17-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | Aug. 15, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

Day 17, August 15

ITTF’s CEO Judit Farago Enjoys Contributing to the Sport’s Success

I have felt privileged from the very beginning to work for table tennis at the international level. 

Judith FaragoCan you recount how you became the ITTF’s CEO?

For many years Adham served as President and CEO. He was (and is) one of the most active IF Presidents (furthermore on a voluntary basis).  He is fully involved in the daily operational work. However as time passed, he felt it was time to transfer the CEO responsibilities, mainly staffing responsibility to someone else.

When the professional structure was firmly established and operated smoothly with 5 clear programs (Operations, Competitions, Development, Education & Training, and Marketing), the EC decided to create the CEO and Deputy CEO positions and to appoint current staff to fulfill these roles.

I was appointed as CEO and Glenn Tepper was named Deputy CEO as of 1 July 2011. For a transition period we both maintained our role for competition and development respectively, and then, since January 2013 we supervise the programmes and the staff with the help of the five colleagues who are Directors.  I have a very close cooperation and easy communication with Glenn (even with a 10-hour time difference between us).  He coordinates Development and Education / Training, while I supervise Competitions, Operations and Marketing directly, and the other programs with his help.  

It’s interesting that you are what one might call an “off-site” CEO.  How does that work out?  Do you go to Lausanne on a fixed schedule, just when needed, or on some other timetable?

The ITTF has a decentralized staff structure. We have offices in Lausanne, in Singapore and in Vienna.  Until recently, we also had an office in Ottawa. Plus several colleagues are located in their home city due to their extensive travels and the character of their work.

I believe in multi-cultural teamwork. It is true that it is more difficult to build team spirit without being physically together, all of us in one central office environment.  However, we can offer a wide range of services to member associations as we have staff members from each continent and we can communicate in more than one dozen languages.

The Lausanne office serves as the ITTF’s headquarters and centre for Operations.  The Singapore office was established originally for Asia-Pacific marketing activities.  It was moved from China to Singapore in 2011.  But it has grown very fast.  That staff now covers Promotion, Media, and Equipment. The office at the Werner Schlager Academy in Vienna is in the centre of Europe and serves as the main base of the Competition Programme.

My work personally also requires extensive travel to visit offices, to attend official meetings and competitions and to meet organizers and national associations. My visits are scheduled as needed.  Of course I go to Lausanne more frequently than any other places.  If possible, I always take the opportunity to meet with IOC people when I am there. I also communicate with the staff mainly on Skype and of course through emails. 

In your report to the AGM, you wrote that there are now 20 full-time employees of the ITTF.  It looks like several additional people are engaged on a project-by-project basis.  Many of them are also “remote,” telecommuters.  How does that work out logistically?

The ITTF has now 25 staff, 22 full-time, 3 part-time, plus we have 6 Development Officers (one for each continent). Of course with this number of people we could not manage all our extensive programs, so we hire well-known, highly-qualified experts as independent contractors for certain events and duties. We have several Assigned Competition Managers who have their jobs elsewhere but occasionally help us to attend competitions on behalf of the ITTF. 

And we have a large number of dedicated table tennis experts who help us to run development courses, training programs, etc.  Most of them are enthusiastic for table tennis, so it is a win-win situation. We involve more people in ITTF activities, not just the paid staff, and they are glad to be part of the ITTF family. Of course some of them will become full-time employees in the long run if there is an open position and we are mutually satisfied with the work done.

Do you have same additional comments about the ITTF staff?  

I am proud to have a group of colleagues with such high motivation, an endless working capacity and a love of our sport. On purpose I do not want to mention specific names, not to hurt anyone. All of them are equally important and play their part in the teamwork. Even if we are located at different places all over the world, the common goal brings us close to each other every day: serving and improving table tennis in order to secure a firm position on the Summer Olympic Games program and to be in the top 5 sports one day.  

Speaking of the Summer Olympics, do you have anything you’d like to share about the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics?

The London Olympic Games was a huge success and we look forward to similar results in 2016 in Rio. In contrast to some other sports, our venue already exists (Riocentro Pavillion) and it will be very similar in characteristics to the one in London (an exhibition centre).

Since Brazil table tennis is the strongest among the Latin American countries, we hope that we will have a full house every day. Communication is becoming more intense as we are at the halfway point in the Olympic cycle. ITTF officials and staff have had three inspection visits to Rio. The last one was in March. 

Thank you for that update.  Getting back to staff again, on Day 39, Ian Marshall said, “Members of the staff profiled in the Countdown articles have indicated that they feel privileged to be working for the International Table Tennis Federation; they feel privileged because they are working for a vibrant organisation and that situation only occurs when the leader is positive, active, creative and forward thinking.”  As CEO, is that the same feeling you have?

Absolutely agree. I have felt privileged from the very beginning to work for table tennis at the international level.  I am sure my colleagues share the same feeling. It’s not only for the great prestige, but also because it’s good to be an active contributor to our sport’s development.

The ITTF has gone through a lot of changes in recent decades.  All of them made our sport better. I know some people were critical or accepted changes with reservations.  This is human nature. But facts speak for themselves. Our President’s presentation “THEN AND NOW” at the last AGM in Tokyo clearly illustrated in facts and figures what was completed during his Presidency. 

The latest achievement – crucially important for us – is that table tennis was promoted to a higher category in the IOC evaluation. What happened next showed a typical characteristic of Adham.  After we got that information, he did not lean back with satisfaction, but immediately announced the next goal: to be in the top 5 sports overall.

As CEO, what are your thoughts about how the ITTF can be in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO? 

In my opinion in order to achieve the goal to be in the top 5: 

We have to “sell” table tennis in the best way through high-level presentation of our athletes and our competitions and with good promotion.

We need to have strong presence in the IOC and other key international sport organizations.

We have to secure a firm long-term financial situation for ITTF.

I submitted a few ideas to the DBI database on how to achieve the above and, of course, I am keen to help the Chair to summarize all the input we’ve received.

As the CEO, how involved are you in EC discussions and setting the direction of the ITTF? 

As the CEO, my responsibility is to properly prepare the program projects, activities, and proposals for a clear presentation to the EC by the staff team. The Executive Committee defines policies, approves directives and makes decisions on specific matters based on the supporting documents and verbal presentations and explanations.  It is also our duty to report to the EC details about the completed work. I am very grateful that the EC members always listen to our “voice” before making their decisions.    

I remember President Sharara telling me a couple of years ago that as part of his succession plan, he wanted to make sure that the next ITTF President would come into the position with a strong staff in place, capable of implementing not only operational responsibilities, but also the next president’s vision.  Well, here we are.  Does it seem to you that Adham has met that objective?

Better you ask him.

To answer seriously, from our side, the professional staff will do its best and will fully support the next ITTF President, Thomas Weikert, to make the transfer smooth and easy. Of course it is a great challenge to follow after a successful President who leaves his significant mark on the ITTF.  But knowing that both Adham and Thomas are very conscientious, responsible persons and good leaders, I believe in the continuity overall, even if naturally there will be new ideas and new directions in some areas. 

Final question, to bring everything together, what sentiments would you like to express about Adham Sharara and his tenure as ITTF president?  

It would be strange to praise my boss. Instead let me just say that I fully share all the opinions my colleagues have expressed in the previous Countdown articles.

Adham’s presidency will be a significant chapter in the ITTF history book. It did not last as long as that of the founder, Ivor Montagu or his successor Roy Evans, however, in the last 15 years table tennis improved faster and changed faster than ever before. Nobody argues that Adham has played the key role in it.

Thank you, Judit.  Congratulations on your part as well in the elevation of the ITTF.