Sunday, August 01, 1999

Ace of the ATP

For 25 years, Paul Flory has built an elite tournament - and an elite reputation

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Paul Flory's success in running the Great American Insurance ATP Championship is well-recognized.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        For the 1990 ATP Championship, new tables and box seats were installed in a section of the main stadium. Owners of those boxes at the tennis tournament complained the first day that they couldn't see over the tables.

        Hearing the complaints, tournament director Paul Flory brought in a construction crew that worked through the night to raise the chairs. The next morning, box seat owners could see just fine. They were also stunned at the rapid response.

        “All Paul cares about is having the best event in the world, for the fans and the players, and to raise money for the hospital,” said J. Wayne Richmond, the ATP Tour's executive vice president of the Americas. “Nothing else really crosses his mind.”

        The 1999 Great American Insurance ATP Championship begins Thursday with the mixed doubles seniors tournament. The main draw (Aug. 9-15) is expected to attract 23 of the top 25 ranked players in the world.

atp attendance
        This is the 25th year that Mr. Flory has been head of the event. His behind-the-scenes attention to detail is one of his trademarks, both in Cincinnati and throughout the international tennis community, and the main reason the tournament is thriving today.

        Respected and admired in tennis circles around the world, Mr. Flory, 77, remains fairly anonymous to the average Cincinnatian.

        The low profile is just fine with the unassuming Mr. Flory.

        “He's content to do the job without having the focus on himself,” said Tom Buford, a long-time friend and tournament director of the Kroger St. Jude tennis tournament in Memphis. “I think that's a little bit unusual, I really do.”

        Mr. Flory took over as tournament director of what was then the Western Tennis Championships in the fall 1974. Over the years — through name changes, financial hardship, facility developments and tennis politics — he has built the annual event into one of the top four tournaments in the United States and among the top 13 in the world — including the Grand Slams.

        “Isn't that something? The guy came to dinner and didn't know when to go home,” Mr. Flory said, sitting casually in his office in the Chiquita Center. He is smiling. “I never would've dreamed.”

1999 ATP Championship
  • When: Seniors Championship (Aug. 5-7), Qualifying Tournament (Aug. 7-8), main draw (Aug. 9-15)
  • Where: ATP Tennis Center, Mason.
  • Tickets: Prices vary by day. Call 651-0303 or TicketMaster at 562-4949.
  • Defending champion: No. 1-ranked Patrick Rafter
        The tennis tournament, which benefits Children's Hospital Medical Center, has taken on Mr. Flory's personality, a fan-friendly event with this main goal: Players and fans must enjoy themselves.

        The ATP Championship annually draws one of the best fields in the world. The ATP Tennis Center in Mason is recognized as one of the best tennis facilities anywhere. And the ATP's annual facility improvements have taken place without taxpayer money, public wrangling, controversy or fanfare.

        “Aside from family, health and world happiness, he wants to make sure this tournament runs right,” said son Bruce Flory, who is in line to succeed his father as head of the tournament. “He probably cares too much.”

Recognized worldwide
        Paul Flory has flourished as the head of the ATP Championship because of his ability to inspire loyalty from all walks of the tennis world and his community.

        Measures of his success:

        • In 1986, the players chose the ATP Championship as their favorite tournament.

        • In 1989, the International Tennis Hall of Fame selected Cincinnati as its first “Tennis City of the Year.”

        • In 1991 and '94, the tournament received the ATP Tour's Tournament Operations Award, and in 1995 and '97 the Top Facilities Award. The ATP Tour governs the international men's pro tennis circuit.

        • In 1997, Mr. Flory received the prestigious Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his contributions to charity and humanity.

        In 25 years, he has not received a cent for his efforts. He works year-round strictly as a volunteer.

        Mr. Flory typically does not play the part of a man with a prominent position in the sporting world. He goes to Wimbledon each year, attends the business meetings and leaves, rather than staying for two weeks of play and socializing.

