Sports, Golf executive assumes helm following extensive three-month search
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., October 28, 2009 - Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Board of Directors Chairman Dawn Hudson announced today that the LPGA Board has named Michael Whan the LPGA's new Commissioner. Whan, most recently President and Chief Executive Officer of Mission-Itech Hockey, has a personal and professional background in golf, including serving as Executive Vice President and General Manager (North American Region) for Taylormade-adidas Golf.
The appointment follows an extensive three-month international search led by an LPGA Search Committee comprised of LPGA Board player members Juli Inkster and Helen Alfredsson along with fellow LPGA Board members Bill Morton and Leslie Greis, who chaired the Committee.
"We established very strict criteria for the position of Commissioner and Mike impressed us not only with his background and intellect but also his passion for golf," Hudson said. "I commend the Search Committee for their exhaustive work and commitment, and we look forward to the months and years ahead with Mike as our Commissioner. We also owe a great debt of gratitude to Acting Commissioner Marty Evans. Her success over the past three months during a potentially difficult transition period not only allowed the Search Committee time to conduct a thorough search but also has provided our new Commissioner with positive momentum and a revitalized platform upon which to grow the LPGA in the sports and business marketplace."
Evans will work with Whan during a transition period before he officially assumes the Commissioner helm in January 2010. Both Whan and Evans will attend the LPGA Tour Championship Presented by Rolex the week of November 16 in Houston, where a player meeting will be held and the 2010 LPGA season schedule will be released.
"The LPGA is a resurging, resilient association, and Mike will be a leader around which the wonderful LPGA staff and all of our stakeholders--players, fans, sponsors, TV partners, tournament owners and others--will rally," Evans said. "Mike will enjoy working within the reenergized climate of collaboration that we've all worked so hard to create this season. I'm looking forward to working closely with him during the transition period as we celebrate the close of a tremendous season and look forward to the LPGA's 60th year in 2010."
"It is rare to work for an organization that combines all the passions in your life, but with the LPGA, I feel I've been presented with the unique opportunity to do just that," Whan said. "First, this is an association surrounded by passionate, value-driven people. Second, I'm energized by brand building and the work involved in marketing and growing a sport. Third, I simply love the game of golf--both the life lessons it teaches and the friendships it helps create."
Whan, 44, started his business career at the Procter & Gamble Company in 1987, rising within the ranks as a brand assistant, Brand Manager and eventually Director of Marketing, Oral Care, before branching out to follow his passion for sports. In 1994-95, he served as a Vice President and General Manager at the Wilson Sporting Goods Company responsible for all aspects of the golf ball and glove business. He also managed the marketing department, two manufacturing facilities and the Research & Development division.
At the TaylorMade Golf Company, Whan started as Vice President Marketing and over the course of his four-year tenure was promoted to Vice President, Sales and Marketing and eventually EVP/General Manager-North America for Taylormade-adidas Golf. In his role as General Manager, Whan's business unit represented more than 70 percent of the company's worldwide sales and profit.
"Mike possesses substantial leadership experience in golf and sports, the ability to build consensus in complex organizations and a proven track record of building brands," Greis said. "Equally important, his passion for golf is palpable, having grown up playing golf with his father and friends. Mike was the kid hanging around the golf courses, cutting the greens and caddying to earn extra money. He's a great fit for the LPGA on both a professional and personal level."
Whan served as President/Chief Marketing Officer for Britesmile, Inc., from 1999-2002, before returning to sports at Mission Hockey, a hockey equipment company. During his seven-year tenure in the hockey business, he restructured and redefined the company, then acquired Itech Sports to create Mission-Itech Hockey. When Whan finalized the sale of Mission-Itech Hockey late last year, it commanded market share leadership in nine product categories, sales in more than 30 countries and had more than 50 percent of the National Hockey League (NHL) players using the brands.
"We interviewed a number of great candidates, but Mike really stood out as someone with integrity, honesty and a life-long passion for the sport," Alfredsson said. "He will bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the LPGA at a critical time for our association." Added Inkster: "Mike clearly demonstrated a desire to make sure that the LPGA remains the best women's sports organization in the world. He has the whole package of what we were looking for, and he'll do what's needed to make sure that we're successful."
