- Max Collins/Daily
By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published January 5, 2010
Ending a two-month search, University officials announced yesterday morning that Domino’s Pizza chairman and CEO David Brandon will be the next athletic director.
A search for Athletic Director Bill Martin’s successor began in October, when Martin — who has served as athletic director since 2000 — announced his intention to retire in September 2010. Though Martin won’t officially retire until Sept. 4, Brandon will begin his five-year appointment on March 8, pending approval from the Board of Regents at its Jan. 21 meeting.
When Brandon officially takes the reins on March 8, Martin will transition to a role as special advisor to the president until his retirement in September.
Despite his new role at the University, Brandon — who has served as Domino's CEO since March 1999 — will continue to serve as non-executive chairman for Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza. His position on the board of directors will not require any day-to-day responsibilities at the company.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman expressed her excitement about Brandon’s decision to accept the post of athletic director.
“This is a new era, and I think David Brandon really is positioned well for the challenges that we’re going to face in the future,” Coleman said.
Coleman said though there were many candidates vying for the position and others were nominated for it, she felt Brandon’s experience made him the right person for the job.
“Times are different now than they were when Bill took over,” Coleman said of Martin. “I think (Brandon) has a lot of management skills that, as the department has grown and it’s become more complicated, we’ll need to pull on.”
Consistent with the growing importance of financial management throughout the University’s administration, Coleman said she felt financial management would continue to be an increasingly important area of focus for the Athletic Department. She added that Brandon’s business background would enable him to handle the department’s finances well.
Coleman also said she was impressed with the responses Brandon gave during interviews for the job.
“One of the things that David talked about during his interviews was really quite intriguing — how to enhance our fan experience,” Coleman said.
“There are all sorts of things we need to be looking at for the future because people are going to have choices about what they do with their leisure time and we want to keep people connected to the University,” Coleman said, adding that athletics is a key way to keep people active in the University community.
Additionally, Coleman said she was impressed with Brandon’s desire to better align the Athletic Department with the University’s academic mission.
“We’re building pretty good bridges already, but we could strengthen those bridges,” Coleman said of the relationship between athletics and academics.
However, Coleman admitted that though she valued Brandon’s business savvy, it was ultimately his demonstrated ability to unite people behind a common purpose that impressed her most.
“I was very intrigued by that sort of quality that he has to bring out the best in people and move organizations forward,” she said. “That ultimately is what persuaded me that he could take those skills into the setting of intercollegiate athletics.”
Looking to the future, Coleman said she believes Brandon will be able to strengthen the University’s relationship with the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference.
“I’ve talked to him about my desire for him to become really engaged with the issues of the Big Ten conference and also at the NCAA,” Coleman said. “I’d like Michigan to have a seat at the table when a lot of those decisions are made and Dave Brandon will be, I think, a very powerful voice for Michigan.”
Though the final selection was Coleman’s and hers alone, a small committee — including Provost Teresa Sullivan, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Tim Slottow, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, Education Prof. and faculty athletic representative to the Big 10 and NCAA Percy Bates and Director of the Life Sciences Institute Liz Barry — was formed to advise her on possible replacements.
Briefing members of the press from the athletic director’s conference room in Weidenbach Hall, Brandon expressed his excitement for the new position.
“I’m the athletic director of the University of Michigan. I’m proud to do that,” Brandon said. “I’ve committed to the University for a minimum of five years and I hope that gets extended. This is what I want to do.”
Asked about his role at Domino’s, Brandon said he was happy with his decision to move to the University’s Athletic Department.
“I can’t think of many jobs in the world that I would pick up and leave that great company and great brand for, but this is one,” Brandon said. “I love the University of Michigan, I loved it when I was here as a student-athlete, I’ve been connected to it ever since in one-way or another.”
Brandon told reporters that he would carry over his work ethic as a CEO to the University’s Athletic Department.
“I’m not Don Canham, I’m not Bo Schembechler, I’m Dave Brandon,” he said. “I’ll bring my life experiences to this job and I’ll work harder than any athletic director has ever worked to be successful.”
Brandon said it was too soon to speculate on specific changes he might make to the department, but he said he would focus on unifying and strengthening the department’s activities.
“Every business that I have led has been number one in its category or number one in the industry that it competes in. I don’t know any other way,” Brandon said. “I want the Athletic Department at the University of Michigan to be number one in the nation in terms of talent, in terms of accomplishment, in terms of success in all the ways success can be measured. That’s what I’ll be working towards.”
However, Brandon also alluded to his interest in furthering Martin’s legacy for the Athletic Department by continuing to renovate and expand the University’s athletic facilities.
“There are big plans underway to put the expansion in place and the practice facilities,” he said. “I’ve seen a little bit about what those plans are about, they look exciting. They’re long overdue.”
Brandon specifically referenced plans underway to make facility improvements to Yost Ice Arena and Crisler Arena, saying he was excited about the opportunities.
“I’m a guy who understands what it means to be a Michigan man. I understand the traditions of this place, I understand the important role (the Athletic Department) plays in the University community and I think that understanding and that grounding that I have in this job will be an asset in this job,” Brandon told reporters.
