Daytona Beach, Fla.
Golf always has played a major role in Carolyn Vesper Bivens’ life. She was a member at Congressional Country Club for 22 years, plays to a 14 handicap, has played in numerous LPGA functions and met her husband, Bill, at Pebble Beach. So it stands to reason that Bivens, a 52-year-old media executive of more than 20 years, immediately was interested in the LPGA’s commissioner position being vacated by Ty Votaw.
That notion, however, is not entirely accurate. For years, Bivens had considered the LPGA post her dream job. But she gave up the idea five years ago when she resigned her high-profile position at USA Today to run Initiative Media North America, the largest media services company in the United States. Then, a few months ago, the phone rang. It was Heidrick & Struggles, a recruiting firm hired by the LPGA to help search for Votaw’s replacement. They wanted Bivens to throw her name into the hat.
“When I received a phone call, my initial thought was that my career has taken a different turn,” Bivens told Golfweek June 17. “Then I thought about where I am in my career and decided that it was something I was going to go for. I dusted off the dream.”
That dream became reality June 16 when Bivens was named the seventh commissioner in the LPGA’s 55-year history, becoming the first woman to lead the nation’s longest-tenured women’s professional sports organization. (Bivens’ hiring was first reported June 15 by Golfweek.com.)
Bivens will make the transition from her Los Angeles-based Initiative office to the LPGA’s Daytona Beach headquarters over the next month. She plans to spend time at the inaugural HSBC World Match Play next week, then will join Votaw on a trip to Europe for the Evian Masters and Weetabix Women’s British Open. Votaw will leave office Sept. 11 following the Solheim Cup at Crooked Stick.
Bivens joins the LPGA in the midst of an exciting time, with Annika Sorenstam attempting to win the Grand Slam and teen-agers Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie waiting in the wings to take the tour by storm. Accordingly, Bivens says she comes to the tour to tweak, not fix, what already has been established. She says she doesn’t have an agenda, and intends to spend the rest of this year building a game plan for the LPGA’s future.
“The first order of business is to ask a lot of questions and listen to a lot of people,” Bivens said. “I want to understand all of the constituencies that care about the LPGA and want to see the tour do well. The first several months, I’m going to be a sponge. Then, based on the information I get, I’ll distill priorities.”
Bivens believes her past 20 years have been a preparation for leading the LPGA. She joined USA Today in the early 1980s and helped launch the national newspaper for Gannett Corp. In 1985, she was named vice president of national circulation sales, and in 1991 she was promoted to senior vice president of advertising and associate publisher. Between 1991 and the time she left the company in 2000, USA Today’s advertising increased more than 165 percent.
Since July 2000, Bivens has been president and COO of Initiative – coincidentally, her five-year contract expires June 30 – and has managed the company’s North American operations, which include more than 1,000 employees. Bivens oversees all client accounts and provides counsel to senior executives on media strategy and planning. In 2002, Electronic Media magazine named Bivens one of the most powerful women in television. Before joining USA Today, Bivens worked for six years in various sales and marketing positions for Xerox.
“Her knowledge, her Rolodex of significant players in the world of business is precisely what we were looking for,” said Rae Evans, co-chair of the LPGA search committee and chairman of the board of directors. “She has a mosaic of talent, all of which will shine brightly for the LPGA.”
Said Heather Daly-Donofrio, president of the executive committee and co-chair of the search committee: “Throughout the whole search process, Carolyn was so impressive with each interview. I could see her passion come out more and more each time I talked to her. Seeing how well she assimilated into the LPGA family was very rewarding. It was almost as if she had been there her whole life.”
The search began in January when Votaw announced he would resign at he end of the year. The committee received 265 resumes, which were whittled slowly over the next several months. As recently as two weeks ago, the committee had narrowed its search to a select few, which Evans and Daly-Donofrio said included men and women.
Early on, Bivens’ name had not been bandied about as much as those of Ruth Ann Marshall, Dawn Hudson, M. Dockery Clark and Mary Jo Jacobi-Jephson, but Bivens had been considered a favorite for the past few weeks. Although there seemingly had been pressure to select a woman, the committee insisted from the beginning that it would hire the best available candidate regardless of gender.
Previous commissioners are Ray Volpe (chosen in 1975), John Laupheimer (1982), William Blue (1988), Charles Mechem (1990), Jim Ritts (1995) and Votaw (1999).
“As I look back through the previous six commissioners, they came in with specific skill sets that were needed by the LPGA at that time,” Bivens said. “The committee was specific with me as to what they were looking for. I never got the impression that it mattered how those talents, background and experience came packaged.
“All commissioners have been very different from each other. I get to wear hot pink suits, and none of them have.”