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Posted on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Top 5: Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon on winning, embracing change and good advice

By Kellie Woodhouse


Dave Brandon speaks to Domino's employees after accepting the Michigan athletic director position.

University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon loves to win and he's not afraid of change.

That's what the pizza company CEO-turned-athletic director told a crowd of roughly 300 private and public sector leaders at a Washtenaw Economic Club luncheon Monday.

During his three years on the job, Brandon has overhauled the athletic department, introduced night games and throwback jerseys, spearheaded dozens of multimillion-dollar construction projects, fired a football coach, hired a football coach and challenged the department's resistance to change.

In short, he has reshaped a department steeped in history and tradition.

Here's five highlights from Brandon's Monday talk.


Dave Brandon

1) Dave Brandon loves to win.

"I love to win. Whether it's selling more Pringles than Frito-Lay, whether it's selling more pizzas than Papa John's," Brandon told the crowd Monday. "There’s nothing better than winning. Nothing better."

Brandon paused, and then added:

"That’s why Saturday was a miserable day for me."

2) Brandon surrounds himself with leaders not afraid to think outside the box

When Brandon assumed the reins of the athletic department in winter 2010, one of his first priorities was to establish a leadership team of people who were prepared to challenge the status quo.

"If I’m good at anything, I am good at surrounding myself with incredibly talented people. I do know how to build great teams," Brandon said.

Of the 275 people who worked at the department when Brandon entered it, 78 either left voluntarily or were fired.

Brandon eliminated some positions, reorganized departments and created dozens of new jobs, including expanding the marketing department from a group of three to a team of more than a dozen people. Today, there are 308 employees within the department.

"We had 78 people transition out (but)... you can talk about even more about people who were promoted, who received new opportunities," Brandon said. "I love to put in people who are waiting for their chance. You should never underestimate the power of people who have something to prove."

What was the criteria for promotion? No. 1: A willingness to mix things up.

"If you’re one of those people who just wants tomorrow to be like yesterday was because that’s easy… then you’re either going to drive me crazy or I am going to drive you crazy."

3) "Change is what it's all about."

The thread woven through Brandon's talk Monday was the importance of change. To drive home his point, Brandon quoted storied Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.

"You’ll either get better or you’re going to get worse. You don’t have the opportunity to stay the same," Brandon recalled Schembechler saying.

Brandon says one of the keys to his professional success was in being unconventional and confronting new markets and conditions head on, instead of being forced into change.

Brandon has made bold moves one of the hallmarks of his career. For example, in his first full academic year as Michigan's athletic director he fired the football coach and planned the football team's first-ever night game. As CEO of Domino's he mocked rival SUBWAY and "oven baked" a cease-and-decist order on a television commercial (the order was regarding Domino's oven-baked sandwiches).

"If you’re not prepared for more change —more rapid change, more challenging change— then you’re going to get left behind," Brandon said.

Brandon said that when he became Domino's chief executive in 1999 it took the company 18 months to identify a need and then roll out a new product. Now, it takes three months, he said.

"Be nimble. React to change with speed," he said.

4) Overhauling Michigan's athletic department was not easy, but it was essential.

In addition to hiring more than 100 new faces, Brandon has reorganized departments, rebranded the athletic department and introduced a host of new traditions (including night games, legacy jerseys and featuring student athletes from non-revenue sports during halftime).

He's overseen a $500 million construction surge for revenue sports and helped plan a $250 million construction plan for non-revenue sports, such as soccer and softball.

Brandon commissioned a culture survey of the athletic department in spring 2010 that rated the organization poorly in almost every aspect, including vision, involvement and adaptability. The survey illustrated that athletic department employees, as a whole, were resistant to change.

"When I looked at this I immediately went out and got a drink," Brandon said. "It felt to me like we could be losing to our key rival opponents, our revenues could be (stagnant)... but if all else fails we sing the fight song and we feel better."

After Brandon overhauled the department, he commissioned another culture study in fall 2011. This time the organization was ranked in the top quadrant among all categories.

"In every instance the lowest scores on the survey were higher than the highest scores from the previous year," Brandon recalled. "We changed a lot... some of it is really simple change and some if it is really bold change."

5) Brandon shares the best leadership advice he ever received.

"Find out how people want to be treated and then treat them that way," Brandon recalls his father telling him when he was promoted to his first leadership position at Proctor & Gamble. He was in charge of sales in five states and led a team of 11 people, many of whom were older and more experienced than he was.

