The Colorado Springs Business Journal will welcome Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, at the Journal’s COS CEO Leadership Lessons event from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Garden of the Gods Collection. Blackmun will share his thoughts on leadership, lessons learned overseeing the USOC and the importance of the Olympic movement on an international stage — as well as how the USOC brings the national spotlight to Colorado Springs.
Following is a Q&A the Journal conducted with Blackmun for the event.
Scott Blackmun made his return to Colorado Springs from Los Angeles to practice law. In 2010, a phone call would result in his taking the position of chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee. Blackmun was returning to the Pikes Peak region and the Olympic committee, having worked for the USOC, first as general counsel, in 1999.
Since taking the helm nearly seven years ago, Blackmun has refocused the organization and, under his direction, Team USA topped the overall medal counts at the 2010, 2012 and 2016 Games. Blackmun has also been instrumental in dramatically increasing net philanthropic giving and led the organization in negotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee and extending NBC’s broadcast agreement through 2032.
Additionally, in 2012, the USOC was named Sports League of the year and Blackmun was named Sports Executive of the Year by SportsBusiness Journal.
Blackmun, who resides in Colorado Springs, spoke with the Business Journal about athletics, philosophy and discovering his leadership style.
Where are you from and how did you get to Colorado Springs?
I was born in Gary, Ind., but we moved around the Midwest. My dad was in the steel business and we lived in Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis, the Quad Cities — all over the Midwest.
I went to college on the East Coast and law school on the West Coast. I started practicing law here in Colorado and was lucky enough to do some work for the USOC. As a result, they invited me to join them on their staff in 1999. I had a great experience and the opportunity to do things other than practice law. I had a good three years before I went to Los Angeles, and joined Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke at [the Anschutz Entertainment Group] for about five years. I came back here and practiced law for a couple years, and the USOC called in late 2009 and asked if I’d be interested in coming back. I said, ‘You bet.’
What are your responsibilities as CEO?
Our mission is pretty focused. It used to be very broad, but we changed it so it would be limited to sustained competitive excellence at the Olympic and Paralympic games. That’s a fancy way of saying my job is to be sure as many Americans as possible have a chance to win a medal at the Games.
We’ve got 47 national governing bodies and each has oversight over a particular sport. Our primary contribution to the endeavor of winning medals comes in the form of the resources we can generate. Our budget is about $200 million a year, and we have to go out and raise that each year. We’re the only Olympic committee from a nation in the developed world that isn’t government-supported.
Were you born wanting leadership roles?
I think it’s evolved. I was a philosophy major in college, which is kind of a solitary pursuit more than it is a training ground for leadership. I consider myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to lead organizations. I think my style is more cerebral and practical than it is inspirational. I believe in leading by example and making sure your team has the support they need and try to give them every opportunity to do their jobs.
What are the challenges of representing a global brand?
We have so many different constituents. We have our athletes … but we also have 47 governing bodies, each of which wants our help to develop their sport. I think the toughest part is making the decisions to allocate resources to one sport or one athlete versus another. The way we do that is through a return-on-investment analysis. We say we can invest so much money in this sport and down the road it will result in this kind of medal performance.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. There are so many different styles of leadership, but I think leadership works best when it’s authentic.
How have you failed and what have you learned?
There are two failures that stand out. I defined myself as a soccer player in high school and went to college as a goalkeeper. There can only be one [starting] goalkeeper and two of us showed up. We both thought we’d be the starting goalkeeper for the next four years, and I lost that battle. I think having to go through that process of redefining who you are and what’s important has been beneficial.
Also, in 2001, when I was acting executive director [for the USOC], I was also a candidate for permanent CEO. I didn’t get the job. I think it was the best thing to happen to me. I learned a lot about business and people when I went to AEG in Los Angeles. When I finally did get the job in 2010, I think I was much better positioned. Also, I don’t think the USOC was ready to be transformed or led in 2001. It was only after a series of embarrassing snafus that we restructured ourselves. It’s made all the difference in the world.
What’s something about you that might surprise people?
I’m a pretty transparent guy, so I’m not sure what that would be. Maybe that I’m a philosophy major.