        He stays in modest hotels and hardly ever eats in over-priced hotel restaurants. His office desk has scratches and pieces of wood chipped off.

        Mr. Flory doesn't mingle with players just to be seen with them. He greets them and makes sure they have what they need, but he doesn't try to be their buddy. They appreciate that.

        “When Paul needs something, the players are more than happy to do it because they know if there's anything the players need, Paul's willing to go out of his way to take care of it,” said two-time ATP champion Michael Chang.

        Mr. Flory, a former Procter & Gamble executive who retired in December 1986, is quick to ask opinions of others and share credit for success and slow to embrace his status as one of the most successful tournament directors in the world.

        “I don't want to be guilty of false modesty,” Mr. Flory said. “I'm flattered by the fact that people recognize I've made a contribution. I have to be candid, it's satisfying to know that something has turned out well. I also think that anything you do is fragile in certain respects. It can be a great success and the next thing it's not doing so well.”

Helping hands
        Because of his reputation as an honest man with good business sense, Mr. Flory has had the trust and support of some prominent local businessmen. That was a key to his early success as tournament director.

        He had been working for P&G since 1947 — a year after he got out of the Navy. He moved to Cincinnati from New York in 1964, joined the Hyde Park Tennis Club, then later the Cincinnati Tennis Club.

        Members of the club were asked to help play host to the Tri-State Tennis Tournament. In 1966, Mr. Flory helped find housing for players. In 1969, he was asked to help recruit players.

        Mr. Flory was manager of P&G's Professional Services division, which dealt with hospitals and dental and medical professionals. Perhaps naive, he says he was not intimidated talking to players. His first stop was Washington, D.C., to secure a commitment from Ken Rosewall, one of he best players of the time. Mr. Flory got his man.

        “I think everybody felt I did a great sales job on Ken Rosewall,” Mr. Flory said. “Actually, Kenny had already decided he wanted to play here. But I got the credit.”

        When the tournament was at the Queen City Racquet Club in 1972 and '73, Mr. Flory wasn't involved. He returned to help recruit players for the 1974 tourney.

        That fall, P&G executive Bill Wichman, president of the Cincinnati Tennis Club, and former tournament director J. Howard “Bumpy” Frazer took Mr. Flory to lunch and asked him to be director of the financially struggling tournament.

        “Having this interest in tennis, I said, "yes,'” Mr. Flory said. “I guess I was flattered by it.”

        Mr. Flory lived on the same street in Hyde Park as Bill Keating, then president and publisher of The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Charlie Mechem, then chairman of Taft Broadcasting. Taft had just taken over ownership of Coney Island, and Mr. Mechem agreed to build a temporary stadium there. Mr. Keating agreed to provide free advertising. Mr. Flory's two neighbors said they would underwrite the tournament should it lose money.

        The agreement had one condition: Mr. Flory must remain in charge.

        “We had to use some good, sound business judgment and we bet on the man,” Mr. Keating said. “And obviously we were right.”

        Said Mr. Mechem: “That first year at Coney we didn't know whether anybody was going to show up. The last day, there was almost a full house. I promise you that no one had any inkling of how it would grow from there.”

        The stadium seating capacity was roughly 5,000. Close to 35,000 attended for the week, and the event turned over $30,000 to Children's Hospital.

        “We managed to survive that year,” Mr. Flory said. “I was only going to do it one year. But I was sort of intrigued by it.”

Follow the leader
        Mr. Flory's greatest asset may be his ability to get others to follow his lead.

        For one thing, people know he asks only for the good of the cause, never for himself.

        His energy and enthusiasm — which everyone agrees has not changed over the years — is contagious.

        “His job is persuading,” said Mr. Flory's wife and tournament facilitator Carolyn. “Whether you're selling toothpaste or tickets, it's the same.”

        “People want to do what he asks,” said Jack Guggenheim, the tournament director in 1974 who's now in charge of tournament operations.

        Mr. Flory's leadership style, in part, comes from years of observing others.