A photo caption has been corrected in this article. Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Steven Murphy

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

Brandon is doing a FABULOUS job at Michigan and I hope he sticks around for a long, long time!

Terry Star21

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 1:46 a.m.

I believe this is his life's dream, 'Fer God's sakes he's staying' ! Michigan wins !


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Mr. Brandit has got to get his runaway ego in check. It is about the athletes and the coaches, not the AD. It's sad to witness. Is anyone watching that his salary in a few years will be about 5 times what Bill Martin was earning? He claims credit for everything everyone does, including a remarkable job of infrastructure upgrades under Bill Martin's direction. He couldn't get his ego in check and completely blundered the Harbaugh hiring, much like Lloyd Carr before him. Harbaugh wouldn't even have known how interested the NFL was in him if Brandit had acted immediately to hire him the minute RichRod was gone. And Lloyd passed on No. 4 when he offered to serve as his QB coach and took Scott Loeffler instead. Think Harbaugh knows a thing or two about QB's? Or coaching? Many are calling him the best coach in the country pro or college and he's one of our own and Brandit has blown it with him, scapegoating Harbaugh for his own hiring inadequacies. He played the fan base and never actually pursued him in earnest. I don't buy for one minute that he hires strong, independent thinkers. He's looking for stooges to kiss his Big Ten Championship ring earned by properly tying his shoes and standing on our sidelines for three years. The department turnover was appalling and not an upgrade. Our winning Women's Basketball coach, Kevin Borseth, would not work with him any longer and left to take a 50% pay cut. His replacement hire and that of Baseball Coach Maloney will prove to be mediocre and significant downgrades. One thing is for sure, you'll never hear it from Mr. PR Brandit, though!

Ed daggett

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

He is why the Penn State womens hoop coach rejected M & she is from Flint as well as the Kent State baseball coach. He made all the comments about the M defense with RR when they would only pay $240K for a D coordinator & would not let RR fire him & than went & hired Mattison to the tune of $900K

Roy Munson

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Just raise the football seat license fee and call more games "premium."

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:55 a.m.

Dave Brandon is a University of Michigan legend. This person can do no wrong. He pushes all the right buttons, makes all the right decisions - and all the time he is thinking first about the University of Michigan students, athletes and all of us faithful. What a caring, unselfish person who works 24/7 for the protection, stability and improvement of this fine institution. I can tell you that every student, every student athlete, the university and all of Michigan faithful fans are grateful for this fine outstanding leader. Salute !

Blue Marker

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

I'll tell you one group of students that's not too happy with your "legend". It's the Michigan Marching Band! He treats them like dirt and then throws them under the bus when the heat of his bad decision is too much. But go ahead and worship him if you want.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:01 a.m.

Dave Brandon (#1) loves to win. "That's why Saturday was a miserable day for me." –– which leads me to wonder if there won't be some turnover in the coaching staff coming to a university near us. ;-)


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

It is quite remarkable that his own father told him to pay attention to how other people want to be treated. When a parent gives advice to a child, it is often to try to correct a perceived weakness in their personality or skills and direct them in a more positive direction. According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia: "Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves. Causes, incidence, and risk factors The causes of this disorder are unknown. An overly sensitive personality and parenting problems may affect the development of this disorder. Symptoms A person with narcissistic personality disorder may: •React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation •Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals •Have excessive feelings of self-importance •Exaggerate achievements and talents •Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love •Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment •Need constant attention and admiration •Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy •Have obsessive self-interest •Pursue mainly selfish goals"


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Love the armchair psychiatry going on here. It's quite impressive that you can cut and paste some symptoms of your own personal diagnosis of someone you've never met. Keep up the first rate work!!!

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:58 a.m.

pud....."It is quite remarkable that his own father told him to pay attention to how other people want to be treated". (Brandon) That is what makes Dave Brandon so great and so good for this university. I really hope, and I am being serious - that you get help for the disorder you describe.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:58 a.m.