Whan will serve as the LPGA's eighth Commissioner. He and his wife, Meg, and his three children, Austin (15), Wesley (13) and Connor (12), currently live in California and will relocate to Florida, home of the LPGA Headquarters, next year.
The LPGA Board of Directors consists of player members Alfredsson, Inkster, Michelle Ellis, Sherri Steinhauer, Pat Hurst, Christina Kim and Stacy Prammanasudh; Patti Benson, national president of the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals; and independent directors Hudson, Greis, Morton, Bill Susetka and Nancy Wiese.
Press conference to announce Michael Whan as LPGA Commissioner
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
Oct. 28, 2009
DAVID HIGDON, Moderator: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a special LPGA event here at the grand Madison Square Garden in New York City on Wednesday. We appreciate your attendance and appreciate those who are enjoying the day's events and our special announcement today via Golf Channel and some of our other media outlets.
It's a very special day for the LPGA, and I'd first like to start by introducing the principals here with us who made the effort to join us today in New York City. To my left is Leslie Greis, who is a member of the board of directors for the LPGA. She also served as the chair of the search committee for the commissioner.
To her left is Dawn Hudson, chairman of the LPGA board of directors.
In the middle is the man in the middle, who we'll talk about in a moment.
To his left is Helen Alfredsson, LPGA player, superstar, and a member of the LPGA board of directors, who also served as one of two player members on the search committee, along with her fellow player Juli Inkster.
And to the far left is Michelle Ellis, the president of the player body on the player board. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon.
I'd like to first turn it over to Dawn Hudson, our chairman, who will start off today's proceedings. Dawn?
DAWN HUDSON, Chair of the LPGA Board of Directors: Thank you, David, and thank you for joining us here in New York City and around the world via television and other media outlets. Welcome to all. We really appreciate your interest.
Today is a day for you to meet the next commissioner of the LPGA, Mike Whan, and also for us to celebrate the LPGA and the progress the organization has made over the last several months. This fantastic women's golf association is certainly a resilient one, and we now feel also a resurging one. We are back on track and ready to usher in a new era behind a proven leader in sports and golf.
This fantastic association has been very fortunate to have Marty Evans as its acting commissioner at the helm. Her dedication and her relationship building that she has provided the LPGA has given it the stability necessary to weather the current economic storm that is facing and affecting all sports today.
The decision to hire Mike Whan ultimately became an easy one as I'm sure you'll all get a chance to meet and work with Mike. But it was only accomplished due to the hard work and diligence of our search committee and their support team.
I'd like to now turn it over to Leslie Greis, who served as the chair of the search committee, to say a few words about the process and the plan for transition. Leslie?
LESLIE GREIS, Chair of the Commissioner Search Committee: Thank you, Dawn. When we assembled the search committee in July, we knew we faced a daunting but important task. The hiring of a commissioner is one of the most important responsibilities that a board has, but it's not an easy responsibility to carry out. Our job was made even harder by the current economic landscape, the very public profile of this search, and the position of our organization within the world of sports.
Fortunately, the search committee was given the time and resources to conduct a very thorough and meticulous search. The fans and the media were, for the most part, very respectful of the process, and I appreciate those who allowed us to work behind the scenes in our quest to secure the next commissioner of the LPGA.
I'm pleased to say that we had an incredible amount of interest in the position, and many, many, many candidates to choose from. I want to thank everyone who suggested candidates, provided input to the search, acted as references or participated in the process in any way. And I'd like to thank the candidates. Every name and every recommendation we received was researched and vetted within our team, which included the renowned search firm of Spencer Stuart. We held countless conference calls, many interviews and spent hours and hours reviewing candidates, eventually whittling down the large pool.
I can't thank my fellow search committees enough, Bill Morton, Helen Alfredsson, Juli Inkster, who together along with Joie Gregor and many others provided their input and their time. They were a joy to work with, and I'm glad we went through the effort together.
Early on, the search committee began by crafting a job specification. Let me remind you of the ideal experiences we looked for. First, substantial business leadership experience in golf or a sports company; second, a proven track record in building brands on a global scale; third, a demonstrated ability to build consensus across borders and in a high profile environment; and finally, fourth, a passion for and an understanding of golf and the relationships within the golf industry.
