Sports Business

BEHIND THE NEWS: Frick, master of megadeals, ready to dial back intensity

June 20, 2005

Attorney David Frick says Anthem Inc.'s $20.8 billion purchase of Well-Point Health Networks was the toughest deal he ever negotiated-and that's saying something.

This is the same guy who helped broker the 1983 deal selling the Indiana Pacers to Mel and Herb Simon, eliminating the risk the franchise would go elsewhere.

The same guy who served as the city's chief negotiator in the deal that brought the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984.

Anthem-WellPoint was even tougher, Frick says, in part because Anthem was the smaller company. And because the pact had to go through regulators in more than two dozen states.

"In all candor, it just took a lot out of me," Frick says of the purchase, which closed last November, creating Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., the nation's biggest health insurer. "I was exhausted at the end of the process."

That helps explain why Frick, the mild-mannered civic and business leader at the center of many of Indianapolis' biggest deals in the past quarter century, is ditching his 70-hour work weeks and retiring at the end of this month, just as he turns 61.

Behind the scenes

For the past decade, he served as executive vice president and chief legal and administrative officer of the insurer. In that span, Frick rarely found himself in the headlines, just as he rarely was in the spotlight as deputy mayor under William Hudnut in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But in both the public and private sector, he sure got a lot done. As deputy mayor, he was one of the leaders of the city's strategy to use sports as an economic-development tool.

It wasn't because he's a face-painting sports nut. While he has season tickets to the Colts and Pacers, "it's entertainment," Frick says. "I don't go home depressed when we lose a game."

Rather, he says, "the community was really stagnating. ... It was recognized that, in and of itself, sports has economic activity associated with it. But as important a driver in that strategy was that the men and women who made locational decisions for their companies oftentimes follow sports, and Indianapolis was just not on their radar screen."

When the effort began in the late 1970s, the focus was on amateur sports. But it soon broadened to include building a domed stadium-what's now known as the RCA Dome-to attract an NFL team.

Because the dome attracts events beyond football, the numbers worked even if the effort to land an NFL franchise had failed, Frick says.

"The risk really was a public relations risk," he said. "If we never landed a team, people would perceive the project a failure."

While critics have sometimes questioned the value of the sports push, "Most people said the strategy worked," Frick says. "It got us on the map."

'A calming influence'

Frick's skill sealing deals was crucial for Anthem as it struck merger after merger with Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies in recent years, says L. Ben Lytle, a company director and former CEO.

"He has the ability to get people to work together. He has a calming influence, a let's-getthis-done kind of attitude," Lytle says. "I have never heard Dave raise his voice-ever."

That's not to say Frick is laid-back. While the Anthem-WellPoint merger hung in limbo, Frick would often wake up between 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., his mind whirring, and begin dispatching e- mails to colleagues.

"Fortunately, I wouldn't call them," he says.

'Nuts-and-bolts guy'

Frick describes himself as "kind of a nuts-and-bolts guy. I always have long lists. I am a very detail-oriented guy. Believe it or not, I still balance my checkbook down to the penny."

Now, Frick says he's ready to turn down the intensity. He says he promised his wife of 40 years, Ann, that for six months he'd make no commitments, freeing up time for family, including triplet granddaughters.

But when a guy known for getting things done has time on his hands, others notice. And when Gov. Mitch Daniels called and asked Frick to serve on the new Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority, he found himself saying yes.

Frick is chairman of the seven-member board, which will oversee construction of the convention center expansion and the new Colts stadium. He's already spending about four days a week on his new mission-making sure the community ends up with quality projects completed on time and on budget.
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