You do realize, don't you, that virtually every leader in business has at least a touch of narcissism? Scientific American recently published an article about that and gave the results of brain scans to show how such individuals have a smaller (up to 17% smaller) amygdala. So it appears to be a matter of degree: those who have adequate counter-balancing ability (associated with an active frontal lob) seldom veer into the socio-psychopathic kind of narcissism which leads to violence. The thing that scares me (a little) about Brandon is that while bragging about his leadership, he consistently talks about how he corrected other people's deficiencies. He goes on about "change" but it's pretty clear he means only change(s) which originate with him and come from him. I'm betting he's not tolerant of others creating change or even suggesting change - from his way of doing things. OTH: having been exposed to some U of M people's entrenched elitism and faux superiority, I can pretty easily see that Brandon is accurate in his assessment of the people he found working in the Athletic Dept. when he arrived. There are a lot of "laurels" laying around U of M just waiting to be rested upon. ;-)

Ed daggett

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

This is the same guy who said Denard Robinson is "not Michigan material" and an embarrassment because he wore dreadlocks. Now he can't get close enough to #16 when a camera is around. Jerry Jones of college football is this guys model. He would rather have an 8-4 team & everyone aware of who he is rather than an 12-0 team and a coach that is the focus. Can anyone tell me the name of AD at Bama, LSU, Texas, ND etc.?

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:01 a.m.

Yes....their names are; Not Caring, Not Respectful, Not Responsible and Not Successful. That is why David Brandon is so good for this institution.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:05 a.m.

Brandon shares the best leadership advice he ever received. "Find out how people want to be treated and then treat them that way," Brandon recalls his father telling him. Unfortunately, he doesn't listen or he doesn't understand that most people want to be treated with respect, not derision.


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.



Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

Dave Brandon is the worst AD ever. He has changed Michigan to be all about MONEY not about the fans. We are no longer distinguished from all the universities that value making money over tradition and excellence. He has changed the meaning if what it means to be a Michigan Fan to one who contributes MONEY to the athletic department not one who supports the team through good and bad. Michigan bows to the 1% of the population who can contribute large amounts of MONEY and says they are the true fans. Michigan is a state school. It's not a school who has to cater to the rich. I lost my season tickets to the basketball team because I hadn't contributed enough to the athletic department. Never mind the 60 hours I contribute in volunteering my time to the Engineering School or my 14 hours I contribute to the Alumni Association every year to support the students. Volunteering support to the Michigan students does not define the Michigan Fan under Dave Brandon, MONEY defines the Michigan Fan. It's all wrong and it is a shameful.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

Michigan became all about money long before Brandon became AD. Brandon is just identifying the few remaining stones that Martin left unturned. I do wonder what the breaking point is and if/when college sports will reach it.


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

If the Athletic Department is so progressive, why is Michigan Football, the biggest revenue sport, talking about "Were Back"? Sounds like the "same old stuff" with a different pizza box! Michigan Football: clinging to the past!

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:05 a.m.

Yep, I love that Sugar Bowl pizza box he got in January - you know the BCS bowl box that no other B10 team could open last year.....I still taste the Sugar, not too much in the past....

Ed daggett

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

Ego is out of control of this guy. His nickname at school is "me, me, I, I". Would not hire a coach who would be a bigger presence on campus than himself (Harbaugh, Miles etc). $$$ over tradition with him. He was Mary Sue's handpicked guy after residents of Michigan did not want him as regent. He was a malcontent & 5th string as a player under Bo who was on field for 7 plays in three yrs---listening to him you are led to believe he was an All American.

Blue Marker

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:38 p.m.

While I'm not where Ed is at I do agree with one very important point he makes. Money comes before all else with this guy. Traditions and even students be damned in pursuit of the almighty dollar. His treatment of MMB is disgusting and his "used car salesmen" approach to the game day experience is a joke. Jet Pack guy anyone? You can't even bring in your own water bottle anymore because Dave wants your money. Forget all the groups who would sell water outside the stadium for fund raisers. And I firmly believe that if the athletic department makes 20 million this year the ONLY question on Dave's mind is how will we make 30 million next year.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:29 a.m.

Why do you say he was a malcontent? Please provide a link to your source. How successful have the starters from those teams been in the business world? Hoke will be a bigger presence on campus if he rattles off a few 12-1 and 13-0 seasons.


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

It does not matter if DB was 5th string and played a few times in the three years he played for Bo. The fact is he did play for Bo, was never cut, did all of the workouts and practices. For that, I commend him. He's got what only a few of us have: A Varsity Letter Jacket. I wear mine a lot during football season and wear it proudly. Don Canham would be proud of Dave Brandon. Canham was the ultimate in making changes and have bold ideas. And yes, you have to have an ego to be the U of M AD. GO BLUE!!!

Bob W

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

RR, who is he?? :o)