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Athletic Director In Residence: Chrissi Rawak (Delaware)

By Chrissi Rawak
8 min read
I recently concluded my graduate studies and accepted a sales position outside the world of college athletics, but still related to sports. It is a terrific startup that has a very attractive product; however, I have been turned off by some decisions and philosophies I have noticed with our CEO. I would characterize decisions and actions of his as not entirely honest/transparent and it makes me a tad uncomfortable about my future with the company. Secondly, I have already realized that I miss being on a college campus in the environment with coaches, administrators, passionate fans, and energetic game days. My two questions pertain to any and all recommendations on planning a segue back into college athletics (timeline, transparency in future interviews, etc.) and also how to approach my current situation where the company’s moral compass isn’t quite pointed in the same direction as mine.

 

First and foremost, I believe it is very important to take time to name and define your own core values.  Being clear about what is most important to you will help you not only in this situation but all along your career journey. These values should not change but the definitions may evolve based on the experiences that you have. This exercise will help you now, as well as in the future as you look to find new opportunities.

 

Regarding your current situation, I think it is always important to seek to understand why decisions are being made, whether you agree with them or not. If you have not already done that I would, if possible, take the time to ask questions to better understand not just the decision, but the process they went through to get to the decision. There may be more there than you realize.  If, after you have these conversations and you still feel that your values are not in alignment with the organization and leadership, then, it may be time to find a new place to work. This is never an easy decision, but, in my experiences, if personal values are compromised it is very difficult to stay.

 

All of that being said,  I would suggest you be very smart about the organizations that you are considering; I believe that this is more important than the opportunity itself. Be sure you are clear with what it is that you feel you are best at, hard and soft skills, what you enjoy and where do you want to find opportunities to learn and grow. This process will bring clarity to the type of work you want to do and the organization that best fits you. It will be important to be patient through the process, you do not want to put yourself in the same position you feel you are in now. In the meantime, it will be important for you to continue to do your best work, take advantage of all of the opportunities you to have to learn and grow that are around you – stay focused and positive, control what you can control. Remember we all have choices.

 

With the increasing financial burden on universities related to athletics, how do you envision non-Power Five schools will be able to continue to be competitive while keeping the books as balanced as possible?

 

Great question and one that I have thought about a lot these last 4 months. I believe that the answer is twofold. One, while it is critical to generate revenue, it is equally as important to manage your expenses. Being efficient and effective with your resources goes a long way. I believe it is easier to do this when you have clear vision, values and goals. When everyone knows what they are working towards accomplishing, they are able to make better financial choices. It really comes down to where do you want to play and how do you want to win. Gaining clarity gives you and your teams the opportunity to make choices.  I also believe that philanthropy will continue to be very important in the athletic world.  Raising ticket prices and seat donations is not a realistic long term solution. Taking time to educate all of your constituents and providing a level of transparency is key to giving you the best chance possible to build philanthropic support. Many people do not know or understand how departments are funded and we should be sharing that with them.

 

I would also say there are other interesting and different ways to generate revenue out there and getting all the people who are part of your revenue generating functions around the table together to better understand each other’s work and identify opportunities for synergies is not just worthwhile but fun!

 

Women in executive leadership roles are few and far between in collegiate athletics. What female leaders did you look up to as you made your way through the business, and what lessons did you learn from them?

 

I have been fortunate to work with many terrific leaders both men and women during my career and, to be honest, I do not differentiate – great lessons are great lessons. Some of the best lessons I have learned up to this point in my career that have helped me along the way are:

 

  • I believe in work-life integration not balance. You cannot separate your family life from your work life, it is simply not possible.  Find ways to integrate them where possible and know that this will evolve as you evolve and that is okay.
  • Empathy is very important in this world. Do your very best to listen, seek to understand and always work to be the very best you can be for the people around you.
  • Never forget this work is not about you, it is about the people that you serve.
  • Focus on creating the smartest room, not being the smartest in the room.
  • Have fun.  Celebrate successes and learn from mistakes. We often learn more from when we have made mistakes– embrace that for you and your staff!
  • Value Thinking as much as you Value Doing. While it is awesome to cross things off of a list, taking the time to think about the list is just as important.
  • Appreciate the little things along the way.  It really is true that ultimately you will look back and realize they were what made up the big things.
 

When you started to research the AD opportunity at Delaware, did you use any type of standardized outline or did you self-create one? I guess what I’m trying to say is we (the industry) need a comprehensive guide for identifying & researching every single rock that needs to be turned over in these situations. I don’t want to miss anything! 

 

Another great question and I think it would be tough to have a comprehensive guide because what people value, what people are motivated by, are different. As I mentioned in the earlier question, for me it was first and foremost about the alignment of my values with the University, Board and the President. Second, it was doing the best I could asking questions during the interview process and then researching on my own with people I trusted. What does the organization need in order to be successful and do my skills and experiences match up? What is the culture of the department, why do they love and appreciate their University? During this process I also took time to understand resources and expectations. This is a really important question to ask, simply because of the complicated nature of resourcing in college athletics today. What is it that you need to do in order to both increase resources while also creating a sense of efficiency and effectiveness within your department? I also believe it is important to understand how the rest of campus feels about athletics. Will you have peers that believe in the importance of athletics? Do they value the experiences for not just the student-athletes but the campus as a whole? Do they want you to be successful and are they willing to be good partners? This is important because Athletics has a responsibility to the University. We do not exist without it and that partnership is at its best when it is embraced from both sides. Finally, how you feel you fit with the President is very important. Are they aspirational? Do they understand the landscape of college athletics? If they do not, are they willing to learn and take time to understand? They are running an incredibly important and complex organization and you are a piece of it, but a piece that has importance and value in unique ways.

 

As a still relatively new AD heading into another high-profile head coaching search (MBB first, now FB), how have you identified what attributes of a new HC “fit” the institution best when you’re probably still learning about the university’s DNA? More directly, is “fit” over-rated? 

 

Fit is not overrated at all, in fact I would say fit is one of the things that should be on the top of the list. If someone doesn’t fit with the values, vision and mission of this department and this institution, then they can be the best coach out there and still are likely not to be successful.

 

With the basketball search, I had 12 days after my own hiring to find the right coach for this program. I had to move quickly but thoughtfully. I used both the information and learnings I had gathered during my own process, but the real key for me then, and now, is talking to others. Listening and learning, talking to the members of the team – they are living it every day. Talk to those close to the program who are invested, understand what they see the needs as. Take time to process that and understand how that fits with what we are ultimately working to accomplish.

 

In every search you know you need someone who will focus on helping our student-athletes go beyond their limits academically, athletically, and in the community. But there are other things that come into play for each search that is unique – paying attention to what those are is what is going to create clarity in the person and their experiences that will lead you to a successful hire.

 

Do you have a new walk-up song for meetings now that you are at Delaware?  

 

I love this question – walk up music for me is specifically related to what message I want to be sending to my team and how I would like it to make them feel – music is powerful and so are the words. Happy by Pharrell has been one of my favorites in the past and here at Delaware right now I would probably go with Adventure of a Lifetime by Coldplay because there are exciting times ahead.

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