With Mike Whan, go down the list. He meets all of those criteria. But that's not all. Think about the intangibles, the fact that he grew up on a golf course, around the golf business. His energetic personality, the fact that he can talk the talk, whether it's in the boardroom or on the golf course. They all add up. Mike Whan is the perfect fit for this organization.
Now, the transition will be smooth between Mike and Marty Evans, our acting commissioner. Marty is in Korea right now, and then she'll continue on to our event in Japan. The two of them will be together in Houston at the LPGA Tour Championship presented by Rolex, where we will be conducting our season-ending player meeting and releasing the 2010 schedule.
Marty will complete the year as acting commissioner and Mike will hit the ground running as LPGA commissioner on January 4, 2010.
Before I turn this back to Dawn, let me conclude this by saying the search committee was absolutely flattered by the sheer volume of candidates and interest in this position which reflects the strength of the LPGA brand, but at the same time we were also touched by the clear and sincere affection shown to the LPGA by many people during this process. I was very proud to be part of it, and I want to thank everyone for their participation.
DAWN HUDSON: Thank you, Leslie, and we certainly appreciate all the time and effort that you and the search committee and your support team put in through this process over the past several months. Maybe now you can get your life back.
Leslie took you through the criteria that we had established for the new commissioner and the accomplishments achieved by Mike. I want to talk to you about the head and the heart of Mike Whan. Certainly he's got the business savvy to function in the challenging role of the commissioner. He's worked in the sports industry and specifically the golf industry; he's been a CEO; he listens first before he talks; he's smart, and he knows how to market; he understands the complexities of reaching out to all of our constituencies.
But equally important is his heart, which is really what set him apart from the other candidates. He loves golf, and he loves giving back. He appreciates women's golf and isn't daunted by the challenges we face but rather sees the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead for the LPGA. He's a dynamic leader whose eyes light up when you talk to him about the LPGA, past, present or future.
Mike will officially join us January 4, 2010, as we've worked out an arrangement for Mike to quietly wrap up his current business activities while at the same time enjoying some family time with his wife and three children. He's got a big move ahead of him, and we want to give him the time to prepare for that and prepare for what will undoubtedly be an exciting 2010 for anyone associated with the LPGA.
Marty Evans will continue as the acting commissioner of the LPGA for the next two months. Please join me in a warm welcome for Mike Whan, the next commissioner of the LPGA.
MIKE WHAN, LPGA Commissioner: Thank you very much. Thank you, Dawn, thank you, Leslie, Michelle, Helen, and really a special thanks to everyone on the LPGA selection committee and the LPGA board of directors. As I sit here today, I could not be happier to join the LPGA at this exciting time.
At this stage of my career, or maybe I'd even say this stage of my life, I really look to three things when I think about the future, and that's people, that's opportunity, and that's passion. When it comes to people, this search more than anything else proved to me that this LPGA organization is literally surrounded with overwhelming talent, and I don't just mean business acumen talent; there's plenty of that, but the value-based passion for the game, passion for the brand, passion for the sport. It's really overwhelming.
The more I got into the process, the more I realized these are the kind of people I want to surround my life with and be a part of.
The second is opportunity, and Dawn mentioned it, but I've never been one that looks at words like issues or challenges or problems as bad words. What they represent is tremendous upside potential. I can't wait to get started, not just because of the upside potential, but because of the base we've already built, but where we can really take the LPGA in the years to come.
Lastly is passion. Leslie and Dawn spoke a little bit about my golf background, both, I guess, on the course and in a boardroom. But golf is special to me. It's been special to me my whole life. I was that crazy high school kid cutting greens at 5:30 in the morning so he could play free golf in the afternoon and caddying on Sundays, and I was the guy who decided to make golf a career move, as well, back in my early 30s and on through my career.
So the opportunity to be part of the golf business in a major way is just too hard to pass up. I really enjoy the game for not only the sport but for the life lessons it's taught me and I'm seeing it teach my kids every day.
With regard to the leadership and the job, I have a personal philosophy about leadership that maybe not everybody understands, so I'll just say it this simply. I believe in listen, learn and lead, and you do it in that order. You've got to listen so that you can learn, and once you've listened and learned, you're prepared to lead. So I tend to believe that my first few months in the position is going to be with pretty large ears and pretty small mouth because I've got more to learn than I've got to offer and beyond, but I can't wait to jump in.
