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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 9, 2004 18 years ago

Engineer of a Dream

Lloyd Ward pushed himself to the limit to get to the top of several major corporations. His next goal - succeed on his own.

Engineer of a Dream

Lloyd Ward pushed himself to the limit to get to the top of several major corporations. His next goal - succeed on his own.

By Kat Wingert

Contributing Writer

Lloyd Ward is living the good life. He plays golf. He pauses to enjoy the sun setting over the ocean. He takes the time to swim and feel the warm Gulf waves rush over him. Yes, life is good.

"I've been so busy in my life that I haven't spent a lot of time living," Ward says.

And so, the former everything (including Maytag CEO, United States Olympic Committee CEO, Proctor & Gamble division vice president and president of Frito-Lay's Western and Central divisions) has come to Longboat Key. And he never wants to leave.

"I like it here because I don't always have to be 'on.' " Ward says. "But I'm still in the game."

Make no mistake - Ward is not retiring, nor does he ever plan to. As he says: "As long as I'm breathing, I will be always looking for the next thing. The next adventure, the next opportunity - always."

Which explains why the second-degree karate black belt stays in such good shape at the age of 55. He says he can still do 100 push-ups in under one minute, but Ward is not just a man of words. He kneeled down on the floor, dressed in his jeans and casual shirt, and asked when to start. His proof: 100 push-ups in 47 seconds, and he wanted to keep going.

It is the urge to surpass expectations that has led him from an entry-level position to becoming only the second black CEO of a Fortune 500 company; the desire to prove himself that causes him to drop in the middle of the White House during a trip with athletes and prove his push-up claim in a tuxedo next to the dessert table; and his courage to take risks, such as recently starting his own company, that have characterized not only his career or his life, but his persona. But, it took a rough start to cultivate these qualities.

Ward was born in a house without running water in Michigan. He has two brothers and two sisters; he is the middle child. His father worked three jobs to support his family, and then died at the age of 47 from a heart attack, leaving his mother alone with her five kids.

Yet Ward gratefully embraces his upbringing. Without it, the seed of his ambition and desire might not have been planted and then fostered quite as well.

Ward originally dreamed of being a doctor, but after he witnessed a bad accident in college, he backed away from surrounding himself with "pain and suffering," as he puts it. He was attending Michigan State on a basketball scholarship and switched his major to graduate in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. But, even then, he was looking ahead.

Ward was good in math and science, so he said engineering would be a good fit for him. Although engineering may have been logical, he had the foresight to realize it was only a vehicle to get where he wanted to go.

"I realized that engineering teaches you how to look at the world logically," Ward says. "It didn't mean I was going to be an engineer for the rest of my life, but it provided a logical framework for the world."

Ward married his college girlfriend, Lita, who became his behind-the-scenes partner in everything he did. Even now, when Ward tells stories about what he has accomplished, Lita is the other person included in the "we" he says over and over, rather than "I."

Right after college, Ward began as an engineer with Procter & Gamble, but found after being with the company seven years that he wouldn't get the opportunity at advancement. He left Procter & Gamble briefly when he found out his chances to become a general manager were almost non-existent if he used the engineering route, so, true to his ingenuity, he found another way.

He left for Ford Motor Co. in 1977, but the switch didn't suit him well. After a year at Ford, he realized he would need to go somewhere else to achieve his dream.

He returned to Procter & Gamble with the stipulation that he would be allowed to move into different areas of the company in order to move up and learn about every aspect of the business. Sometimes it meant transferring into another department, which usually came with a demotion from his previous position, but this never discouraged Ward.

"It never bothered me to have to go back down a step in order to climb higher," he says. "I always stayed focused on what was at the top, and if that was the way I had to get there, then that was what I had to do."

In 1986, he found himself atop his crudely scaled ladder. He was named a general manager of a Procter & Gamble product division.

From there, he went on to Frito-Lay in what he calls a "Godfather offer."

"It was one of those things, you know - an offer I couldn't refuse," Ward says.

