Ken Read, the former Crazy Canuck who resurrected Alpine Canada into a World Cup power, has quit as president of the ski body only 19 months before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Read said in a telephone interview from Calgary that the departure - which shocked skiers and the winter sport community - is happening officially because of a conflict presented as his son Erik emerges as a candidate for national team status. But a former board member says the 52-year-old former World Cup star's resignation was propelled by frustration with Alpine Canada's board of directors.
An Alpine Canada policy, "which extends down to the junior national team," Ken Read said, stipulates the parents of skiers on national teams aren't eligible to be executives. Read said the Alpine Canada board of directors told him in June "it's time to make a decision." That meant the conflict could be resolved by Read standing down or his son staying out of the program.
"Family wins out over skiing," Read said. He opted to leave and let his son ski rather than fight for an exemption from the policy.
"I support the policy, and it's better that [the resignation]happen today than tomorrow. It allows the organization to get a leader in place before the 2010 Olympic Games," said Read, who had a blueprint for making Canada the world's top ski nation at its home Olympics.
The outgoing president would not characterize it as a "forced" resignation.
But Dr. Peter Andrews, a former board director and member of the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame said the issue of Read's son was window-dressing for more nagging conflicts. "There was some anti-Ken sentiment on the board," Andrews said. "He's been frustrated for a year and a half."
Another source close to the organization said Read's leadership style in building a strong national program - with strong personalities in key roles, development plans and imperatives for success - was a threat to board members who represent different ski regions with programs of their own.
Reid Drury, chairman of Alpine Canada board of directors, said the resignation was connected to the conflict of interest. He said there was no anti-Read sentiment. "Any time you have a collection of A-type personalities, there's always disagreements and feistiness," said Drury, who is the director of Polar Capital Investments in Toronto.
"His family won and Alpine Canada lost a good guy. And really that was a decision that he took."
Read made his decision to leave a month ago, but withheld it to allow other announcements to take place, such as Thomas Grandi's comeback as a technical skier on the World Cup circuit.
"I was surprised and disappointed to see Ken go," Grandi said. "You only have to look at where the team was and where the team is to realize that he has done a lot for our team. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Ken brought leadership to ACA."
Erik Read, competing in the 15- and 16-year-old division, won a downhill silver medal at the world junior championships in Spain last year. A speed merchant like his father, Erik was the national champion in giant slalom in the development K-2 division in 2006.
"Erik has listened to the message of 'win,' which is good, but maybe too carefully," Ken Read said.
He added that Erik was a long way from making the World Cup squad.
Read, 52, took over the national ski federation after the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, where Canada was shut out of the medals and the men's results were such that skiers were told not to return to the World Cup circuit and the men's coaching staff was fired.
During his tenure, Read first made a point of using his own reputation to build sponsorship for the team, then set out performance objectives as a business plan. His status as a past World Cup star and his fluency in French, English and German made him a player with the International Ski Federation and an administrator Quebec athletes could converse with comfortably.
In the past two years, Canadian alpine World Cup skiers had record success.
He worked on a complete package for skiing, from development through coaching and staffing to the elite World Cuppers. In the 2006-07 season, Canadian skiers brought home a record 14 World Cup medals plus a world championship silver, out-stripping the legendary Crazy Canucks.
The Canadian women's team picked up seven of Canada's 10 podiums in 2007-08, showing the men's side they wouldn't be outdone as they were the season before.
Dubbing themselves the Canadian Speed Queens and wearing dollar-store tiaras on the podiums, the women's side had wins by Britt Janyk in the downhill at Aspen and Emily Brydon in the Super G at St. Moritz. Janyk finished third in the overall downhill standings. Jan Hudec had a win on the men's side before blowing out a knee.
Read said he would resume the sport and management consulting business he left in 2002. He will not be a candidate for the presidency of the Canadian Olympic Committee, should that job become open, he said. Current COC chief executive officer Chris Rudge was to see his contract expire in 2009, but it has been extended until the end of 2010.
Drury said there's no rush to fill the void left by Read because of the strong structure he has in place. Gartner and financial officer Dale Robarts will share the lead on an interim basis.
"That's what allowed Ken to decide to step down and know that Alpine Canada is going to be strong. If his son does ascend to the team, it's got to be a strong team," Drury said.
I took this job to help the organization get into a position of respect and credibility. It doesn't need to have people second guessing it over this.
Ken Read, on resigning over a conflict of interest
Ken was always provocative in meetings, always challenging us to reassess where we're going with sport.
Chris Rudge, CEO Canadian Olympic Committee
He made it clear that our goal was to win races at the highest level. He was ambitious, he challenged us and the athletes rose to the challenge.
Thomas Grandi, World Cup skier