        In the 1970s, Mr. Flory attended a dinner for the American Dental Association in Washington, D.C., and couldn't help but notice how the man in charge of the event greeted those in attendance.

        “He did an unbelievable job of making people feel comfortable and setting the tone for the whole atmosphere,” Mr. Flory said. “I was energized by the way he operated. That had a huge influence on me.”

        Since '75, he has been trying to set the tone at the ATP Championship.

        “He motivates everyone to really want to do a good job to make the event successful,” said associate tournament director Elaine Bruening, who first worked with Mr. Flory in 1976 at Procter & Gamble. “He has a way of making you walk away from a meeting with a whole list of things to do but you really feel good about it.”

        Mr. Flory grew up relatively poor, a product of the Depression. The last two years of high school he lived and worked on a farm owned by his stepmother's family just outside Higginsport, Ohio. He started college at Ohio University, then attended Yale, as mandated by the Navy's V-12 Program, in which enlisted men would be trained as officers while taking classes. He graduated in February 1945. After two years in the Navy and another year at Yale for extra course work, Mr. Flory landed a job with Procter & Gamble.

        He trained briefly in Chicago, then lived in Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Cincinnati, New York, then Cincinnati again.

        Asked to describe Mr. Flory, long-time friends, co-workers and tennis officials use adjectives like patient, humble, loyal, honest, sincere, approachable, self-deprecating.

        “You can bet your life on what he tells you,” said Tom Price, an adviser to the ATP and the man for whom the Metropolitan Tennis Tournament is named.

        Mr. Flory is a stickler for details.

        As he was leaving for Wimbledon in June, he was concerned because columns at the ATP Tennis Center were being painted, and Mr. Flory wanted them to be just the right shade of green. He wanted his wife to check the color at the site and called from London to see if she had done it.

        “He's right about it,” she said. “If it's the wrong color, that's the first thing people are going to see. He's doing research. The tournament is made up of a million details. The big decisions are easy.”

        Carolyn Nelson met Paul Flory when she was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota; Paul, five years older, was selling for P&G's drug products division. Her parents liked him; she wasn't sure.

        “I wasn't terribly impressed,” Carolyn said. She told her father: “He's so silly.”

        Carolyn changed her mind. After three dates, she told her sister she was going to marry him. “He was sweet and kind,” she said. “He reminded me of my father.” Their 47th wedding anniversary was in March.

        Mr. Flory is generous with his time. He belongs to the Rotary Club and serves on a Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church committee. He also is on the board of trustees for Cincinnati 2012, the organization trying to secure the Olympics for the region.

        He doesn't like lengthy meetings or ongoing discussions that go nowhere. He has no patience for pettiness.

        “He's got that ability to be able to cut through all the garbage and come up with the right decision and the right answer,” said Jim Brockhoff, the ATP Championship's deputy referee who has been involved in the tournament since he was a ball boy in the 1940s.

        The tennis tournament was the first major client for Dan Pinger Public Relations, and a conference room at the agency is named for Mr. Flory.

        “Listen,” Mr. Pinger said, “you talk to the ATP — the ATP will say that he's the best they've ever seen. He's a first-class guy. He's smart. He's not in it for an ego trip. He works his tail off to do the right thing.”

Ready for battle
        Mr. Flory's goal from the start was to make the ATP an event. He believes fans don't attend the Indianapolis 500 or Kentucky Derby to see a specific driver or horse, but rather because both are the place to be.

        He wants fans treated well, the atmosphere pleasant, the food options plentiful.

        The reason the ATP Championship is one of the elite tournaments in the world is because Mr. Flory has prepared for, fought and endured numerous battles over the years to help the event earn and maintain first-tier status.

        There have been three watershed moments during Mr. Flory's tenure. If not for Mr. Flory, Cincinnati would not play host to the top names in the sport.

        • 1979: Boston — which was held a week before the U.S. Open — lost its status as the ATP Championship. It had put in clay courts a couple of years earlier. Now the players wanted hard courts, because that's what was at the U.S. Open. Boston wasn't going to change again.