While he was with Frito-Lay, he increased his division's share of the market from 50% to 56%, a significant amount, considering the hold Frito-Lay already had in the market.

After proving himself at Frito-Lay, he made his biggest leap yet, and finally took the position he always believed himself made for. In August 1999, he became the next CEO of the Maytag Corp.

Ward's accomplishments continued to mount with Maytag, and it seemed the momentum of success he worked so hard to set in motion was like a wave he could finally sit back and ride. Of course, Ward doesn't like to sit in the passenger seat, so he kept driving himself further and accepted an offer to become the secretary general and CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The USOC has a long tradition of poor management within the committee. In an effort to increase its efficiency, it has turned to business leaders like Ward for help. Ward went straight to work, but found the more he tried to change the organization, the more opposition he got.

When he accepted the position in October 2001, there were 125 board members. Knowing this was no way to run a business, he started pushing for action to slim the board down. Despite his success elsewhere, at the USOC he was met with the resistance of years of what he described as: "tradition and privilege."

He continued to do what he thought was the right thing, when questions arose about his business dealings in the USOC.

He was investigated over an accusation that he tried to leverage a deal for his brother's business to seal a temporary power contract for the 2003 Pan American games. Then he was questioned on using funds inappropriately to give preferential treatment to his friends, his homebuilder and his wife.

Because of his alleged violation of the USOC's ethics code, he was stripped of his $184,800 bonus and talk of his resignation began to surface.

Everything he did was watched and reported to the media in a spiral of controversy within an organization that has had four CEOs and four presidents since 2000.

He voluntarily resigned from the USOC on May 1, 2003. When the committee voted on the matter of his resignation, 18 members voted for him to stay, while two voted in favor of his resignation. By that time, the public outcry was too great, and Ward didn't want to damage the organization further.

Within the media, the USOC experience cast a shadow over what Ward had worked so hard to achieve. In Ward's mind, it was a learning lesson, not a failure.

"It tainted my career for people who didn't know me or who believe anything they read," Ward says. "What I tried to do was respect the integrity of Olympism even if we gave up a little for ourselves. We still feel like we were there to do what was right."

In the end, Ward sees the changes he helped make during his time there. In the end, he whittled the board from 123 members to 11, and he says athletes still call him to thank him for changes he made to further their goals.

"I think we got tremendous things accomplished," he says. "Did we pay a little price in the media? I would say yes. And now, I say if it didn't happen to me, it would have been a wonderful case study to learn from."

Today, Ward has traded in corporate threads for some entrepreneurial ones.

He has begun his own company with longtime friend Rocky Williform, making energy drinks and performance products.

His company, called BodyBlocks, currently makes an energy drink called N Motion, and is developing a line of energy bars to fit nutritional and energy needs for busy people like himself.

The best thing for Ward and his wife about their new company is that they have made it a family endeavor, with the help of their two sons, Lloyd II and Lance.

"Our lives were driven by a leave-no-stones-unturned attitude and believing there were no limits to what we could do," Ward says. "So, I did have to give up some things on the family side, which I now get to spend more time enjoying."

His move to Longboat Key about 10 months ago has helped facilitate his new lifestyle. He says he frequently meets other businessmen and women who have left the corporate world, and he loves everything the area has to offer - from the beach and golf on the Key, to the restaurants and entertainment in Sarasota.

"Longboat Key is a great transition to living life from focusing on performance all the time," Ward says.

Settling in on his new goals with his company has given him new perspective, but he will never forget the things that have made him successful in the past.

"I have always been at the fulcrum of good and bad, and I have always faced resistance in whatever I did," Ward says. "But if you don't love adversity, you sit on the sidelines and go with the flow. If you have a dream, you have to have the courage and commitment to follow that. If you stop at the first obstacle, then you are doomed to mediocrity."

The downside to his formula is he will never be at peace without staying involved in business somehow, no matter where he lives.

"Retire? I'll never really retire," Ward says. "Retirement is just a redefinition of where you spend your time."

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