If only there were a place we could centralize information regarding the issues I have brought up concerning USAR Board performance, RIM, the PRO debacle, and the most important issues – financial performance & governance by our leadership, both on the USAR Board, and RIM Board.
Why I am doing this.
The reason I am taking on this task resonates from a 64-0 beating the Eagles took at the hands of South Africa at RWC 2015. I turned around amongst all the condescending South Africans I was with (courtesy of AIG’s hospitality), to see none other than then CEO Nigel Melville & Chair Bob Latham in the arms of two South African models in one of the suites getting their photos taken. I watched the body language. I watched before and after – it was like we had won the game. I was a little alarmed, but still more furious/embarrassed at the result than anything else. I was not aware of the education that was in front of me over these past two years. That night I saw interviews with Melville and then coach Mike Tolkin and the self-deprecating and ‘we are on the right journey’ conversation that we have listened to for decades. I made a phone call back to the States to a prominent member of our community (a USRF Hall of Famer) familiar with the topic, and he said ‘TR, I’ve been waiting to have this discussion for a number of years’.
Eagle results are the culmination of all the work and effort being put in down to the youth level
At that point, I just wanted to find out what was going on. How could we talk of two wins in our pool, and get thrashed as we did? Not that the RWC results are an indicator of the growth of rugby in our country, but at a certain level it is the representation of all the work (from 6 year olds playing all the way through CEO Dan Payne). This is my point.
I have studied and written on this topic for close to two years, and we have seen the situation worsen. Don’t consider the passion, experience, and knowledge of the author – just look at the results; the shameless video’s that our Board has forced our CEO to make with his hands out, literally begging for money to support USAR’s programs like the Women’s World Cup and most recently, the U/20’s trip to Edmonton.
Why this is important to the youth participants in America
I am providing the American rugby community (as a central figure) the information required to make an informed choice on whether the mediocre performance of our Board/RIM over the past years is acceptable any longer. I say no. Having represented the USA in 3 Rugby World Cups, with all the work, effort, and passion I know that each girl and boy is putting into this sport to attain their own individual goals – every single day, every single dollar, every training session… is all marginalized by the failure of our Board to provide structure, leadership, accountability and most importantly financial results.
My work has led me to the Rugby Business Executives Association meeting last week, where Chairman Will Chang, RIM Chair (and USAR Board member) Chad Keck, and RIM CEO David Sternberg spoke on several panels. It was at this point, where I reached my conclusion – ‘enough is enough’. The lack of transparency, accountability, vision, and acknowledgement of poor performance by these three was egregious. Reach out to anyone who was there (that has the knowledge, experience, and understanding of the combined issues I have written/spoken of). I will be ‘tagging’ several of these people on Facebook, etc.., so they might comment. I open this forum to every person to say ‘I disagree with TR’. They won’t.
Thanks everyone for your support on social media. It’s unfortunate we have to use social media due to the lack of coordinated and funded media (something I would seek to initiate as Chair), so that is the vehicle I have chosen to communicate. It still is fractured, and in talking with a congress person on the phone just yesterday, there is a lack of education/understanding (no ones fault!) about these vital issues regarding rugby in our future. This is not a vote, or a popularity contest. It is a parliamentary process in our ByLaws that USAR Congress must adhere to. See below.
What Ethos/DNA do we want from our leadership?
Rugby is exploding at furious pace in America. This sport is a BEAST. So many issues to overcome. Our Chair told me in person during our first planned interaction a few months ago, ‘Tony, I have a day job’. I’m not saying that’s not a fair statement to make, but is that what we want in the DNA of our Chair? RIM Chair and USAR Board member Chad Keck told me he spent 6 weeks in New Zealand last summer in the height of Super and Bledisloe cup Season. He did not attend one game, nor set up one meeting with an NZRFU representative. Chad called this a personal fishing vacation. I call it ‘missed opportunities’.
The American Rugby community (through Congress) must have an opportunity to make a choice
I am asking the rugby community of America to make a choice. This is not a social media popularity contest. This is about the responsible governance of our Union and how it relates to financial performance. This is not an endorsement for ‘me’, but rather a certified statement that we can no longer tolerate the mediocre financial results, performance and commitment we are seeing from our leadership.
If you think I have the qualities for such a role, I encourage you to tell someone in a position that can make a difference. That person resides in the USA Rugby Congress. Regardless, tell them what you think.
In a few weeks (July 29) Congress has the vote to ratify the nominations for two Board nominees. The first would be a new member, a female from Colorado (it’s supposed to be a secret, but I can’t count how many people were talking about it in San Diego, so I don’t think I am violating national security). The second will be the re-nomination of current RIM Chairman and USAR Board member, Chad Keck.
My Strong Recommendation and Request : Do not ratify one of the Nominations
This Board needs a female, and finally we are getting one. Note, I am not considering the two international athlete Board representatives, one male/one female who have differing responsibilities than the ‘at-large members’.
