Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman’s Silver Lining Playbook For His Brand

Lied to by Lance Armstrong. Ditched by Nike. Thrown into “survivorship” mode. The resilient leader of an embattled foundation talks with Fast Company senior writer Ellen McGirt about moving past trouble.

For Doug Ulman, it’s been a bumpy ride.


The President and CEO of Livestrong has lost countless hours answering questions about how he has dealt with the fact that his friend, boss, and the man some have called the world’s most famous cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong, had lied to him–and everyone–about his doping history.

“I’m not sure that the team has fully processed it,” he said, of the roughly 100 people who currently work at the foundation. “But we’re doing the best we can to ensure that the foundation not only survives but thrives.”

When I sat down with Ulman at SXSW this year, he had already been through the ringer. Just four months earlier, Armstrong had finally severed all official ties with Livestrong, having lost his Tour de France titles and sponsors like Nike and Oakley. He’d already been on the excruciating walk of shame to the Oprah confessional. Livestrong backers, meanwhile, were also bailing.

“The one silver lining,” Ulman said, “is that more people know who we are and what we do, and we’re serving more people today than we were six months ago.”

That silver lining is going to come in handy. The final swoosh dropped at the end of May, when Nike announced that it would end its production of the now famous Livestrong apparel and merchandising line, which has been inextricably linked with both the brand’s image and revenue stream.

Doug Ulman and Ellen McGirt

Ulman has become philosophical, examining what the foundation actually means to people, as distinct from the attributes that both Armstrong–and now Nike–had brought to the table.


“The ‘brand’ is different from the foundation,” he said. “One serves as a way to raise money and awareness.”

Money and awareness are good things, he concedes. But the people who work at Livestrong, who speak to patients and their families, work with doctors, and lobby Congress, are made of strong stuff. And it’s the community they serve that will help them decide the next steps. “We’re all about survivorship, it’s what we do all day. And now we’re going to have apply the same approach to our own organization.”

About the author

Vivek Kemp is Fast Company's Senior Video Producer. He has worked for NBC Network News, News Corporation's The Daily and the Naples Daily News.