Fitzgerald Mosley leads athletes, staff by example

Benita-MosleyBenita Fitzgerald Mosley has been chief of organizational excellence for the United States Olympic Committee since August. In this role, she oversees athlete career programs, the athlete ombudsman’s office, diversity and inclusion, human resources, facilities, organizational development for national governing bodies, security and strategic planning.

For the past four years, Mosley has been chief of sport performance for USA Track & Field, managing national teams, championship events and high-performance programs in the sport she’s most passionate about.

Mosley holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Her high-ranking positions in Olympic programs are too numerous to mention, and yet she’s perhaps best known for her stellar performance at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where Mosley became the first African American woman (and second American woman) to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles. More about that in a moment.

Recently, Mosley took time in a live interview with the Business Journal to tell us about her career and plans to take the USOC to the next level.

How did the opportunity for your current position come about?

It was mostly a confluence of good things that happened to me. Scott [Blackmun, CEO of USOC] and I had conversations for several months. And he’d asked me to present to the USOC board of directors in December 2012 about the strategies and programs we [USA Track & Field] put in place at the London Olympics where we’d been a great success — almost 60 percent of the U.S.’s medals were in Track & Field.Scott and I have a long history from my previous stint at the USOC, and we had long conversations about my career and I said I’d be interested in coming back to the USOC if the right opportunity presented itself. And then Kirsten Volpi left [as chief administrative officer] to go to the School of Mines. Philosophically, Scott wanted someone who could bring people together to create a more high-performing culture and take it to the next level.

What do you enjoy most about your position?

I like the fact that there’s a variety of important initiatives, and I get to oversee and help them be successful and focus on athletes, and the nuts and bolts of the operational side, such as security, human resources and supporting diversity and inclusion — which is a new area of focus for us. I have the upside of creating an environment where we attract the best and brightest — from athletes, to executives and staff.

If you look at the breadth and scope of the sports operations, which includes all the training facilities, our true mission is to help the athletes get training and perform to the best of their ability.

What has been your most fulfilling career moment?

I’d have to say it was last year in London. I’ve had so many careers, all varied and different. But standing in the Olympic stadium in London, on the opposite side of being an athlete, as administrator and executive, and to oversee such an amazing event for the U.S., and see our athletes and coaches perform their best on the biggest stage in the world was fantastic. Doug [Logan, then-CEO of USA Track & Field] had set the bar for us in London at 30 medals. That had only been done one time in history, in ’92 in Barcelona. And we earned 29 medals in London. In ’08 in Beijing, we had 23 medals, so that’s a huge jump. It was great to see the breadth and depth of our team’s performance across disciplines. And in Beijing our top eight finishers averaged 207 points, but in London that jumped to 304 points each. That’s due to better performance, in the middle- and long-distance track and field events, than ever in history. So that was my proudest achievement.

Through your role as chief of organizational excellence, what are your goals for the USOC in the next two years?

Our staff is collaborating in an efficient way. And I want to focus on strong customer service — externally to the athletes, coaches, NGBs, sponsors and donors, and internally to people who report to me. Human resources drives a lot of success for the whole organization — employees need to be happy in order to have a high-performance culture. I really have a focused vision and strategy for the organization. In 2013, we had an ambitious operational plan. For 2014, I’ve narrowed that focus because of Sochi [2014 Winter Olympics in Russia], and also because we want to go deeper in certain areas.

Innovation is a huge part of … doing better personally and as an organization. We understand what success looks like, and each of us is accountable for achieving that success. My goal is for people to have a high level of personal fulfillment in their work. Having high-performing employees comes from rewarding them and making sure they’re having fun and their own personal values align with what we do here at the USOC. And it’s very important to have diversity and inclusion in the talent pool. We want people to feel like they’re part of the organization and feel welcome — people with disabilities, people of color, women, people who might look, act and feel differently than we do — but they all feel like they’re part of the same team.

Years from now, after you retire, what do you want to be remembered for?

Our No. 1 priority at the USOC is that we do right by our athletes. We may have the best programs, best security, but ultimately, if our team doesn’t reach its goals, then we don’t have much of a legacy. Organizational excellence doesn’t matter if there’s no athletic excellence. If our team achieves what they’re supposed to on the field of play, then I feel like I’ve accomplished what I ultimately came here to do.

In 1984, you were the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles. What were you feeling as you stood on the dais to receive your medal?

When you’re 5 years old and it’s Christmas morning and all those presents are under the tree, and you cannot believe all that loot is for you … that’s how I felt. Every dream had come true. It blows my mind. It’s surreal. It’s somewhat fleeting and everlasting at the same time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Every aspect of my life has been affected by it since then — every job I’ve had and even meeting my husband [Ron Mosley].

As a role model for children and athletes, what message do you aspire to give them?

My son, Isaiah, just made the basketball team at Cheyenne Mountain High School, and it made me so proud as a mom — especially since he’s a freshman and we just moved back here. I watch him and he’s so dedicated and driven. Basketball is his sanctuary. Being on the court is his favorite place in life. I wish that for all kids — to be goal-oriented and passionate. I hope they can find for themselves a passion, whether it’s playing the flute, competing in a science fair or debate club. I hope kids find that thing they love more than anything else in the world, so the hard work they put in is fun.