It's a festival of 19th Century words for extreme outrage (such as apoplexy) around the IndyCar horn this morning. The froth hit grand mal stages yesterday shortly after 5 p.m. Central when @JennaFryer of the AP tweeted: "#IndyCar News: Randy Bernard has stepped down as CEO. Jeff Belskus will be interim CEO." By this morning it was still gurgling.
Shout out to my boy Andy Miller (@thespeedgeek) for first using "apoplexy" on The Twitter to characterize the reaction. #NailedIt.
Part Amateur Circus, Part Shit Show, All Unfortunate -- First, let's catch up on stuff. Randy Bernard, CEO of IndyCar since, ah, March 2010 (story of his hiring here) resigned yesterday. It's pretty clear that, while he technically resigned, Bernard was forced out either overtly ("resign or be fired") or by the fact that he felt or realized he had lost the kind of board of directors support needed to continue.
The 11-person board of directors that is the ultimate boss in IndyCar met late yesterday in an "emergency session" and after that the announcement popped out.
All this came two days after rumors swirled that Bernard had been or was soon to be gone as CEO of IndyCar. The IndyCar board PR peeps issued a lame statement Friday saying Randy was still CEO. I frothed about that here.
In any event, Bernard was gone, officially, Sunday. Cue the Festival of Freaked out Tweeting, some of which even surprised me, and I'm no stranger to freaked-out tweeting by any means. At the high point of the froth it was like a favorite brother-in-law got fired by the BASTARDS! People tweeting SCREW YOU, INDYDCAR! and generally hurling invective over the ouster. Again, I've been known to hurl invective myself, so I render no judgment on said hurlers, but the depth of the reaction kind of surprised me.
But no drivers I follow tweeted anything about it (that I saw. I could have missed the odd tweet). And only one team that I saw (Andretti Autosport) issued a statement (thanking him or everything he's done, etc. read it here).
My reaction and the issues as I seem them --(and please feel free add your reactions in the comments)
My biggest disappointment in this entire shit show is how it was handled. Honestly. Companies change CEOs all the time for various reasons, almost always including some political crap, but they manage to do it in a professional manner. IndyCar failed utterly, again, to do things in a professional manner. As Graham Rahal tweeted Friday, "Come on people either keep Randy or fire him but this is foolish and embarrassing for this sport." (actual tweet here).
I don't often agree with Mr. Rahal, but he nailed that one. The board should have gotten together, made the call to fire or support, and announce said decision. Letting stuff drag on and on is "foolish and embarrassing." Then to issue a "technically correct" statement re: Bernard's ouster on Friday, that was just icing on the amateur-hour cake. All this leaves IndyCar's board of directors' credibility is below zero.
Weep not for Randy Bernard -- Right up front, I'm pretty sure Bernard got some kind of settlement as part of his leaving. He had 2.5 years left on his "contract," so I think he got some noticeable cash.
A couple of other interesting things here. First, when Bernard was announced as the new CEO in 2010, I recall a wave of incredulity sweeping over the hard-core. Bernard had never even been to an IndyCar race before he came over to run the show from the Professional Bull Riders Association (PBA). Cue the 2010 outrage. He was a joke and "the cowboy" and "Ropin' Randy." Let the record show I wasn't among them condemning. I though the series needed outside perspective and a guy who was free from them petrified layers of tradition that had fossilized IndyCar.
Now, 2.5 years later, Randy is beloved! Just based on my Twitter reading the guy was highly revered by the fans and media. Hmmmm. Why? Well a few reasons.
1) He benefited from being the successor to a widely disliked CEO (Tony George). When you take over for a guy who a lot of people despise (without getting into whether that's justified) and who NEVER speaks publicly to anyone, EVER, well you're going to look good if you just do media interviews. The contrast in openness from George to Bernard could not have been more stark. Bernard met with the media at every race. He gave interviews to everybody, including bloggers. He hobnobbed with the media. He attracted regular coverage from the Associated Press. He even won over Robin Miller who went from Ropin' Randy to his biggest advocate. That's almost miraculous all by itself.
Bernard went beyond "breath of fresh air." It was like the moon suddenly got a breathable atmosphere. I bet Bernard did more media in the first month than George did in 13 years. IndyCar's CEO needs to be the head cheerleader and promoter and spokesperson for the league. That's a key part of the job.
