Byrne Goes Public

By David

Last weekend Mike Byrne, the Chief Executive of Swimming New Zealand, decided to bare his soul in public. In a Sunday paper’s article he told us about all the horrible things that had happened to him and the sport of swimming. But before we look at the specifics there is a tone about Byrne’s comments that is as annoying as all hell. Anything Butler says has the same aggravating quality. And, when they were around, Cameron and Coulter were no better. There is a constant primary school teacher arrogance about what they say. Everything is the Region’s fault. Swimming New Zealand is the victim of an unscrupulous and pretty stupid band of renegades, hell bent on destroying the sport. They never tire of telling us that they know best. Byrne has even gone as far as to explain, to anyone who will listen, that the Regions have tried this rebellion lark a couple of times in the past but he has brought them back into line. His arrogance knows no limit.

The Regions are not blameless in all this. Because they have tried to bring some discipline to the Board and have failed two or three times, the Wellington gang have learned. All they need to do is send out a few harsh emails, mutter dark stories about SPARC funding and notify a journalist from the Sunday papers that the organization is about to fail and the Regions will give up the fight. To this extent Wellington’s bad behaviour has been caused by the Regions mismanagement. But this time there is a difference. The people leading the Coalition of Regions are wiser, smarter, more experienced and more determined. This time Coulter, Cameron, Byrne and Butler have met their match.

Here are extracts from Byrne’s newspaper report that caught my attention.

“I’m dealing with a committed and motivated staff who are under a barrage of attack and are affected by the current situation,” Byrne said.

In the reports published in newspapers and on the Swimming New Zealand website; in the thousands of words written on Swimwatch, I have never seen a “barrage of attack” on Mike Byrne’s staff. Sure, the performance of the Board, Cameron and Byrne has been seriously questioned. Ineson said they were the problem and he was absolutely right. No one questioned SNZ’s staff. From what I’ve seen the chap Kent who deals with the Regions on a variety of issues is efficient and always pleasant. The lady from Swimming New Zealand who was selling t-shirts at the Division 2 meet in Rotorua was always warm and welcoming. Even to me! This has never been about Swimming New Zealand workers. Byrne is making it up in order to give the impression we pick on the rank and file. But that’s a lie. This is about you, Mike Byrne. This is about getting you out of Swimming New Zealand as quickly as possible.

We didn’t agree with all of the findings of the report. What was disappointing was that the report attacked the leadership of Swimming NZ for not having done anything about those problems when the report didn’t do any analysis or discovery into what is actually being done.

Swimming New Zealand has made the most incredible u-turn in relation to the Ineson Report. When the Report was published Coulter and Byrne were all acceptance and contrition. Do you remember? The findings were about to be actioned, committees were formed and SPARC welcomed the positive vibes coming from Byrne and company. You would be well advised not to rely on Mike Byrne in a tough position. Two months later and his warm welcome has become, “We didn’t agree with all of the findings of the report. What was disappointing was that the report attacked the leadership of Swimming NZ.” He didn’t have the guts to say that two months ago. SPARC really should be finding out why he’s saying it now. More important than the change however is what this little bit of history says about the character of those involved. Best not to buy a used car from this lot.

“So we’re now in a bit of a Mexican standoff situation,” Byrne said.

This is an important insight into the Byrne psyche. A Mexican standoff describes a confrontation that neither side can foreseeably win. Byrne clearly has no appreciation of the fact that he works for the Regions. They are his boss. He is not their equal. He is there to do what the owners, the Regions, want. The most basic rule of “chief executive 101” is to promote the interests of the shareholders and Mike Byrne has not a blind clue what it means. My guess is that eventually Mike Byrne will be out of a job because he picks a fight with those he was appointed to serve.

Byrne said he was making sure regions and clubs had access to information in an “open and transparent manner.”

I guess that’s why Byrne published North Shore’s letter to Swimming New Zealand but forgot to post the Auckland reply. It may also explain why Byrne published Swimming New Zealand’s criticism of the Annual Meeting remits but overlooked the Bay of Plenty and Auckland response. I wonder if changing the 2010 Annual Meeting minutes or including the North Shore letter in AGM general business are “open and transparent”. The truth is that “open and transparent” are as far away from the conduct of Swimming New Zealand just now as it is possible to get.

“So we can all work to one strategic plan. One direction, one vision, regular networking and phone calls as a team so that we can discuss all the common problems and all sing off the same song book.”

