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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

In business speech, UM athletic director touts value of change, chaos

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
David Brandon, University of Michigan athletic director and guest speaker at the KeyBank Global Leaders Forum, tells businesses to embrace sudden change, just as legendary coach Bo Schembechler taught him. David Brandon, University of Michigan athletic director and guest speaker at the KeyBank Global Leaders Forum, tells businesses to embrace sudden change, just as legendary coach Bo Schembechler taught him.
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Change and the accompanying chaos it brings is inevitable, and these days it’s impossible to escape chaotic change.

“If you wake up and want things to be like they were, you’re going to be in trouble. Change is going to leave you behind,” said David Brandon, former chief executive officer of Domino’s Pizza and the athletic director at the University of Michigan since March, 2010.

But change needn’t be a bad thing. Handled properly, it can invigorate an organization, said Mr. Brandon, the featured speaker Friday at the KeyBank Global Leaders Forum. Held at the hotel at the University of Toledo’s Health Science Campus — formerly the Medical College of Ohio — the forum was attended by 200 area businessmen.

Over a four-decade career, Mr. Brandon worked at Procter & Gamble, and was CEO at coupon distributor Valassis Communications and Domino’s Pizza before becoming Michigan’s athletic director. All four places had change and chaos, he said.

P&G was trying to get out of the food business during Mr. Brandon’s tenure. Valassis was jolted by a competitor that had deep financial backing. And Domino’s began changing its ordering, tracking, and delivering of pizza after he took over in 1999.

When he became athletic director, the chaos was even greater at Michigan, but he didn’t panic.

When Mr. Brandon was a football player at Michigan, legendary coach Bo Schembechler taught him about “sudden change” by having his defensive squads prepare for unexpected turnovers by the offense. Players would chant “sudden change,” in practice and relish adversity, he said.

“Most organizations don’t do that. They complain or put their heads down,” Mr. Brandon said. “You have to condition your people to embrace sudden change because it isn’t going away.”

Mr. Brandon said a plan he found 22 years ago advises businesses to do six things to enact change: build a case for it, provide a vision for what it looks like, give people skills to deal with it, offer incentives to embrace it, provide resources to fund it, and have an action plan so people know their new roles.

Mr. Brandon said he used the plan to reorganize Michigan’s athletic department, which was underperforming. “We were a culture that just liked doing things the way we’d been doing it. If we were getting beat, we’d just call timeout and sing the fight song and we’d feel better about ourselves.”

Mr. Brandon made seven hires and moved nine other people into new positions. In three years, performance measurements showed a complete turnaround, he said.

With his department retooled, Mr. Brandon has built up the Michigan brand, albeit, not without criticisms. For example, his decision to hold a football game at night in 2011 angered some, but was so successful he was criticized again for not having one scheduled in 2012, he said.

He hired the Walt Disney Co. to teach Michigan’s concessions workers how to treat customers better, installed lights at the football stadium, hired a chief marketing officer, and even began holding weddings in 114,000-seat Michigan Stadium. “If you want the marching band to come, we’ll have the marching band come. You want a military flyover? We can arrange for that. Whatever you’re willing to pay for.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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