The USA Swimming annual convention is underway in Atlanta and board of directors elections are tomorrow, Thursday, September 22nd. Stu Hixon, treasurer of USA Swimming, is running for Southern Zone Non-Coach Director. Hixon, who has now served two consecutive terms (four years total) on the USA Swimming board of directors is ineligible–“termed out,” if you will–for re-election to the position this year. Having already spoken with Bob Vincent and Jeff Gudman, one of whom will replace Hixon as treasurer, we were very eager to speak with Hixon about his two previous terms on the board, and learn why he now has his sights set on the Non-Coach Director role.
SS: You are nominated for Southern Zone Non-Coach Director—have you ever held this role before?
S. Hixon: “No, I haven’t held this role.”
SS: You have served two terms as Treasurer and cannot run for re-election to that position. Over the past 4 years, what have some of your goals as Treasurer been? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished those goals?
S. Hixon: “Yes, I feel like I’ve accomplished all of my goals. When I came in as treasurer four years ago, my [first] goal was to [learn more] about the role of the treasurer, because I had never been at the national level with USA Swimming, and I did on a relatively quick basis. My first trip there (Colorado Springs, CO) when I met with the CFO was in January of 2013, and we talked about the various aspects of the role of treasurer, [and] he also said that I [would] have responsibilities for the USA Swimming Foundation, and [another] entity called USSIC, which is the United States Sports Insurance Company.”
USSIC, as Mr. Hixon explained, was an off-shore re-insurance company and was owned by USA Swimming. Hixon was the Director of the Re-Insurance Department at Ford Credit in Dearborn, Michigan, for between two and three years before purchasing some companies, including an Arizona re-insurance company, and finally moving to Georgia. A CPA and a CIA-certified internal auditor, Hixon currently owns companies in both the U.S. and Canada.
“There was a lot of stuff going on with USSIC and with the insurance and USA Swimming, so one of my goals ultimately became getting USSIC brought from an offshore entity [and bringing it] back on-shore with USA Swimming. That was accomplished approximately two years ago, saving USA Swimming hundreds of thousands of dollars—USSIC saved the money, technically—but, it was a wholly-owned subsidiary of USA Swimming.”
“Another goal was to help out with the insurance because the cost of purchasing the insurance the way we were purchasing it were tremendously more than what they should have been, and working with the risk manager George Ward, we interviewed several direct carriers in the fall of 2013, and were able to get insurance placed at a savings of approximately $1.75 million per year for three years for USA Swimming with the direct carrier, rather than through the re-insurance. So that put USSIC into a run-off mode, which is part of the reason why the board agreed to bring it back onshore to save costs as much as possible.”
“And then it became another goal to actually try and get USSIC sold, rather than have a company that’s having any drain on [USA Swimming’s budget]. And [now] it’s been sold, the final paperwork is being worked on, and I hope to hear in the next week or so that everything’s been signed off by the Washington D.C. regulators. USIC sold to a company for approximately $19.7 million, which the board has put into a restricted account.”
“One of my final goals went into being back in April. [The goal] was to get some of the non-restricted monies that were in the USA Swimming Foundation placed into a board-restricted account that’s called the USA Swimming Endowment that would more or less spin off earnings to USA Swimming. In April of this year the USA Swimming Foundation board voted to establish that endowment with $1 million, and probably by the end of this year that endowment will be $5 million with donations from USA Swimming. Those were some of my major goals that all came to fruition during my four years.”
SS: What qualities about yourself do you think will make you a good Southern Zone Non-Coach Director?
S. Hixon: “The Non-Coach Director, in my opinion, should be dealing with the “dry side” of their particular Zone. There are 15 different LSC’s in the Southern Zone, and I think the Non-Coach Director should be reaching out to the LSC’s because he or she is their representative to bring issues up before the board of directors, and I’m more than willing to reach out. I don’t have any agenda other than to best support the LSC’s in the Southern Zone and bring their issues and concerns to light at the USA Swimming board level.”
“I feel that I have the time–I’m a business-owner that has time to devote and become more active in [USA Swimming]–and I also have the understanding of being on the board four years. I think Zone Directors have a lot to add, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m running for this, because there’s a lot of change going on within USA Swimming. There is an LSC-Zone governance task force that’s providing their final report to the board on the 20th of September at the board meeting, that has some possibly dramatic changes in the way things are going to be handled. There is a lot of change that, [although] it is moving slowly, is happening on the USA Swimming board level, and I think I have been ok with that pace the last four years, and I can say that the members—not just the LSC’s but the members, from the athletes, from the youngest athlete at 5 or 6, if you joined when my daughter did, to the 40 or 50-year-olds that are still out there that are swimming at some of our Georgia Swimming meets. Representing all the athletes, the teams, the coaches, [and] the LSC’s; [doing that], and what I bring to the table [with] my experience will assist the members in the Southern Zone to make sure that their voice is heard.”
