’s sports business practice has been advising on senior-level talent and improved governance in the sports industry for more than two decades. Its consultants have experience working in every segment within the world of sports: professional leagues and associations, professional franchises, university athletic departments, intercollegiate athletics conferences, agencies, media, consumer products, retail and the Olympics.

Phil Murphy leads Spencer Stuart’s sports business practice in the U.S., focusing on senior executive assignments for clients in the sports industry. Since joining the firm in 2005, his clients in the sports world have included organizations in professional football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis, golf, motorsports, thoroughbred racing and the Olympic movement. His has also led numerous executive searches in intercollegiate athletics for university athletic departments and conferences.

Finding Olympic Leaders

Olympic entities and sports teams continue to turn to executive search firms to find new leaders. Here’s a sampling from the Hunt Scanlon Media archives:

RSR Partners placed Christopher Liedel, a former head of a Smithsonian Institution division, as CEO of the new United States Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.  The $75 million U.S. Olympic Museum is set to open in 2019, blocks from the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters and a short drive from the Olympic Training Center. 

SearchWide recently recruited Rod Menzer as the CEO of USA Archery. Mark Gnatovic, senior vice president at SearchWide, led the assignment. “This position will directly affect the sport and participation of archery at all levels,” said SearchWide’s Mr. Gnatovic. 

Diversified Search recruited Freda Fung as East Asia president of Special Olympics, the largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Jason León, managing director in the recruiter’s Washington, D.C. office, led the assignment. “The overall enthusiasm for the Special Olympics movement was simply remarkable,” said Mr. León. 

Chelsea Partners and Reffett Associates have assisted USA Swimming in selecting Timothy Hinchey as its president and CEO. The search was led by Andy Knox, managing director at Los Angeles-based Chelsea Partners, and Bill Reffett, managing partner at Reffett Associates in Seattle.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games on the horizon, executive search firm Nolan Partners has assisted British Swimming in the placement of Jack Buckner as CEO. Partner Andy Taylor led the search.” After a complex global search,  I’m thrilled for both British Swimming and Jack,” Mr. Taylor said. 

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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