For seven years this website has fought Swimming New Zealand socialism. If the word socialism seems too strong, what else should “one strategic plan, one direction, one vision” be called? With stunning foresight Mike Byrne has just described all that’s wrong with the Swimming New Zealand’s plan and with him as its CEO. In world class sport, the socialist model does not work. Seven years of Jan Cameron proved that. Diversity is what works. Diversity that offers New Zealand swimmers Paul Kent’s program, Gary Hurring’s program, my program and a dozen other good New Zealand coaches all singing off a different song books; all offering alternative paths to the same world championship goal. Byrne simply does not understand that there are a hundred different ways of preparing an Olympic champion. One way does not suit all. Salo does not prepare his swimmers the same as Bowman. They sing off very different song books. They both produce world champions and world record holders though. The fact that I sing of a different song book from Gary Hurring, Paul Kent and Greg Meade is good and is a New Zealand strength. Except that, in a flight of idiotic fantasy, Mike Byrne wants to kill all that. We have just got rid of the architect of central control and Byrne wants to drag us back into the abyss. His lack of product knowledge will destroy any prospect New Zealand swimmers have of winning an Olympic championship.

“As we continue having to battle the regions and go through the sort of problems that we’re going through now, we’re never going to grow the sport.”

So, there we have it. Byrne admits he is conducting a battle with the owners of the sport; with his shareholders. When that happens; when a CEO admits he is in public disagreement with his bosses it is time for that CEO to leave. By making this admission it is time for Byrne to pack his bags and bugger off. No CEO can possibly stay when he accepts there is open warfare between himself and his shareholders.

“Auckland, which has 25 per cent of the votes, and Wellington are in favour of the changes.”

Where on earth did Byrne come up with this idea? Certainly Wellington obey the Swimming New Zealand Board in everything. But Byrne is claiming here that Auckland is also in favour of Project Vanguard. I’ve never seen any information to support that allegation. In fact the meetings I’ve been to in Auckland suggest huge opposition to the Vanguard idea. Auckland is also one of the eight Regions asking for the Swimming New Zealand Board to resign. It sometimes seems that Byrne just makes this stuff up. Truth, lies, certainties and maybes all merge into a grey mass of Byrne-isms.

“All I can do at the moment is pray for common sense and hope that some of the people involved in this smear campaign realise that what they’re doing is damaging the sport.”

Mike Byrne – you may be a catholic from Francis Douglas College but we do not want your prayers. We are insulted that you should bring your religion into this debate. God is not on your side. How dare you suggest divine support for your position. How dare you mix your version of Christianity with the accusation that we are conducting a smear campaign and damaging the sport. You are disgusting.

Mohammed Ali was quoted as saying, “If it’s true, it ain’t boasting.” Well Mike Byrne, if it’s true, it ain’t a smear either.

  • Tom

    I’m willing to give Byrne the benefit of doubt when he says “All I can do at the moment is pray for common sense”. I believe he’s using a turn-of-phrase, and isn’t invoking divine right. I’m more interested in the second half of the statement “and hope that some of the people involved in this smear campaign realise that what they’re doing is damaging the sport.”

    Only moments earlier Byrne has said he’s working with the regions to ensure an “open and transparent” process. How can he work with the regions openly and constructively when he suggests they are vindictive, wrong and are damaging swimming?

    Like you, I find his “Mexican standoff” metaphor a curious one. The regions elect the board, not the other way around. The board don’t have any bargaining chips – their suggestion Sparc funding could be lost if they go has already been rejected by Sparc.

  • David

    Tom – I agree the contadiction between open and transparent and being smeared is the important point. I hope that expression about it being darkest before the dawn is true. It is pretty dark around here just now. I feel for the leaders of the Coalition who are working through all this, to change the culture of this sport. It is one hell of a job they have undertaken. Thank you for your contribution to the debate.

  • Tom

    I’ve never met Byrne, so I won’t attempt to judge him as a person. I can only read into his statements. And my reading is one of contempt for the swimming community he’s supposed to serve. When this happens, I believe it’s time to move on.

    However, I’m optimistic about the future of this sport. The strength of New Zealand swimming lies at the grass-roots level. It’s the passion of the countless parents, volunteers and coaches (not to mention the dedication of the swimmers) that have produced the likes of Danyon Loader, Anthony Moss, Jean Stewart and so many others. Even today, our swimmers succeed (see the Youth Commonwealth Games) despite the current climate. Swimming will survive the current administration.

  • Sharon

    I have just the job for Koru – he can go off and rescue Happy Feet!