I've had a really unique opportunity to do listen, learn and lead through somebody like Marty Evans, and in my conversations and interviews with Marty I've just been overwhelmed with the straightforward, personal approach she brings, not only to the LPGA, but she's brought to the search with me, and I look forward to learning with, for and together with Marty for quite a long time.
So as I sit here today, I'm humbled to be the next commissioner of the LPGA in what will be its 60th year, and I look forward to great things to come. I've said this to the people at the table and I'll say this to you, I don't take this job lightly; I took this as a personal passion, as a calling more than a position, and I won't let the LPGA players, tournament directors, staff down, because I view this as something that's beyond just a position, so I'll take it that serious.
DAVID HIGDON: Thanks, Mike. You just have to convince the LPGA players that you really know how to cut those greens, because they're very demanding.
Tell me a little bit about how you were introduced to the game. Clearly you started as a kid, but your parents' involvement.
MIKE WHAN: My father started playing early, my mother started playing later in life. There's always a belief that you can't start playing golf late. Well, my mom is a great example of that's not true, because unfortunately now she gives me a pretty good game, and she started much later than me.
My dad always believed that the game of golf was more than just a sport, it was more than just competition, it was life lessons. Sometimes when you're 12, 13, 14 years old, you don't realize you're learning them, but as I think back to the lessons I apply to life every day, a lot of them come right off the golf course.
It's always been I guess I'd call it a safe haven in our family. We try to solve a lot of life's problems out on the golf course between tees and greens, so to me I never feel more at home than walking down a fairway with my mom and dad and my three kids next to me. It's a special place. To me I guess golf has always been a sanctuary as well as a business.
DAVID HIGDON: Your roots with your father go back to his heritage as a Scottish man, so you clearly will be interested in playing St. Andrews someday. Tell us a little bit about that.
MIKE WHAN: It's funny, I know you ask this question and you really don't know the answer. People out there probably think that's not true, but my father and I did go to Scotland when I was in college. I spent a year in London going to school for six months, and at the end of that stint, my father, who had never actually been out of the country at the time, joined me, and he said, "Where are we going to meet," and I said, "I'll meet you on the first tee of the Old Course." Of course, he'd never been out of the country, so he said, "We can't do that; how will we find it?" I'd been over in the UK for a while, and I said, "Trust me, you'll find it."
So we actually met at the first tee of the Old Course. We played for two weeks in Scotland.
My name, Whan, always throws people a little bit, but it was originally MacWhan, Scottish, and we lost the Mac somewhere along the line. I'd have to ask a distant relative to answer that question, but it was originally MacWhan.
DAVID HIGDON: Helen, you actually have a little bit more of a history with Mike than any of us through his association with Taylor Made. Tell us a little bit about the process. I know you spent a lot of time and energy, an amazing amount of commitment to make sure this was the right choice. Give us your sense of why you think this was the right choice and your personal connection with Mike.
HELEN ALFREDSSON, Player Director: As a golfer you don't really always know what's happening in boardrooms and so forth, but personally every time -- not judge somebody, but we have three H's that I call humor, honesty and heart, and it's funny because Mike really fit in all of those categories, and then when you read his bio and how successful he's been, especially in even small businesses, which is similar to the LPGA, it seemed to clear to me from the very beginning when I first met Mike that he would be such a great commissioner for us.
His honesty and integrity was big, big things, too. There was always the truth; he didn't try to tell the right things to be in there, he just said what he felt, and that's something that clearly left a very big thing with us and how he presented himself.
I think it's hard sometimes to sit there, and obviously it's the first time I've been a part of the search process, and not to sit there and try to say the right things because everybody thinks that they want to hear, but Mike really clearly said his words in the way he put it, and I think we heard from him here and why we liked him so much, and I think the players are going to be super happy with the way that he is. And I think they'll probably get to beat him in golf, too, which I did the first time.
DAVID HIGDON: Those are three H's, but I think the truth really is that the fourth H, hockey, played a part in this.
HELEN ALFREDSSON: Yeah, I think for me, when you've been in sports and you understand the passion, not -- obviously he's played golf, he's been in hockey, which is obviously very dear to me being Swedish, but these are sports where there's a lot of passion. And when you've been around it, you know what it takes to reach the top, and obviously Mike has been very successful in every aspect of his life with three wonderful kids that he cares so much about, which is something that obviously we appreciate a lot, being all women with kids and stuff. Yeah, I think we're very, very happy with our choice.
