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After 40 Years In The Sport Industry, Intrinsic Motivation Keeps Athletics Canada’s CEO David Bedford Going

David Bedford | Chief Executive Officer (CEO) | Athletics Canada

I have always believed that it is a powerful motivator to do a great job when you know that if you do your best, young people have a chance to aspire to their dreams. How can you not take motivation from that?

David Bedford

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Athletics Canada

× The interview with David Bedford was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Chief Executive Officer for Athletics Canada. What does a typical day look like for you?

There are no typical days these days. I am a strong believer in hiring great people and letting them do great work (not a micromanager), so normally I work on long-term strategies, key relationships (COC, CPC, Own the Podium, World Athletics, sponsors, etc), finances, and culture.

These days, however, we work on financial modelling for how long the pandemic may go, and its effects on our business. We work on back to training and competition modules (along with safety there are major insurance and liability aspects to this), next quadrennial business planning, etc. Maintaining a strong business culture is key when everyone is working remotely, so that involves transparency in communications with all staff, as often as possible.

Every CEO needs a team they work with to help execute the over-arching strategy of the organization – when you form a team, what do you look for?

Smart, driven people who know that the strength of the team is only as strong as its weakest link. I want people who are not afraid to make decisions and view mistakes as opportunities to learn. I want people who will empower their reports, and allow them to make decisions as well.

I always tell them, if you are 80% sure, make the call. This means you will be wrong 20% of the time…but we learn from mistakes, not from what we do right. If you are 50% sure or less, test your hypothesis with others. Most times you will find that your gut is right, and it will be validated by testing the hypothesis. And never come to me and ask me what to do. Come to me and give me a situational analysis and your recommendation before asking what I think.

How do you define key organizational objectives both in the day to day and on a broader scale, and share them with your staff?

We are in the process of finalizing our 2028 Strategic Plan. The process started last fall with a Steering Committee (retired Olympians, provincial representatives, coaches, agents, etc). We then disseminated a questionnaire broadly across the country looking for input into Athletics in Canada, rather than Athletics Canada. We then had a long weekend of moderated sessions with all our Provincial/Territorial branches.

We are now finalizing the Strategic Plan based on the input from those sessions. We will then develop annual operational plans that outline Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Timing, Budget and Staff Accountability. Those operational plans are adjusted year over year, all with the goal of advancing our strategic objectives through the 2028 quadrennial.

What does leadership mean to you, and how can it be taught?

This is a great question, as I am actually not sure leadership is a taught skill. I believe that anyone can learn to be a leader, but that they must have some basic traits to fully embrace what leadership is. A true leader is a great listener. She/He is empathetic. She/He is more visionary that operational. She/He is a delegator. She/He values the person first, and the output second.

I believe most leaders actually learn from others as to what works, and what doesn’t, then makes it their own. I know for me that I had some absolutely fantastic mentors along my path, and frankly some that were awful. I learned a great deal from both the good and the bad.

Being in a role that is responsible for generating revenue opportunities, what are some tools you and your team use to identify and develop new business opportunities for Athletics Canada?

Certainly, this answer would have been different three months ago. Before COVID-19, we were working very closely with our colleagues at the COC and CPC around our Olympic/Paralympic Trials that were scheduled for June 24-28.

We were also working closely with a marketing agency (Cimoroni & Co), and our biggest partner, Nike, on making the Trials a major showpiece event.

Now, things are very much on hold as nobody is investing in sponsorships while their businesses are being racked by the effects of COVID-19, and unemployment is so high.

After a successful 40 years of working in sport, do you still love working in sports, and if so, why?

That’s easy.

Sport is the ultimate reality show, but unlike TV reality shows that are scripted much of the time, sports is never scripted.

Only in sports do you get a bunch of US college hockey players beating the Soviet Union in Olympic hockey (1980). Only in sports do you get a Leicester City Cinderella story winning the English Premier League (2016). Only in sports does Buster Douglas defeat Mike Tyson.

The other part of this is much more intrinsic for me.

I have always believed that it is a powerful motivator to do a great job when you know that if you do your best, young people have a chance to aspire to their dreams. How can you not take motivation from that?

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

David Bedford’s career has been a whirlwind, to say the least! Within his successful 40-year-and-counting career, David’s worked for the NHL, IMG, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Toronto Argonauts, the Government of Canada, and now, Athletics Canada. Despite his lengthy career, David has never lost interest in sport. While there have been some amazing moments in sports like the ones David mentioned, it’s the intrinsic motivators that keep him intrigued. As a young professional in the sports industry myself, it’s encouraging to hear David say he wants to help us achieve our dreams. David is a beacon of optimism that I most certainly look too, especially during these unprecedented times!

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