  • David

    Bird Watch – I have heard about the same possible conflict. I even received an annonymous email from Wellington on that subject. I chose to ignore the issue because of the impression I had of Auckland doing such a sterling job as one of the coalition partners leading swimming to a better place. The last thing Auckland needs is a civil war. A conflict of that sort is probably pretty high on Mike Byrne’s wish list though. Certainly the Auckland Board and its employees have the 100% backing of Swimwatch – whether they want it or not!

  • NSS Parent

    I also saw this article from the Dominion which had been syndicated on Stuff. I wondered if Auckland had wobbled and so I bit the bullet and called the ASA office yesterday myself and spoke to Brian Palmer.

    He was very surprised when I told him about the article and said that he had no idea where that statement came from and assured me that Auckland’s position had not changed. He was unaware of anybody from the Dominion having spoken to someone in a position of responsibility from Auckland on that subject.

    He told me that ASA’s position was a matter of public record and referred me to the letter which they had co-signed relating to the call for the SNZ Board to resign, their letter written in reply to North Shore (funny that I as a member of North Shore didn’t get THAT in my Inbox), and also to the document explaining the remits which are being proposed by Auckland. I had seen these on the ASA website, and yes, it is a pity that SNZ once again in their proclamations of being “open and transparent” are being predictably picky about what goes up on their website.

    He did explain that Auckland does not see themselves as being in a fight with SNZ, that their agenda is not personal but that they remain of the view that there has been a systemic failure in the sport which needs to be fixed. He also said that Auckland remains committed to finding constructive solutions and believes that leadership is critical to that.

    He wouldn’t be drawn into saying much else, possibly because he didn’t know who I was, but the only chink was when I read to him some of Mike Byrne’s comments which was met with a lot of laughing, a big sigh, and “Well, it is what it is”.

    He then asked me who my swimmer was and we had a pleasant chat about how the swimming was going, the training, and how fortunate we were that we had such good caring coaches at NSS. Some thought-provoking things were also said about not being overly concerned about what a young swimmer is doing in terms of times as compared to everyone else. He said it was more important that they were enjoying what they were doing and that they were still in the sport at 18 or as young adults, and not lost prematurely.

    I got off the phone and wondered, isn’t it a pity that our SNZ leaders aren’t in the press talking about the important things in our sport, but are intent on doing battle against its own members, the likes of me and my family! Sad, sad, sad.

  • Northern Swimmer

    In recent times I have found it hard not to draw comparisons between the Jasmine Revolution / Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the power struggles within Swimming New Zealand. However please be under no illusion that i mean to cheapen the sacrifices of the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations.

    Both the uprising in Libya by the rebels, with support from the West, and the Regional Coalition, with support from SPARC’s Ineson Report, started with a hiss and a roar before becoming a quagmire, or ‘Mexican standoff’.
    Both SNZ and Gaddafi have attempted to use propaganda in both an intra- and extra- organisational capacity (Jane, please forgive my ugly use of language here). Domestically Gaddafi broadcast parades of supporters and insisted that he had hold of Tripoli up until the very end; at the same time he told the international community that his regime still had the legitimacy to rule and the rebels had no basis for their grievances. Both the board and management have attempted to distort the sentiment of SNZ members through selective publication, and letters from the temporary Chairman dismissing the concerns held by the regions; in the national media they have attempted to dismiss the regions claims as personal attacks and the Ineson report as “rubbish” or “disappointing [in] that the report attacked the leadership of Swimming NZ”
    (What did they expect it to report on if not the leadership?)
    However, the difference between the two strategies seems to lie in how they treat their opposition. Gaddafi refused to engage with the rebels and called them “rats”. SNZ seems keen to reach a compromise with the Regional Coalition to avert revolution. The final chapter on the current SNZ administration is yet to be written.

    I do hope that our ‘chlorine revolution’ will give us our ‘Aquatic Spring’.

    As a positive Mr Byrne talks of “findings” rather than “learnings” as Lady MacBeth used to. But shame on you David, mentioning her 3x times after you promised you wouldn’t, and only 4 days after she left the building.

  • David

    Northern Swimmer – Bugger, I was hoping no one would notice!

  • Mustapha Mond

    I have been off-line for awhile. Being quite well connected (I think, anyway) let me answer some questions.