Martin released a statement this morning congratulating Brandon on being selected as his successor.
“I applaud Mary Sue Coleman for making such an outstanding selection,” Martin wrote in the statement. “Dave has all the skills to run Michigan Athletics. He’s a former Michigan athlete, an extremely successful businessman, he served the University as a regent so he understands the internal workings and we won’t miss a beat.”
Martin continued: “He’ll certainly move us forward. I’m very, very pleased and I look forward to working with him in a very orderly and smooth transition.”
Associate Athletic Director Lloyd Carr, formerly Michigan’s football coach, told the Daily in an interview today that he was excited about Brandon’s appointment.
“The University of Michigan athletic director historically has played an important role not only in our institution, but nationally as well,” Carr said. “I think David brings a breadth of experience in so many different areas and that experience, I think, is going to enable him to be a great leader here.”
Carr said he felt the decision would be good not only for the athletic department, but for the University as a whole.
“What comes across if you talk to (Brandon) is great passion for the University of Michigan,” he said. “He went to school here ... and was a regent and he’s done a lot of things to improve the University so we’re all excited.”
Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez echoed Martin's and Carr's comments in a statement released this morning.
“We are very excited that Dave will be leading our athletic department,” Rodriguez wrote. “He has been a successful leader in business and I’m sure all of our teams will benefit from his experience.”
John Beilein, head coach of the men’s basketball program, also released a statement this morning in support of Brandon’s selection.
“This is great news for the University of Michigan and our athletic department,” Beilein wrote. “There was no question in my mind after the interview process that David Brandon is the right fit to lead our program at this time and in the years to come.”
Softball coach Carol Hutchins agreed with Rodriguez.
“Clearly, David Brandon has long-standing ties to this University, and he is an upstanding member of the University community, the Ann Arbor community and the state of Michigan,” Hutchins wrote in a statement. “I am certain that Mary Sue Coleman has found someone committed to upholding the traditions of Michigan athletics.”
In an interview this morning, Regent Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park) praised Brandon’s selection.
“In my opinion, President Mary Sue Coleman has chosen the perfect person for the job,” Richner said. “I think Dave will bring innovation and new and fresh ideas to the department. We’re excited and thrilled to have him joining our team.”
Richner explained that he feels Brandon’s experience as a CEO and his continued involvement with the University makes Brandon the right person for the job.
“A modern-day athletic department is in fact a large and complex organization, especially at a major university like the University of Michigan,” Richner said. “As such, the kind of skills to lead such an organization are really those in line with those of a CEO.”
He said though Martin has done a tremendous job while at the University, he believes Brandon will be able to not only carry on Martin’s work, but also expand on it.
“I think Bill Martin has done a phenomenal job for us at the University with managing the construction projects and expansion of our athletic campus. I can’t think of a better person to have led the athletic department during this period in our history,” Richner said. “We are fortunate to have had Bill Martin in that position and we’re fortunate to have a very able successor to Bill Martin’s legacy in Dave Brandon.
“I think he’ll be able to build upon a strong legacy at the University of Michigan of having effective leadership in our Athletic Department,” Richner continued. “He brings a different skill set in some ways and I think we’ll add to our tradition, we’ll build on our tradition.”
Summing up Brandon’s selection, Richner said, “It is a good day for Michigan.”
Reflecting on his time as a student-athlete at the University, Brandon joked with reporters earlier today about his time in the early 1970s as defensive end under legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.
“I tell people I got two degrees from the University of Michigan,” Brandon said. “The second one was a degree from the Bo Schembechler School of Leadership.”
Brandon said he learned a lot from Schembechler by observing how he recruited and managed talent.
“He recruited athletes not just based on their skills or abilities on the field, but he recruited character and integrity,” Brandon said. “I learned that from him and I translated it into the way I recruited people in my business career.”
“He taught me about preparation. He taught me about competing at the highest level. He taught me what intensity was all about,” Brandon continued. “All those qualities that I learned being a part of the football program at Michigan were qualities that transferred very well to being a leader in business and will transfer well into being an athletic director.”
Brandon was a member of three Big Ten Championship football teams and has remained active in the University community since graduating from the University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. He served as a University regent from 1998 – 2006 and is co-chair of the fundraising campaign for the C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital construction project.
Brandon has also received several honors from organizations on campus — including the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from the University’s Alumni Association in 2007, the Bennie Oosterbaan Award from the Bob Ufer Quarterback Club in 2008 and the CEO Coach of the Year Award from the American Football Coaches Association later that same year.
Brandon also holds honorary doctoral degrees from Albion College, Cleary College, Lawrence Technological University, Schoolcraft College, Walsh College and Central Michigan University — where he served as a trustee from 1994 to 1998.
When the search for the next athletic director was launched in October last year, Brandon was widely rumored to be among the potential successors. However, at the time, Brandon would not confirm whether he was interested in the position.
“I am not campaigning for, against, involved or uninvolved,” Brandon told the Daily at the time. “I’m doing what I do for a living and that is, right now, running my Domino’s Pizza corporation, and that’s a job that I love very much.”
– Daily News Editor Nicole Aber and Daily Staff Reporter Joseph Lichterman contributed to this report.