        Then-ATP official Donald Dell told Mr. Flory: If you build a new stadium, we will come. In 1979, a temporary stadium with hard courts was put up in Mason.

        Mr. Flory believed the event, held 25 miles north of downtown, could draw from Columbus, Indianapolis and Dayton. He thought it wouldn't be as hot as it was at Coney Island and there wouldn't be any chance of flooding. Taft Broadcasting, which then owned Kings Island and the golf course across Interstate 71, would provide space for a tennis center.

        “He had the vision,” Mr. Brockhoff said. “He could always see the things at the end of the tunnel that other people couldn't see.”

        • 1989: Pro tennis players formed a new tour and set up three classes of tournaments: World Series (smaller prize money) and Single-week and Double-up week Championship Series (purses up to $2 million). Some tournaments would be the only ones played during a week. Others would be at the same time as another, diluting the field.

        The ATP Tour, in effect, said to tournament directors: It's a blank calendar. Tell us how much prize money you're offering and what dates you prefer.

        The Cincinnati tournament offered a $1.3 million purse — double what it was the previous year — and asked for a date two or three weeks before the U.S. Open.

        Mr. Flory got what he wanted.

        “Why Cincinnati?” said Hamilton Jordan, then the ATP Tour executive director and former chief of staff to President Carter. “It was because of Paul Flory. He did all the things you have to do, keeping the prize money up, expanding the stadium, the management of the tournament itself.”

        • 1997-98: Tennis officials considered restructuring the tour and reducing the number of elite tournaments — known as Mercedes Super 9 events — to seven. Cincinnati's status was in jeopardy.

        In December 1997, Mr. Flory wrote letters to the top 100 players asking for their support. Then he had it translated into six different languages, a gesture that greatly impressed Spaniard Alex Corretja, who thanked Mr. Flory for the courtesy.

        Mr. Flory also wrote 25 drafts before getting his proposal to tennis officials.

        “That was a typical Paul maneuver,” Mr. Bruening said. “He was going to work and persevere until he was so sure we would get one of those top tournaments.”

        Cincinnati maintained Super 9 status. It will be a mandatory tournament for the top-ranked players starting next year.

        Mr. Flory's foresight and dedication have been rewarded with the support of players and high-ranking tennis officials.

        The ATP was one of the first tournaments to supply players with cars and take care of the participants' needs (such as free golf, passes to Kings Island).

        Because the Cincinnati tournament had been deemed the “players championship,” the winner would not have to pay dues to the ATP Tour ever again. Also, in 1983, the tournament started a players' pension fund, to which the tournament contributed for the next seven years.

        And so the stars have kept coming year after year: Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Michael Chang, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras.

        “The tennis world is a very tight and very small community,” said Butch Buchholtz, a former player, former executive director of the ATP Tour and now tournament chairman for The Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla. “And it's not an easy fraternity to break into. Paul has done a very good job based on ... his personality. Paul's not confrontational. He's not overbearing. Paul has always been a voice of being reasonable, of being fair.”

        Every year, tournament directors from around the world come to the Great American Insurance ATP Championship. They want to observe how the tournament runs and see changes in the facility.

        Richmond said there are always people asking why Cincinnati has such an elite status in the tennis world. When Mercedes Benz signed on as the Super 9 sponsor in 1995, representatives from the company — from both Germany and the United States — attended the ATP.

        “They didn't understand,” Mr. Richmond said. “They were kind of scratching their head — Why would one of the biggest events be outside Kings Island in Cincinnati?

        “When they left, they were absolutely blown away by the facility, Paul and his people and the fact that this was all being run for Children's Hospital. They couldn't have been more impressed. But that's typical ...

        “Whether it's the person who handles the ball kids in Cincinnati or (ATP Tour CEO) Mark Miles,” Mr. Richmond said, “people like working with Paul. He's just a very unique guy.”

The Paul Flory file
Flory's son next in line to run ATP

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