Sitting in a white leather chair in his plush second-floor office yesterday, David Brandon, CEO and chairman of Domino’s Pizza, looked back on his eight years as a member of the University Board of Regents yesterday.
Brandon, a Republican from Ann Arbor, lost his bid for reelection to Democrat Julia Darlow in November. He served on the board for eight years.
A former defensive end on the Michigan football team, Brandon is an imposing figure who walks as if he is perpetually approaching the line of scrimmage on the gridiron. Whenever the University is the topic of discussion, though, Brandon breaks out in a genial smile and assumes an air of unguarded sincerity.
As Brandon speaks about the University, he exudes passion and gratitude, giving the impression that it has done so much for him that he could not possibly articulate everything.
“If you review my life, it’s kind of eerie how all roads lead back to the University,” Brandon said. “It has changed my life – and all for the better.”
The University offered Brandon an athletic scholarship when he was a senior at South Lyon High School. Without it, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to afford tuition.
“It was a dream to attend the University while I was growing up,” Brandon said. “But it was a goal that seemed unattainable based on the economic circumstances of my family. I’m reasonably sure that, had I not been provided that opportunity, I would have ended up somewhere else.”
Brandon vividly recalled his first encounter with former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in 1969. After suffering a heart attack the night before the Rose Bowl, Schembechler was at home recovering when Brandon stopped by to discuss playing football for Michigan.
Schembechler, as it turned out, was still dressed in his robe and pajamas when Brandon arrived. It didn’t dissuade the future regent.
“By the time he got done with me, regardless of the fact that he was laying there in his pajamas, I just wanted to know where I should sign,” Brandon said.
As a student and an athlete, Brandon had little spare time. But when he did get a moment to enjoy himself, he frequented College Inn Pizza and the Pretzel Bell, a popular bar that closed in the 1970’s. He also said Bimbo’s, “a downtown beer joint with a ragtime band,” was a favorite hangout.
Brandon graduated from the University in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in education. Brandon has since risen to the top of the business world. He works in Domino’s Farms Office Park, which stretches three-fourths of a mile. The complex seems more like a country club than a business compound.
Brandon’s experience with Domino’s began when he was a football player living in South Quad Residence Hall. When his hungry friend suggested they order a pizza for delivery, Brandon didn’t understand what he meant.
” ‘What do you mean?’ I said. I just thought it was a miracle,” Brandon said. “So the first delivered pizza I ever had was a Domino’s pizza.”
As a member of the Board of Regents, Brandon said he has faced many challenges, the most significant of which was finding a new president. He said he views selecting the right president to be the primary responsibility of the board.
Brandon said tuition restraint has been difficult because the University has lost a significant amount of funding from the state in the past few years. He said he feels the board has succeeded in keeping tuition down, though.
“I still believe we’ve done a pretty good job of holding down the cost of tuition for our in-state residents as much as possible,” Brandon said. “Out-of-state residents pay a significant premium to come to school here, and that’s just the way it is.”
Brandon said he was proud of the success for both the Campaign for Michigan and the Michigan Difference Campaign, which he said will likely exceed its goal of $2.6 billion. Among the other accomplishments he cited was the improvement of facilities on campus. He noted that the board has invested wisely in life science facilities, the Medical Campus and the Ford School of Public Policy.
“You can pretty much go around campus – the Arthur Miller Theater – and there’s just so many really important and impressive expansions and renovations going on,” Brandon said.
Brandon has devoted significant time and money to the University – especially to Mott Children’s Hospital, which he credits with saving the lives of his identical twins in 1980.
Brandon has made several large contributions to the hospital. His largest was a $2-million gift toward the construction of a new neonatal intensive care unit in the C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital, which is currently under construction.
In December, as Brandon prepared to leave the Board of Regents, he made one last gift to the University: 28,550 shares of Domino’s stock, amounting to $791,121.
Although Brandon’s term as regent ended in December, he said he plans to remain involved with the University.
“I’ve got a lot of touchstones with the University, so I don’t plan to disappear,” he said.