A Q&A With Dave Brandon
Dave Brandon

Jan. 26, 2012

Dave Brandon has been A.D. - officially "director of the University of Michigan Department of Intercollegiate Athletics"---since March 2010. In the early '70s, Dave was a member of three of Bo Schembechler's Big Ten Championship teams. In March 1999, Brandon became chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza. Previously, he served as chairman, president and CEO of Valassis Communications Inc. He was elected to U-M's Board of Regents in 1998 and served one eight-year term. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from the U-M Alumni Association. In 2008, he received the Bennie Oosterbaan Award for service, dedication and leadership from the Bob Ufer Quarterback Club. Also in 2008, Brandon was honored as national CEO Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.

Brandon and his wife, Jan---along with former U-M head football coach Lloyd Carr and his wife, Laurie---spearheaded the $754 million U-M C.S. Mott Children's and Women's Hospital Replacement Project fundraising campaign. The campaign helped position Mott, in Ann Arbor, among the preeminent pediatric hospitals in the nation at its reopening late in 2011. Dave resides in Ann Arbor and has three adult sons, Scott, Nick and Chris, and a daughter, Carli.

Letterwinners M Club immediate past president Dan Sygar traded emails with Dave in January 2012, immediately after Michigan football's Sugar Bowl victory.

Dan Sygar: When was the first time you ever set foot in Michigan Stadium?
Dave Brandon: I was in the eighth grade in my hometown, South Lyon, Michigan. I was a drummer in the school band, and was asked to join the high school's marching band for an event at Michigan Stadium. It was one of those "Band Days" Don Canham used to have to help fill the stadium when fan support wasn't like it is today. I thought they wanted me because I was such a good drummer. Turns out it was because I could carry the base drum from the golf course to the stadium and back.

DS: Do you still play?
DB: Every once in a while, I'll sit at my son's drum set and pretend.

DS: If you didn't go to Michigan, where might you have gone?
DB: I would've likely gone to Central Michigan or Western Michigan and tried to play two or three sports. I was having difficulty choosing between football, basketball and baseball.

DS: Seems everyone who played for Bo has a personal favorite Bo story. What's yours?
DB: I have many Bo stories but rather than repeat them, I will just comment about what made Bo such a special man. I've been director of athletics for almost two years. I must've met thousands of people who love Michigan for a bunch of reasons. What's interesting is how many men have described themselves as one of Bo's best friends-several dozen. It was one of Bo's many gifts, to connect with people, make them feel special, and stay connected to them. He touched so many lives and made such an impression on so many people. A remarkable man.

DS: How is being A.D. most like being a corporate CEO, and how is it not anything like being a CEO?
DB: My experience is that leadership is leadership. Surround yourself with a great team, set high standards, demand integrity, develop ambitious plans, empower people to do their jobs, hold them accountable, grow the enterprise and do your best to delight your customers. That formula seems to work for a for-profit company and a big-time college athletic program.

DS: Being a student/athlete at Michigan in the early 1970's and the early 2010's has striking differences, and surprising similarities. Your perspective on this comparison is unlike anyone else's. What do you see has changed the most, and what's stayed the same?
DB: There are many similarities. Student athletes today have the same enthusiasm, work-ethic, passion and commitment to Michigan as they did when I was a student-athlete. What's changed the most is the spotlight of attention and the pressure they're under to succeed. The competition is tougher in the classroom as well as in their sport. The media attention is incredible. The time they must commit to their sport is year-round and virtually a daily routine. They are constantly being watched, evaluated, and often criticized. They are operating in a much tougher environment than what we encountered back in the 70's. But they're still 18- to 23-year old kids working through the same developmental issues we all did at that stage in our lives. I admire them greatly for how well they do considering the pressures they constantly operate under.

DS: What are the big things you have in mind for the athletic department for the next several years?
DB: I want every student-athlete at Michigan to have the same quality of facilities for practice and competition as our football, basketball, hockey, and baseball and softball teams have today. We have a lot of work to do if we want to have nationally competitive facilities for all our sports. And if we want to win director's cups, national championships, conference championships and put our student-athletes in the Olympics to represent our country and our university, we have to secure the financial resources and conduct a major facilities construction and renovation program. I would like to lead that effort.

DS: What's the absolute best part of your current job?
DB: I get to work with talented and motivated people every day. I have a terrific leadership team at Michigan athletics. We have some of the best coaches in the country. And our student-athletes are special young men and women. Getting to know those talented young people and helping to provide them "wow experiences" in both academics and athletics is important and rewarding work.

DS: What's your shout out to the thousands of ex-Michigan student-athletes?
DB: Thanks for all you did, and continue to do, to make Michigan athletics the leaders and best. Your love of this place is important and appreciated.

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