2) He said the fans were important, repeatedly. Again, a breathtaking change from the sphinx-like prior IndyCar which relatively rarely mentioned fans. Fans (including this one), naturally, like a guy who repeatedly says they matter.
3) He tried new stuff. Some ideas failed, sure, but some didn't. IndyCar desperately needed to bust out of a rut of sameness, and the only way you do that is have the courage to try new things. Bernard pushed through the new car chassis and engines when many owners wanted to delay, yet again. On that point Bernard was unequivocally vindicated since the new chassis and engines were what dramatically improved the on-track product in 2012. Ironically issues around the costs of the new car -- which remember was responsible for excellent on-track product -- would play a role in his ouster.
4) He replaced the much-maligned Brian Barnhart with Beaux Barfield. Actually, Brian Barnhart probably understands how Randy Bernard feels right now, since I think Barnhart got involuntarily bounced out of his job as race steward. After a series of decisions caused Barnhart to lose the support of the paddock, Bernard moved him aside (in my opinion) and Barfield came in. Again, Barfield was a Festival of Extreme Openness compared to the guarded Barnhart who remained with IndyCar but receded to the background. Fans like openness. They like a chief steward who explains his calls and is concerned that the fans understand what's going on. They like a chief steward who interacts with fans in general. Fans (including me) eat openness and transparency like candy. Even if we don't agree with the decisions, we fans love the fact that we're respected enough to get an explanation of said decision. And Barfield did a reasonable job in his first season.
All of that and probably some more caused a swell of love among the hard-core. But, there are also lots of unknowns. Nobody is perfect, and there were IndyCar employees, fans and definitely teams and drivers who weren't Bernard fans. Nobody knows (at least I've not heard anyone say) if Bernard was a hell of a guy around the office or a tyrannical bastard.
Just hypothetically (again, I have no inside knowledge here) but -- in theory -- if your product is awesome but all your employees hate you and are quitting right and left and your suppliers think you suck, and you offend random board members, you're in trouble. If you deal with dissent and contrary positions by saying "shut up and do it" you're on your way out. In any corporation. Did any of this apply to Bernard? I don't know. I don't think anyone outside IndyCar knows (and those who have some idea aren't talking about it), which is why I'm not frothing off re: Bernard's departure. From what I can see, Bernard did a lot of good things for IndyCar and merited another year. But I can't see everything and I try not to froth too much in a vacuum of facts. We know the quality of the racing, but we don't know all this other stuff that factors into whether a CEO is retained or not.
Also, the average fan (the ones who have lives don't focus obsessively on Twitter and blogging) probably doesn't care that much. If the product continues to be good, they'll be happy. If not, they'll be pissed. That's the bottom line for the vast majority of customers.
I'm not trivializing the people who care passionately about who is CEO. By no means. Said passion shows that they are concerned for the future of the sport. That's awesome. It's just a mistake to think that all fans are like those of us who focus on these kind of detailed issues.
Also, be happy for Bernard. He's free from the drama with a handsome parting gift. When it's over, it's over. Time to get out. He'll get reacquainted with his family and have a lot less stress. All good. It's like having a friend stuck in a burning house. You can either say "stay there until I put the fire out," or throw him or her a fireproof coat, or pull him or her out of the fire. I bet Randy Bernard slept like a baby last night. Enjoy rediscovering life, Randy.
Bottom line: the next CEO will tell the tale -- The idea that Randy Bernard, even if you give him credit for all kinds of stuff and the benefit of the doubt all over the place, is irreplaceable as CEO of IndyCar makes me coffee spew. Nobody is irreplaceable. And it's just possible that IndyCar will hire a new man or woman who has more skills than Bernard. (I didn't say "probable" I said "possible." Keep hope alive.) It's also possible that IndyCar will hire someone who has no skills or track record of creating a customer-focused organization, innovating, having a constant-improvement approach and can build internal coalitions around ideas. It's possible IndyCar will hire some random person who does whatever owners want. Then again it's possible they hire a highly skilled professional. So I'm in wait-and-see mode.
Maybe Bernard's legacy is in showing the board that having a customer-focused person at the top is the best way to make money -- by most accounts Bernard made progress in getting IndyCar out of the red -- and making money always gets the board's support.
So I'll be watching to see who succeeds Bernard before I'm either filled with hope or out the door.