Yesterday, Tuesday 26 September, the Volvo Ocean Race announced that Mark Turner would be stepping down from the role as race CEO to which he was appointed a mere 16 months ago.

The team behind the Volvo Ocean Race also announced the roll back of plans released earlier this year to run the next edition of sailing’s premier round the world race in 2019, cutting the gap between editions from four to two years.

Sudden announcements such as this and the stepping down of a CEO – Turner will remain in post until a replacement is found meaning he may well not even see out this edition – speaks to some serious behind-the-scenes misalignments. As things stand neither side is willing to comment on the specifics but the resignation would appear to be a disagreement with Volvo about the speed of future race development.

Despite his resignation, Turner’s passion for the race continues to shine through. “I think the core of this race has always been the big ocean elements, the Southern Ocean and the Atlantic crossing and the emphasis on that, for me is definitely exciting,” he says.

This edition of the race, which departs from Alicante on 22 October, will already see many of the smaller changes Turner pushed forwards being put into place.

“There were some things in place from Knut Frostad, the former CEO and honestly, we are probably on the same page on almost everything and he gave me a pretty good base to start from, with my different energy and with fresh leadership an ability to push for changes.

“I was handed the problem of the course, with Abu Dhabi not renewing in my first week on the job. But this provided an opportunity to return the race to its Southern Ocean roots for this race and the future so I am certainly happy about that side of things.

“We are still finalising elements of this race but we have extended the centralisation of services. While that takes time to bed in, that is the big advantage of the one design set up at this scale, it serves to increase the quality whichever way you want to look at it.

“The new larger, longer four races Leg Zero mandatory qualifier was successful from every perspective, both event and team sides. We could test systems, comms, technology etc. a lot earlier and we had lots of things we can resolve now rather than during Leg 1 of the race.

“We got images and vision of the boats three months before the start which bizarrely never really happened in the past and that was great. We touched some markets and places, and some cities, which the race wouldn’t do otherwise.

“For future races, this Leg Zero will no doubt be very much key feature which will be enhanced as times goes on.”

There’s no doubt that had he remained in post, his drive towards further change would have been much greater and there’s no doubt he would have liked to see that potential realised.

Before Turner’s predecessor left, then-CEO Knut Frostad forecast that the transition process to a new boat with a new cycle would be very challenging for the incoming CEO and so it has proved.

Volvo Senior Management knew Mark Turner’s entrepreneurial record well and signed off in May 2017, on his vision for the future.

A detailed plan was scheduled to be released by the Race, for the 2019 and 2021 race in mid-September 2017. But it did not come as expected, instead a pause.

While race owners’ Volvo AB and Volvo Cars have reconfirmed their commitment to developing the race including reducing the race cycle from three to two years with a new Super 60 boat, they are now insisting on a slower transition and that has obviously not pleased their CEO.

It seems that the challenge for Turner was a more one of working through the internal politics and corporate decision-making process, a difficult task, one might suspect for someone of Turners background and hence came the bombshell decision.

Nonetheless, the race goes on…

 

Published in Yachts and Yachting Magazine September 2017