I have a proposal to Congress. If you believe in the absolute need for change at the leadership, I ask you to not ratify the re-nomination of Chad Keck on the USAR Board. Note, he is a well attending, caring servant to the game. No question. He will still be the Chairman of RIM, so it’s not like he won’t be around whether or not he is wearing the hat of USAR Board member. There are bylaws that call for USAR and RIM to have three members holding seats in each entity. Note, the CEO of USAR does not have a seat on the RIM Board, although ‘his organization’ is the 75% owner in RIM.
Another Option: Review Board Performance/Attendance
Another consideration is to review Board performance/attendance of individual members. It is clear that several of these fine American’s are simply too busy to give rugby in America the time it deserves. Rugby should be in the DNA of our Director’s. It clearly is not. And it doesn’t matter – the results show all. Congress has the power to remove Board members for such considerations. Several of our distinguished Board members serve on multiple Boards and clearly have not demonstrated they have the time to commit to this extraordinary task.
Who should populate the USAR and RIM Boards?
The makeup of the Board’s no longer represents the respective purpose (I would say ‘mission’, but USAR has no stated mission) of each Board.
With the separation of USAR and it’s ‘for profit arm’, RIM – perhaps we should look at who populates each Board. USAR Chair, Will Chang is a sports executive (SF Giants, Japanese soccer team, DC United etc..). In this case, wouldn’t he be better suited on the RIM Board as Chair? Not taking anything away from Chad Keck, I fail to see the value these gentlemen are providing actually to USAR – who’s duty it is to provide programs for its members and put out competitive elite teams. RIM is where these gentlemen should reside.
Another thought: The USAR Board just added the former Exec VP of Marketing from McDonalds. I would think that a marketing/branding person would be more suited to the RIM Board. There are several other cases.
RIM is where the financial guys should be. Chang/Keck, etc… The USAR Board should be populated with at least ONE person who played the game at a high level (currently there is not one USAR Board member who participated on the field at higher than a club level). If there was some rugby knowledge on the USAR Board, we could then start to attack issues like fully monetizing and exposing the college game, unlike the piecemeal strategy we have now. I approach business largely from the organizational effectiveness lens. Consider this idea regarding realignment at the Board level.
- Will Chang: Played Rugby at Harvard and Palo Alto RFC. Serves on numerous Boards.
- Rob King: Played Rugby at Fairfield Uni, and Maroon/Essex (NY). Serves on numerous Boards
- Chad Keck: Played at USMA, Manhattan, Washington, and Dallas Harlequins. Technology M&A, raises capital for tech companies
- Bob Kimmett: Played at USMA, Ft. Sill (Gunners!!), Ft. Campbell, Washington Irish. Distinguished Graduate USMA. Former Ambassador to Germany.
- Peter Secchia: Did not play. Goldman Sachs executive.
- Dean Barrett: Did not play. Former Snr VP and Global Marketing officer for MacDonald’s.
- Jeremiah Johnson: Congress Rep to the Board. Referee/player at the Club levels. Insurance executive.
- Tony Ridnell: Represented USA in 3 Rugby World Cups. 14 caps, over 100 appearances in an Eagle Jersey. Played from age 10 until injury forced retirement in 1994. Founder and 23-year CEO of TRInternational, Inc, a a global chemical company with 28 employees (same as USAR). Currently serves on no other Board.
CEO Payne was present at the RBEA when his Board bosses were on stage. He was on stage with them. He won’t tell you his opinion, and I respect him for that, and I don’t know his opinion (I would never think to ask him). He must feel completely hamstrung. Imagine being a CEO of an organization and having such little direct input, knowledge and understanding – and ZERO operational input to your ‘financial arm’.
Why was RIM founded?
Keck told me “RIM was founded because potential sponsors wouldn’t answer our calls from the NGB”. I submit that if we had the right people making the calls, and have a solid message, plan, business plan to support it, etc.., they would call back.
Other Discussions with USAR Board/RIM at RBEA
Again, it might not be the concept of RIM that is poor. The point is the results are piss-poor. I have seen the Global Sponsorship Director in action. Nothing special there, but she has lots of Delta Miles (missed more than a day of the event, having flown on Delta after a cancelled flight foregoing the nonstop option on a different airline), and apparently no USAR logo gear to wear at sites like the HK 7’s the largest sponsorship opportunity in the world. I have seen Sternberg on stage, literally squirming having to answer questions about the results of his company, RIM. The entity that is supposed to provide revenue for all the kids/youth programs USAR is seeking to initiate, grow, prosper. His response on the ‘change in model’ at The Rugby Channel was false – with zero apology for blowing over $1,000,000 on a model that could NEVER work (i.e. International Rugby Competition licensing – i.e. see NBC, ESPN, and now FLO Rugby) and acting like it was their original idea to try and show local USA programming.
RIM’s failure to perform is choking CEO Payne’s ability to provide USAR programs to its members.
