Will new board members take Hulman & Co public?

Hulman & Co. took a public relations hit when Tony George, the company namesake’s grandson, abruptly resigned from its board almost two years ago. But his resignation wasn’t exactly a game-changer for the venerable Terre Haute company that controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The board—populated by George, his three sisters and his mother—was insular before he resigned, and it remained so after the women in his family effectively pushed him out. Not much changed until last month when the company made the welcome announcement that it was doubling the size of its board.

Tony George is one of the four new members. If that means the family is healing, we’re all for it, and George’s background in racing and with the company will surely be a benefit. But we’re more excited about the addition of three savvy directors from outside the Hulman-George circle.

The Speedway and the IndyCar racing series, which is also controlled by Hulman & Co., are far too important to the Indianapolis economy for their fate to rest entirely in the hands of a small board populated by members of the same family.

Ultimately, the family still runs the show, but there are now three outsiders with a voice who can bring new perspectives to the family business. All three have deep roots in the city, and, presumably, a keen appreciation for what the Speedway and racing mean to Indianapolis.

Andre Lacy, one of the newly appointed directors, told IBJ last week that he views his appointment as a way to give back to the community by helping to secure the Speedway’s future. Lacy is chairman of the local holding company Lacy Diversified Industries Ltd. and boasts decades of management experience.

The other new directors are Michael L. Smith, the former chief financial officer of Anthem Inc. (now WellPoint) who guided the health insurer through its $2.1 billion initial public offering in 2001; and Jerry Throgmartin, the executive chairman of HHGregg, the locally based, publicly traded appliance retailer.

All three of the outsiders have public company experience, leading some to speculate the family is interested in taking public all or part of their empire, which includes the company that makes Clabber Girl baking powder. Raising capital in the public markets could address estate tax issues or allow one or more of the family members to cash out.

It seems more likely that the new directors’ charge is to improve financial oversight and help the family work through numerous challenges. The IndyCar Series, which has been a money loser since it emerged from the split in open-wheel racing in the mid-’90s, is desperate to turn a profit. And the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself isn’t the picture of financial stability it was during most of the second half of the 20th century.

Even a place as iconic as the Speedway must change with the times. Hulman & Co.’s new board is a sign the Hulman-George family realizes that and is taking steps to secure its future. IBJ.com

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