Messick to WTC - analysis

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.