By Teresa Genaro
At a hastily called meeting April 29, the New York Racing Association board of directors voted unanimously to install an interim management team, effective May 1.
The interim management team is comprised of three people all currently working in executive positions at NYRA: Glen Kozak, vice president of facilities and racing surfaces; David O'Rourke, vice president of corporate development; and Susanne Stover, senior vice president and chief financial officer.
A year ago this week, president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward was dismissed after a series of e-mails revealed he had been aware of the sunset clause regarding a pari-mutuel takeout hike, yet had failed to lower takeout rates as required by statute. Chief operating officer Ellen McClain was subsequently named president; she resigned earlier this year, and her resignation takes effect April 30.
Said board chairman Dr. David Skorton of the interim appointees: "We thought that these were three areas that were important to cover–the technical aspect of the racing itself, the development, and the finances."
Skorton said he expects to have weekly conversations with the team for the duration of its tenure, which will be until a new CEO is appointed. Skorton said the search committee and consultants continue to screen a large number of candidates; interviews were to begin the week of April 29.
He said the search committee was looking broadly at three categories of candidates: those with extensive knowledge of and experience in the racing industry; those with some knowledge of racing with background in the hospitality industry; and those from the business world, specifically those he referred to as "turnaround experts."
While acknowledging that the duration of the search has been a source of frustration to some in the racing community, Skorton defended the lengthy process.
"I reject that attitude," he said, referring to complaints about how long it has taken to install permanent leadership. "This organization has a lot of real and perceived problems, and this is going to be a really pivotal position.
"In the three people on the interim leadership team, we believe we have in the aggregate just the right talent, so whatever number of weeks it takes us to make a decision, we think we'll be OK."
Skorton said he would be "less than happy" if a CEO has not been named by the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 8. "I doubt that we'll have someone sitting at NYRA by then," he said, "but we could have someone chosen."
Among the priority issues facing the interim team, said Skorton, are the status of the Global Betting Exchange contract, the Belmont Stakes, and the Saratoga Race Course meet. He also cited as important the report from the strategic and long-term planning committee, headed by Michael Dubb and Bobby Flay.
While mindful of the organization's pressing needs, Skorton is also looking down the road.
"As we work through these problems, we have to keep an eye on the fact that we're supposed to let the state know how this organization can be re-privatized eventually. We need to look at that soon," he said. "Given what's at stake, we're moving as fast we can."