SS: As Southern Zone Non-Coach Director, how do you keep athletes in mind first and foremost, per USA Swimming’s core objectives? (Building the base; Promoting the sport; and Achieving sustained competitive success).
S. Hixon: “That has to be something you walk into the job understanding, [because] it’s all about the athletes. I have been a firm believer in that since I first started volunteering in USA Swimming as a stroke and turn official back in 1997. The only reason that I’m doing what I’m doing is for the athletes. I own my own company, so I don’t need something to add to my résumé; I volunteered for our club board because I got asked to and I thought I could help the athletes out there. I became the treasurer of Georgia Swimming at some point in time along the way because I kept in mind that it was all about the athletes. This is not about the officials, it’s not about the coaches, it’s not about the teams, but it’s about the athletes that the officials are there to officiate; that the coaches are there to coach; that the teams are there so that they (athletes) have some sort of formal group, if you will. And if you lose sight of why you’re doing this; because you’ve been an official too long; or you’re worried about how many stripes you have—what type of an official you are, or what level of a coach you are, and stop thinking about the athletes, it just doesn’t work.”
“You have to keep the athletes active and working. When I have something I want to talk about, I don’t just call one of the Vice Presidents, and I don’t forget that one of the Vice Presidents is the Athlete’s Vice President, Kelley Otto. I reach out to [the athletes] with all sorts of different things. I reach out to [them] when I have an idea and float it by them to get the athletes’ opinions. When I first started working on the board I’d call Tim Liebhold, who at the time was the Athlete Vice President, and I’d say to Tim, ‘well you’ll let Kelley know, won’t ya?’ because Kelley was the number-two athlete. And he said, ‘why don’t you pick up the phone and call her,’ and I said, ‘well you know, you’re right.’”
“It’s not the expectation that you tell one athlete and they’ll tell the multitudes; it’s [that] you reach out to all the different touchpoints. In the Southern Zone we have two athlete reps, but those two athlete reps have counterparts that equate to 28 other athlete reps within the Southern Zone, who then reach out to all their counterparts in the LSC’s, because each LSC has at least two athlete reps, which is 15 LSC’s and 30 athlete reps, 2 of which are on the Zone Board. Now all the sudden you have 30 athletes, and those 30 then talk to the athletes within their LSC’s. I would make sure that the athletes are always involved in all the aspects of Southern Zone. And getting out there talking to the LSC’s and getting feedback on everything from the age group Zone Championships, the Senior Zone Championships, all the different Sectional Meets that are held within the Zone.”
SS: What do you believe USA Swimming needs to do to empower its swimmers and be more successful in Tokyo than in Rio, or any other past Olympic Games?
S. Hixon: “I believe USA Swimming already empowers their swimmers. They provide a good training environment and coaches, support the National and Junior National teams very well. What USA Swimming needs to keep in the forefront of their thinking is that when swimmers come to them with concerns or problems, they have to be ready to listen. Times have changed and USA Swimming has to be willing to change with the times. In Rio, we had athletes on the teams from high school/college aged to people in their 30’s with kids, who are professional athletes. This is a much broader group of athletes than we used to have and USA Swimming has to be willing to look at things that impact all of the athletes, something that was not always part of the equation.”
SS: If you were not elected Southern Zone Non-Coach Director, how would you remain involved in USA Swimming?
S. Hixon: “I was asked today if I would help out with some items that are still going on [with] helping out the LSC Development Committee with some LEAP financial stuff that was put into place. I was asked to help in the final development of the final stages of that if I’m not elected. Even if I am elected. Either way. I would definitely stay very closely in touch with people that are still on the board. I would look for a position on one of the national committees possibly, that I could serve on. My thought is, as long as I can be of assistance to USA Swimming in the job that I’m doing, I’m more than happy to do that job. When I look in the mirror and say, ‘are you doing this job for the betterment of swimming, or are you doing this job for Stu?’ The minute I say ‘I’m doing this job for Stu,’ I’m stepping away from the job, because that is not what I’m about. I would stay involved with swimming, in one way or another [if not elected].”
Further information about the USA Swimming annual convention can be found here. For Mr. Hixon’s bio, per USA Swimming, click here. The full list of current committees and committee members is also available for reference on USA Swimming’s website.
The Southern Zone Non-Coach Director will be this week at USA Swimming’s Annual Convention, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. Nominations can no longer be made by mail, though nomination forms may be hand-delivered at the convention until 12:00 noon on Thursday, September 22nd. Nominees must be non-athlete members of USA Swimming and must have completed a background check and undergone the Athlete Protection Online Training Course before September 19th, 2016.