    1. Auckland has not defected. That was either a lie by Byrne, or indicative of the typical Wellington-centric/Dominion/SNZ “we know everything” and “we know what’s best for you”.
    2. Bronwen Radford will answer the call only with a clean and cleared out board.
    3. Swimming NZ is doing nothing to reach a compromise nor is Ross Butler in dialogue with the coalition (despite what your suspicions may have been David). On the contrary SNZ continues to pursue every aggressive tactic available, including legal threats. Mike Byrne and Ross Butler continue to approach clubs directly trying to break their support for their regions.
    4. The regions also wish that their ‘Chlorine Revolution’ will result in an ‘Aquatic Spring’. Well named Northern Swimmer.
    5. There is no ‘Mexican Standoff” – the regions are not fighting a war. However, SNZ has chosen a grubby fight. But, the regions are working within the rules to create a solution.
    6. The regional call is for collective responsibility in response to the failures identified by Ineson. It is not now, and never was, targeted to specific individuals. Bronwyn Radford herself has said on numerous occasions that the call for the entire Board to resign was just as much about ensuring that this was not personalised, and that if an individual wished to re-stand for election, that was welcomed. That window has now well and truly closed.

    If Byrne reflects the thinking of SNZ in his interview, SNZ appears to be quite rattled.

  • Sensible Swimming

    “We didn’t agree with all of the findings of the report. What was disappointing was that the report attacked the leadership of Swimming NZ.” – Mike Byrne.

    I had the following matter reported to me from a reliable source many months ago. SPARC’s initiation of the Ineson Report followed damning reviews in Delhi. What was not reported at the time and is not widely known, is that all sports are subject to a complete and formal post-Games evaluation process by SPARC on a variety of criteria. On the critical subject of ‘Leadership’, the average score across all sports was in excess of 55%. SNZ scored less than 10% on this subject. The worst performing sport of all those in Delhi by a sizeable margin.

    Let us be sure Mr Byrne. The Ineson report was required because of failings in leadership. IT WAS ALL ABOUT LEADERSHIP! As CEO, in the end it is about your leadership, and you failed. In Delhi when your team was qualifying for finals where were you? You were across town watching the netball. Great leadership.

    The report did not attack the leadership. It reported on the findings of an extensive interview process. That process identified your leadership as being deficient and responsible for an environment of distrust. You may not agree with those findings but that is what Ineson reported was the view of the overwhelming majority of those who were interviewed. Your leadership was identified as a significant impediment to the delivery of medal results in London.

    Others did not accept responsibility for their part, but they have now stepped aside. It is past time for you to do the same. The fact that you continue to be in denial and to occupy your office is a significant impediment to the prospects of our best swimmers producing best results in London.

    We already know you do not have the interests of the sport at heart because if you did you would have gone by now.

    To put it ever more delicately and in language which you might understand – Bugger off and bugger off now!

  • Tom

    Well said Sensible Swimming. Byrne talks as if Mr Ineson has personally ‘attacked’ his leadership, when in reality Ineson’s report simply communicates the findings of those he interviewed. Byrne is certainly entitled to be disappointed 83% of people interviewed by Ineson lack confidence in his leadership – but that’s quite different to not agreeing with the findings of the report. Unless he’s suggesting Ineson and 83% of people interviewed are lying?

  • Ex NSS Parent

    Northern Swimmer – David actually uses the “C” word 4 times not 3! Not wishing to be picky but since SNZs abuses of figures I have been watching the numbers carefully!

    C word aside Another great post David and some excellent comments

    “Bugger off Byrne” has a good ring to it almost as good as GO THE ALL BLACKS

  • Sinead

    Serious Health Warning:

    Spotted in Auckland yesterday – SNZ’s new HP Managers, Tweedle Dum (Byrne) and Tweedle Dee (Butler)

  • David

    Is that right Sinead, they were in Auckland? I wonder if the CEO and the Chairman of SNZ called the CEO of their largest Region to let him know they were in town. Perhaps they offered to buy him a cup of coffee and chat about how best to move SNZ forward; about how to win a medal and have five finalists in the London Olympic Games. I was once the CEO of a national company, Colyer Watsons, who had an Auckland office. I would no more have dreamed of coming into Auckland without letting the chap in charge here, Stan Pickup, know I was coming that fly to the moon. It is just good manners apart from anything else. Byrne and Butler disfunctional? You bet they are. They couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery. Although I know of a small brewery in Newmarket called the “Cock and Bull”. That sounds like it would suit those two.

  • Sharon

    “Aw mate … do you think the swimmers will notice?”

  • Tom

    Perhaps Byrne and Buttler were in Auckland giving advice to authorities on how to best respond to the World Cup opening night debacle. I see the tell-tale signs:

    a) Act surprised at the outcome
    b) Blame everyone else
    c) Blame everyone else
    d) Blame everyone else