WASILLA — The Iditarod Trail Committee named 57-year-old Rob Urbach its new CEO at the Iditarod Headquarters on Knik-Goose Bay Road June 29.
Urbach has years of experience in the business of endurance athletic competitions, but none yet with Iditarod. Urbach looks to meet as many dogs, mushers, sponsors and volunteers in preparation for the 2020 Iditarod. While Urbach’s resume is littered with success stories with human athletes, he is becoming more and more familiar with the word ‘cheechako’ and is insistent on learning as much as he can as the CEO of The Last Great Race.
“I still can’t conceive what the mindset is on day six when it’s 3 a.m., it’s 40 below, how do you possibly keep it together and sane? So being able to get some vicarious strength from that is going to be really important, but ultimately it’s about helping the community and serving the entire community,” Urbach said.
Urbach holds an MBA from Wharton and served as the CEO of USA Triathlon from 2011-2017. Urbach replaces Stan Hooley, who resigned as Iditarod CEO last year.
“People that will probably look at me and say I’ve forgotten more about mushing than you’ll ever know, and they’re probably right. I didn’t grow up with this, but I grew up understanding a lot about what makes people tick, a lot about passion. I’ve been in the passion world my entire career and the Iditarod is the embodiment of passion,” Urbach said.
As CEO of USA Triathlon, Urbach managed hundreds of thousands of volunteers for the 4,000 sanctioned events. Urbach said that he plans to engage all different constituencies of The Last Great Race, from mushers to volunteers to fans.
“I think I’m a better CEO now than I was years ago. I have learned a lot of humility, frankly,” Urbach said. “You learn to listen and you learn to really validate ideas and I think that’s something that’s really important here.”
Urbach got his first taste of the Iditarod on a flight to Alaska 20 years ago, sharing a conversation with Susan Lucci from “All My Children.” Urbach hopes to expand opportunities for the Iditarod through corporate partnerships, technological advancements to expand opportunities for fans and chief among them, dog safety.
“I want to ensure that utmost standards are met or exceeded and how the Iditarod can be a model for animal care for other events and for the average pet owner,” Urbach said. “I think the race is already very safe so I want to continue to ensure it’s ongoing safety.”
Urbach was an All-American tennis player at Centre College before attending Wharton. Urbach fell in love with endurance sports after college, competing in the Ironman Kona World Championship and winning several major triathlons along the way, competing in his first Ironman World Championship at the age of 20 in 1982. Urbach he is willing to open discussions with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and hopes to visit as many kennels as possible before the Iditarod starts next winter. Urbach most recently gave private equity advisory services as a director at Andra Partners before taking the job as the CEO of the Iditarod. According to his website, Urbach doubled sponsorships and grew revenues over 50 percent in three years, surpassed financial projections by 30 percent and secured more than $50 million in acquisitions of player management companies. Triathlon Business International called Urbach, “One of the most accomplished and talented executives in the sports industry.”
Prior to taking the job as CEO of USA Triathlon, Urbach was the Managing Director at Cortview Capital Markets. Prior to that, Urbach also served as the Executive Vice President of Octagon, a top global sports management and marketing firm with athletes all over the world. Octagon represented Olympic icon Michael Phelps during Urbach’s tenure. Urbach began his sports management career working for sports agent David Falk who represented NBA legends Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.
“He has a consistent record of positioning organizations for success, spurring multi million-dollar profits, increasing efficiency, and demonstrating a profound dedication to corporate growth,” according to his website.
Urbach helped to improve the safety of triathlon events which can see competitors suffer fatalities. Urbach said that his experience in dealing with weather contingencies for a one-day event will have to change as the elements along Alaska’s coast can be unforgiving.
“I’ve been a student of the endurance world for a long time and there’s something about the essence, the difficulty and the challenge of the race that kind of resonated with me. I felt it and so I‘ve always been awe struck by the event,” Urbach said of the Iditarod.
Urbach hopes that his decades of sports management and marketing experience will provide positive outcomes for the Iditarod, which has felt pressure from PETA in recent years and lost valuable corporate sponsorship.
“There is opportunity to bring additional sponsors, additional media channels so I think there will be a mix of old and new. We want to build upon the history and mojo of the event and tell the history and keep the event relative, so there’s a lot of new technologies with content and think they’ve always done a really good job,” Urbach said.