DAVID HIGDON: And you'll get to introduce yourself to the fifth H, your husband, after this process.
Last but never least, as the president of the player board, Michelle Ellis, who is on the front line talking to the players all the time, I'm wondering if you could give us a little bit of a sense, since the board made this selection last night and the players, of course, are in Korea, I know you are talking to them fairly regularly. What are you hearing, and what can you share with us on your initial impressions about Mike?
MICHELLE ELLIS, LPGA President: Firstly, I think the players are going to be very excited. It's been a process that's lasted for a few months now, and they've been excited and curious on how the process goes and how it's been coming along. We haven't been obviously able to share too much with the players, but with the search committee, with having Juli and Helen part of that search committee, we were quite confident that having two players on there that we could share both opinions on the sense of the business side from Leslie and Bill from the board of directors, and on the player side with Juli and Helen.
There hasn't been too much back and forth with the players. The players have also been really busy playing and traveling around the world, too. So I'm very excited to introduce Mike to them at the players meeting in Houston, and I can't reiterate enough what Helen and Dawn and Leslie have said, that I think he's going to be a great asset to the LPGA.
DAVID HIGDON: Thank you, Michelle. And if the technology is successful, we believe we have Marty Evans on the line from South Korea at our event.
MARTY EVANS, Acting LPGA Commissioner: Yes, I'm here.
DAVID HIGDON: Tell us what time it is in South Korea.
MARTY EVANS: It's 10:38 p.m.
DAVID HIGDON: Obviously as we've discussed today, the board made this decision to hire Mike. It was your morning when that decision was made, so you spent a day in South Korea with the players, with some of our key sponsors. What are you hearing, and what can you tell us about Mike from your perspective?
MARTY EVANS: Well, I think the first thing is everybody is very, very happy. That has been the number one question, who's the new commissioner going to be. And we had always said someone by the end of the year. So I think there's great relief that word has come sooner than the end of the year.
People, I think, are just gathering the facts from the various news releases and stories now that are hitting the wires, and I think they're very, very excited. I think people dreamed of a commissioner that would come with some significant sports background in addition to passion, energy, intellect, all of the key ingredients. So I think there's very great excitement.
I've been asked by several different people have I had a chance to meet with Mike, and I'm very excited to tell people, not only did I meet with him, but we had a very substantive discussion over several hours and then a couple of follow-up discussions. I'm very happy to endorse, to tell people that the transition is going to be very smooth, and that they are going to be very excited about the opportunities for the LPGA under Mike's leadership.
DAVID HIGDON: Marty, you're on the ground obviously at our event this week. Tell us a little bit about the excitement about LPGA in South Korea and obviously next week in Japan before we return to the Americas with our final two events in Mexico and in Houston.
MARTY EVANS: Well, yes, indeed, we are in Seoul, Korea, where the golf course is very, very close by the international airport. I think my first sense of how excited everyone is was the welcoming party. I was actually taken into the room to be officially welcomed, taken into the room where heads of state are welcomed to South Korea. So that gives you a sense, I think, of where the South Koreans rank golf and the LPGA especially.
We have one tournament this year in South Korea, and there's very great enthusiasm and desire for us to have more than one. And so we're getting all kinds of questions about what the possibilities are.
We have great interest from a number of both current sponsors, but even more importantly, from prospective sponsors that we have had extensive discussions with, and so it's very exciting to be here and hopefully nail down some of the great opportunities.
The players are excited about being here. The facilities are fabulous. The hospitality is great. And then when we finish in Korea this coming Sunday, everyone will move over to Japan, just south of Nagoya, Japan, for the Mizuno Classic. That has a great field, as well, just like the Korean tournament, the Hana Bank tournament.
From there we go to Guadalajara for Lorena Ochoa's invitational tournament, and finally the week before Thanksgiving, the big week of the end of the season, we'll name the Rolex Player of the Year, the Rookie of the Year, and we'll have a great championship in Houston, Texas. So it's a good finish to the year, and I think everyone is looking forward to the 18th of November when we'll be announcing the 2010 schedule.
I promise you, it's going to be a great schedule.