Mike Dolan presents an altogether different picture from IMG founder Mark McCormack’s vision and creativity. He presents a striking contrast from former IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann’s autocracy and attraction to the glamour side of sports. Even at the most senior levels of sports, there are a surprising number of executives who don’t know IMG Chairman and CEO Mike Dolan’s name, since he did not rise through the ranks of sports properties and agencies.
IMG’s current leader is the most powerful man in American sports people know the least about.
He presents an altogether different picture from IMG founder Mark McCormack’s vision and creativity. He presents a striking contrast from former IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann’s autocracy and attraction to the glamour side of sports. Even at the most senior levels of sports, there are a surprising number of executives who don’t know IMG Chairman and CEO Mike Dolan’s name, since he did not rise through the ranks of sports properties and agencies.
“The question I get asked a lot is, ‘Who is Mike Dolan?’” said Sandy Montag, a senior corporate vice president, who has been with IMG for nearly 27 years. “People in our world don’t know him, but he really doesn’t care that nobody in sports knows who he is.”
Dolan, 65, is a reformed Ph.D. turned MBA, who’s an expert in medieval literature and a man still becoming accustomed to the dress code among sports suits, which generally does not require a tie.
He served as CFO at Forstmann’s IMG since 2010 and was named chairman and CEO just days after Forstmann’s death last November. From all accounts, he couldn’t be more different from his predecessors. In a business fueled by ego, Dolan is described by contemporaries as low-key, even bookish, fitting for a man who was a professor at New York’s City University for two years before deciding that an MBA and business career were preferable to teaching.
“This will never be known as the Mike Dolan era, simply because he doesn’t have that sort of profile, nor does he desire it,” said Alastair Johnston, IMG’s vice chairman and its second longest-tenured employee with 40 years of service.
Even company outsiders are impressed, including NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who has been negotiating with Dolan about starting a basketball league in India. “He comes across as a man who has a keen sense of the world, which is probably why much of his attention is focused on the global expansion at IMG,” Silver said.
International expansion is one of Dolan’s key initiatives, and offshore revenue at IMG may soon exceed domestic results. While fashioning joint ventures in places like Brazil, China and Turkey, Dolan has logged more than 120,000 miles flying both commercially and on corporate aircraft since he was named CEO.
Dolan is a contrast, an unusual amalgam of marketing and financial acumen, with both the inquisitiveness that’s the hallmark of an academic and a fondness for the structures of corporate governance and finance. Many say that his lack of a sports background helps, since he has no preconceived notions about what fits where in a sports world that can be complicated.
“He is a first-class global businessman, which is refreshing,” Silver said. “As someone who has been in this business for 20 years now, it is the ultimate compliment to this industry that we can attract someone like Mike Dolan.”
For Dolan, it has been about earning respect from his wealth of knowledge about corporate governance and finance, and letting IMG’s wealth of expertise in sports flourish in a company with better fundamentals. While closely guarding the financials of privately held IMG, Dolan said 2011 was the company’s best year yet and 2012 is on track for even better returns.