Sternberg spoke of USA Rugby being guaranteed no loss from the hosting of the Rugby World Cup. He made a point to identify that ‘USAR is the only NGB who could say that’. He failed to say that USAR is the only USOC NGB with any entity such as RIM, and failed to correlate the fact that as 75% owner of RIM there is a distinct correlation to a huge loss for USAR. The number thrown around was a ‘potential loss of $2-3MM’ with some discuss of upside potential. There was no discussion why ATT Stadium (in which Chang has an ownership interest) was selected as the tournament site, although no RFP was ever issued to test the economic opportunities in different locations.
RIM is like SUM. No, Will – it isn’t.
Chang compared RIM to SUM (Soccer United Marketing), failing to recognize that SUM is owned by individual Billionaires who own franchises in the context of a league. The better comparison is MLR is like SUM. He also failed to note that in Soccer, USA Soccer retained all the rights to its brand and licensing, something that RIM cannot say about USAR.
I have studied this situation for close to two years. I may be the only person that understands the level of detail required to tell these stories. I am not the enemy. I have played in the USA jersey over 100 times. I want to work with Dan Payne and make American rugby relevant in the world; that includes having the most kids playing, but most importantly a World Class organization that is held in the highest regarding, not only amongst World Rugby NGB’s, but also amongst United States Olympic Committee NGB’s.
A lot of people ask me, ‘what’s your plan for xxx, what’s your plan for yyy?’. I have ideas that I will align with CEO Payne, and he and I together with evangelize the sport domestically, and gain the reputation of a World Class Organization globally. These are the standards to which we will adhere. I have not discussed with Payne. I can only assume with his passion and unconditional love for the sport and this country – he will find this a refreshing option.
I have been told by a member of Congress, “I could support you, but I don’t like your tact”. This is a very fair statement. I ask: Where does a concerned CIPP’d/Member of USAR who expects this organization to be run with the principles of the best practices of World Class Organizations ask such questions? Is there a forum? Congress is tasked with this function, but does not have a leader! I was granted a meeting with Chang and Keck, where the first 10 minutes of the 30 allotted was spent by Chang waxing about the support in Congress (we heard that at RBEA as well, so I was familiar with the content), and was literally blown off – they advised me to contact a congress member or my International Athlete rep. That is exactly what I am doing.
What to do? How can the membership influence Congress?
Many people have asked me, ‘what can I do to help’. This is a congressional By Law process, and here is what we need them to do. Write Congress, write the Board, write Dan Payne. Recommend the following.
- First, vote on change. Do not ratify Keck. It appears there is currently no procedure for a ‘re-nomination’ if a Board member does not get ratified. However, and per legal counsel, there is a clause in the Bylaws (Section 16) called a ‘saving’ clause. Although this clause is poorly written and is missing key words; it can be an option for Congress to take to initiate their own Board member choice.
- Vote for a change in the ByLaws such that the Chairman is voted by an independent, but vested agency outside of the Board.
- Consider the United States Rugby Foundation. This is a group of long time, committed American Rugby people who have served from Youth all the way to Eagle Managers, Coaches, and Captains. The organization and its individuals have shown lifelong commitment and dedication to rugby in America. They will make an informed, well intended choice. The USRF is the cross section of the American Rugby populace that should be able to have more say in the governance, and more importantly – governs this Union. This is something for consideration anyway.
- Review and Change the Board nominating process. The person tasked with the Chair of that committee, is arguably the most powerful single decision maker in the whole process
- She has a self-described ‘different opinion’ on what she sees in a Board and what she wants from a Board member. Please meet as a congress and determine exactly what it is you want from your Board, and its members. Instruct your nominating Chair accordingly. Resume’s filled with experience are a dime a dozen. Political figures to Stadium owners. Big deal, if you cannot make a difference, or show enough care to show up – or, understandably don’t have the time to show up. USAR desperately needs true commitment from its Board. Every member.
Regardless, if you want to make it happen (Congress), you can. Change the ByLaws regarding the Chairman selection. You choose who you want that person to be. He is not currently sitting in the Chair. Either one of them.
At this point, with the systemic failure of RIM (and The Rugby Channel), and the lack of transparency surrounding RIM and the USAR Board – it is up to the Congress to step forward. From my seat, if the Congress does not actively seek this change, the individual members and the collective Congress become complicit in this failed performance. Congress has the power. Please use it.
Transparency, Energy, Understanding of the Game on and off the field, Passion, the ability to communicate to CEOs and Children, Financial acumen and the ability to raise money, … What is it we want in the position of Chair?
This is an all-in moment. All Hands-on Deck. End the cycle of mediocrity. Make American Rugby relevant, everywhere. Tots to Tests.
Other Articles I have posted on this topic:
- USA Rugby Chairman Priorities/first 100 days – Tony Ridnell
- Video (7.7.17): Tony Ridnell on Integrity, USA Rugby Board, CEO Neutering, & Congress making a Bold Move!
- Video: Tony Ridnell on USA Rugby Chairman job, & an Education on RIM
- A Strong Request to the USA Rugby Congress: Tony Ridnell, Chairman