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Posted on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

David Brandon's leadership philosophy: 'Character and integrity' affect U-M's image, brand

By Nathan Bomey

To David Brandon, leadership is about fostering integrity and character, eliminating divisiveness and encouraging hard work.

That leadership style - including a strong grasp of branding principles - provides a framework for how the outgoing Domino’s Pizza CEO is likely to run the University of Michigan’s athletic department.

Brandon, speaking to reporters this morning, said he would emphasize an intense work ethic and values as fundamental qualities necessary to improve the athletic department. And Brandon's business colleagues said in interviews that his comments fit with his general leadership philosophy.

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Domino's Pizza CEO David Brandon, who has been hired as the University of Michigan's athletic director.

Officials announced this morning that Brandon would step down as CEO of Domino’s in March to become the university’s next athletic director.

Brandon formed his leadership philosophy from his days as a Wolverine football player for Bo Schembechler to his 11 years as CEO of Ann Arbor-based Domino’s.

Brandon understands that U-M’s athletic success - or lack thereof - bears significant implications for the university’s educational reputation.

After U-M won the national championship in 1997, for example, applications to the university rose by 22 percent.

“It provides an enormous benefit and has a huge impact on the Michigan brand,” Brandon told reporters this morning during a conference call. “I really view it as somewhat of a selling point for the University of Michigan.”

Brandon’s leadership qualities were born when he won three Big 10 championships as a backup quarterback for Schembechler in the 1970s.

“He surrounded himself with terrific people," Brandon said of Schembechler. "I learned that from him. He recruited character and integrity. I learned that from him, and I translated that to the way I conduct my business career."

Brandon’s business colleagues told in interviews this afternoon that they expect Brandon to display an intense work ethic and a focus on integrity.
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Renaissance Venture Capital Fund CEO Chris Rizik

Enhancing the university’s brand by improving the performance of its athletic department is a smart strategy, said Chris Rizik, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist and CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, which Brandon helped to create.

“Michigan’s always had a great reputation for education, but athletics is what much of the country will know about Michigan,” said Rizik, who also serves as chairman of Detroit-based NextEnergy. “Success on the field - but also how the university conducts itself in athletics - all bear on the brand. Having somebody who’s cognizant of that is really important.”

Brandon said he would seek to promote unity in the athletics department.

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Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan

“I’m a team sport guy,” he said. “Factions and divisiveness are enemies of success. And I feel strongly that to the extent there’s been some fracturing that’s occurred … truthfully that won’t be tolerated.”

As chairman of Business Leaders for Michigan - a position Brandon will relinquish within the next 60 days - he helped transform the organization into a statewide economic development group. It was previously known as Detroit Renaissance.

“He’s somebody that puts his whole heart and soul into what he does, whether it’s his job or a volunteer position,” said Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “He’s very practical. He wants to get things done. He didn’t let perfection get in the way of progress. I think that’s very important.”

Rothwell said he wasn’t surprised that Brandon emphasized the importance of squelching fights within the athletics department.

“That’s how he always ran his businesses and it’s always something that he was very strong about. We really should not be about playing one side versus the other. We should be about doing what’s right,” Rothwell said.

At Domino's, Brandon had to navigate a variety of obstacles. Among them: A crisis in pizza quality - which is critical to Domino's success. Research by New York-based Brand Keys found that consumers rank the quality of Domino's pizza dead last in the industry, tied with Chuck E. Cheese's.

That's why Brandon led the company to completely redesign its core pizza recipe, which was introduced late last month. The new recipe is considered crucial to ensuring Domino's future success.

As a business executive, completely redesigning your core product can be risky. Could that be what the University of Michigan needs, however?

Brandon, in 2008, said, "I was always taught that when you're encountering really, really tough situations where to a large degree you have external factors that are working against you, the thing to focus on is the fundamentals."

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 5:50 p.m.

Watch out when a Republican starts talking about character and integrity. There might be a skeleton in a closet there somewhere.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 11:45 a.m.

After working at Domino's with Mr. Brandon I found it sad that he would let people go and replace them with his family members and friends. Is it just me or is that what a CEO does? As far as going from a CEO of a pizza company that has lost more franchisees and customers to an AD lets hope he does not take the U of M program down the same road will be interesting to see how many of his family members end up working for him at the U! As far as govoner I would not vote for him that would be a scary day in MI. I am republican and would probably move out of this state if he ever became govenor again his family and friends would be running this state. Also, note he got out at the right time when Domino's was rated lowest pizza ever. anyone else find that funny?


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 7:22 a.m.

aatownie, whichever Republican becomes our next governor is going to have a huge job cleaning up your girl Granholm's damage. I was hoping Brandon would run for that office but I'm happy that he has been hired as UM AD.


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 10:55 p.m.

Ok, so the guy runs a pizza company that routinely finishes as the worst tasting pizza by a national chain. He does not care about quality, he cares about the bottom line. Sell crap and fool people. Been there done that with Mr Goss


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 8:45 p.m.

I think that this is a very poor choice for my alma mater and Mary Sue's choice confirms that Michigan athletics is now reduced to being run by a conservative CEO...the up side is that he will do less damage as AD than as a Governor...


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

Dave Brandon has been a dynamic force from his innovations at Valassis to his leadership at Dominos Pizza. I was hoping he'd run for governor.


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

It strikes me as strange to have Doug Rothwell's photo accompany the front page of this story (i.e. before the jump). He is neither the subject of the story, nor the one quoted for the headline. Maybe the editors decided they had one too many photos of Brandon up on the website already?


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 6:03 p.m.

I like Brandon's emphasis of the "Michigan brand". That's where the value is. How people, whether they're prospective students, athletes, partners, or donors, perceive Michigan's brand makes all the difference. So, he's very smart to emphasize building the Michigan brand. The problems with the basketball program over the last 10 years plus the two horrible football seasons have made the "brand" take a hit. So, that will be one of his biggest jobs getting started.


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 6:02 p.m.

Since when did quarterbacks wear the number 85?


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 3:50 p.m.

Domino's pizza was tied for last in pizza quality and they changed the core to improve it. UM Football tied for last in Big Ten..........Coincidence?? I'll believe in the "character and Integrity" schtick once RR is the new head coach of the University of anywhere but here.


Tue, Jan 5, 2010 : 3:12 p.m.

this is the seventh story on this today.Is this that big of a deal or is it just me?