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Messick to WTC - analysis

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Tue May 31 2011

It's been my observation in the generation since Valerie Silk sold the Hawaiian Ironman that World Triathlon Corporation represents muscle, structure, skin and brains. It's been all that on steroids since 2004, when Ben Fertic (pictured adjacent) took its helm.

Fertic took what was—intentionally and purposely under its former president Lew Friedland—a licensing company, and changed direction. He transformed it into an event production company, buying back and absorbing Ironman licenses and events around the world or, when license holders refused to sell, simply not renewing the license. Fertic took the WTC reins with two owned events, and he's now handing the chief executive baton to Andrew Messick with WTC owning and running a stable of events that approaches two-hundred in number.

In September, 2008, as Fertic was constructing and executing his WTC overhaul—which also included launching the immensely successful 70.3 brand and buying and firming up the intellectual property necessary to protect the company's future—the Gills family sold WTC to private equity firm Providence Equity Partners. If Fertic had been on a tear, the transfer of WTC's ownership propelled him further. He was like the football lineman in a sled drill. The sale allowed Fertic to shed the harness, lose the sled and run unhindered.

Financial metrics are not public for WTC but what is known is that today, in 2011, World Triathlon Corporation is fifty times bigger that it was in 2004, when Fertic took over, in terms of staff. It's one-hundred times bigger in terms of owned events.

So why, if WTC has grown and prospered so large and so quickly under Fertic's leadership is there now the need to place a CEO over him? Fertic has a skillset, and he correctly understands what it is and what it isn't. Fertic is immensely smart, that is to say, he's a great brain. And he's tough, that is: if you're building an organism and you're looking for tough skin, Fertic is shoe leather.

But you need more than brain and skin to function.
Here's an Andrew Messick (pictured) anecdote. As many Slowtwitchers know, I rode the Amgen Tour of California Time Trial this year. As the venue in Solvang was being torn down, at 5pm or so, with the traveling circus heading south for the queen stage atop Mt. Baldy the following day, I ran into him. "Hey, can you point me to where the amateur results might be for the time trial?"

He walked me over to the timing area and inquired as they were tearing down and getting ready to move south with the rest of the caravan. They didn't have results. Nobody knew where the results might be. Andrew promised that I'd have the results emailed that evening.

For those who haven't seen the AToC live, think of the Hawaiian Ironman, taking place every day for a week, the entire construction and tear-down happening in a new town every day—with day of race TV. There are certainly a lot of things on the mind of the person putting on this event.

Yet, as I was having dinner in a restaurant that night, checking my email via wifi, there it was, showing up at 9pm, the results from the TT, sent from Andrew Messick's email address.

Here's what you need to know about WTC's new CEO: He cares about the user experience. Every user. Fans, spectators, vendors, sponsors, licensees, amateurs, professionals, volunteers, media. His attention to detail is stratospheric, even as he manages the big picture.

Ironman has for twenty years been a company expert in muscle, skin and brains. Andrew Messick is well-prepared to be its face. And maybe its heart. But you need it all. While you never know the back story when acquisitions or changes in chief executive take place, my sense is that Fertic isn't leaving. Rather, he and Messick will form a complementary—and efficient—management team.


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More on Messick's history - WTC public...eventually 4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Jim, Jun 2 2011 2:36PM

Great article. A couple of interesting additional facts about Messick: A former Exec. in the NBA and a McKinsey guy and Yale MBA. There's likely more to this change up than just moving the needle with growth in the Ironman brand and events. I'll bet they take this thing public.

Good but is it good enough? 4 out of 5 stars


Reviewed by: Bob, May 31 2011 9:39PM

Nice commentary, but frankly WTC is in need of a huge course correction. They're heavy handed with the people that live (and volunteer) in the race locals (and Kona in particular), play games with age group slots, depreciate other venues (as was done at IM ST. George in 2010 by a high placed WTC exec in public) and pros would much rather be racing under the Challenge banner. They've managed to lose races overseas (IM Kora, IM Malaysia, IM Japan) and allowed the Challenge series to become a better prodcut by dfeault. Good riddance to the past CEO and this guy has his work cut out for him.

Messick to helm 4 out of 5 stars

Dan Empfield

Reviewed by: Tiffany Heindel, May 31 2011 2:51PM

Super article and I'm hopeful to see more changes in favor of the athlete - the age-groupers, specifically. I'd like to see 1) wait lists 2) refund with medical excuse 3) deferral opportunity. When laying down that much money one year ahead of time, who knows what will be going on ... many women will find themselves pregnant and just SOL with regard to the $660 they dropped to register. This just seems patently unfair. The up-and-coming race producers are presenting more athlete-friendly policies. This makes me happy. I hope IM - which I understand is a business - will bend a bit in this area. As an aside, I recently returned from IMSG. I made 2 errors, resulting in me leaving behind my bike pump (split transitions are TOUGH to think through logistically!) and a bike crash leaving me with a concussion and forgetting to pick up my special needs bag, which contained a glucometer (I'm a T1 diabetic) and some expensive running shoes. I was VERY impressed, and pleasantly surprised that the race director was more than generous and helpful in getting these items back to me. Jeff Gardner went ABOVE AND BEYOND my expectations in helping me get these items back to me. I was fully prepared to lose all three, but, due to his personal effort, and a staff that also went beyond expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to get these items back. Luck? yes. But let's not take away from Jeff and his fantastic staff and their effort in going the extra steps for me. I truly appreciate it. I'm not in that "median salary range" they list in their statistics - the loss of those items would have been a pretty good financial hit for me to replace. My respect and perception of Ironman brand went way up after this experience, after taking a dive-bomb during the Ironman Access debacle last fall! Kudos to Jeff Gardner, his staff, and Ironman brand for reviving my respect for them! Now I've just booked a vacation to Kona for the Championships, where I am looking forward to volunteering for the race!