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RisingADs Podcast: USF’s Kelly & Washington State’s Blair on Iger’s Ride of a Lifetime

Guest Michael Kelly, South Florida; Bryan Blair, Washington State
38:51 min listen
Welcome to our first Book Review from the RisingADs podcast! South Florida Athletic Director Michael Kelly and Washington State Deputy Athletic Director & Chief Operating Officer Bryan Blair discuss The Ride of a Lifetime from Disney Executive Chairman Robert Iger. Kelly and Blair discuss the “Innovate Or Die” concept Iger drills on in the book, communicating and implementing change in your department, being innovative with the risk of failure, the decision-making process and much more.


2:07 – What led you to pick up this book?
Innovate or Die and Chapter 12
6:52 – How do you think innovation and creativity helps to enhance your career today and what are some examples of innovations in your career?
12:26 – Are innovation or risk taking a part of your core values or the organization’s core values? How do you articulate those?
13:39 – How do you communicate oncoming change? What does that timeline look like? Who do you involve with that decision-making to make sure you’ve got the right people on both sides?
19:09 – How do you encourage your team and department to be innovative, despite the inherent risk of failure?
24:45 – How are you and your team at Washington State continuing to look toward the ahead in strategic planning, while you’re dealing with the daily challenges?
Bold Decision-Making
29:43 – What framework what process do you use when you’ve got a really hard decision you got to make?


Full Transcript

Tai Brown: Greetings. This is Tai Brown, and welcome to the first episode of the Rising ADs podcast. This is a new podcast from Athletic Director U, and our brain, Rising ADs focusing on the things that are important for those who want to be an athletic director in the college athletics industry.


This podcast will be sort of a book review, we’ll focus on Robert Iger’s the Ride of a Lifetime, with our guest, Michael Kelly, he’s the Vice President of Athletics at University of South Florida, and Bryan Blair, who’s the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Associate Athletic Director at Washington State. Greetings, gentlemen, thanks for joining us on this first episode of the Rising ADs Podcast.


Bryan Blair: Thank you so much for allowing me to join you.


TB: Yes, sir. So of course, Michael, your background, you were the Chief Operating Officer at the College of Football playoff, and had a number of responsibilities there, helped with a number of Super Bowls, and events tied to college athletics and was on campus prior to that, doing some things that South Florida went for a number of place.


And of course, Bryan, you, before Washington state, you were at Rice and had a number of responsibilities there. Of course, at Washington state there, you helped implement, well, design and implement the strategic plan for Washington state athletics, so you guys both have a wealth of experience and I’m excited to have you on here.


So Robert Iger’s book, the Ride of a Lifetime, I wonder, Michael, what led you to read that book in terms of Robert Iger, former, well, he might even be current, with the pandemic. I don’t know exactly where he is on that, but the CEO of Disney, talk about his career professionally, from working in ABC, working his way up to CEO and making big acquisitions like Marvel Comics, and Pixar, working with Steve Jobs and a number of things like that. Mike, I wonder what led you to read that book?


Michael Kelly: Yeah, well, first of all, yeah, thanks for having me on, and having a change to get to know Bryan better is awesome, I appreciate the way you setting up this podcast. And Bryan’s got a great background, and look forward to this conversation.


For me, I enjoy – when I read, most of the readings I do are typically kind of a biography nature, whether historically or current figures. I look at it, and I like to learn from people’s experiences, and I always try to kind of look for ways that while everyone’s life and journey is different, there’s also a lot of similarities or certainly, if you understand how the decision making process went or what their life decisions might have been like, it just kind of helps me try to put myself in other people’s shoes and just kind of respect that type of a view point.


So in the case of Robert Iger, I’ve never had the honor of meeting him in person, but just knowing so many different businesses, admiring him from afar on the different things that he has done, led me to read the book. And what I liked – what I expected going into it, what I liked, ultimately proved to be true is, you know, in my career journey so far, I’ve had to take a lot of risks and made a lot of different moves that I thought were both interesting on a life’s journey, but also, somewhat strategic in what I hope to accomplish. And hearing his background basically starting at ABC when he was 23 years old, kind of literally just starting as almost a Jack of all trades type intern, type be on to ultimately move up through different movements throughout, I found to be fascinating.


So the fact that his kind of philosophy of taking risks, of trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to innovate just was something I really was interested in, and glad I read it.


TB: Right. Actually almost sounds like your career, right? Jack of all trades to getting things in motion, putting things in place, the events and organization can be successful and you find yourself at the top leading a major organization.


What about you, Bryan? You know, one thing, we do appreciate you bringing this idea of a book review, to Rising ADs which I think is great, and I think everybody will appreciate a lot, but why did you read this Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger, in general? Was there anything that you related to from the book?


BB: Absolutely, and I appreciate that, Tai, and Mike, thanks for jumping on this, I’ve admired your career for a long time. I heard recently – probably in the last year, so I’ve tried to start to read a lot of books outside the traditional leadership realm or about cause that play – from other industries, other leaders, and start trying to stay – how do those lessons, how do those accomplishments, translated to what we do in sports.


Now I wish I had some great background story on how it came about it, but really started, Greg Sankey, twitted out that he was reading the book, I think it was last September. I said, well, I don’t know anything about Bob Iger, let me google this guy. Googled him, and got fascinated from then and bought the book. And quite frankly, it’s out of my shelf for a handful of months, just as we get busy with football season, bowl season, all those kind of things.


And then COVID hit, and it was – we had a lot more challenges to pick up books and start reading. And I picked it up, got a couple of pages in and I didn’t put it down. Took me a couple of days to do it, and I’ve actually started going back to read it a second time and making notes on some of the big lessons I’ve pulled from it.


So it’s probably been easily in my top 5 books I’ve ever read as far as my interest level and what I found to be true. I think there’s still many pieces of his career that anybody can relate to, whether you work in sports or not, I think will be leadership lessons that you take from his career either if he points them out or you just pick them up as he tells the stories of his rise throughout the ranks. I think it’s just – I’ve been fascinated by it since I picked it up, and still to this day, I’m reflecting back on some of the pages on those.


TB: Right, yeah. I also read it, I found it pretty interesting too. So the way we’ll do this here, as we start to review it, I talked to Doug Knuth from Nevada, and Jessica Poole, I think she’s at Chicago State now, and another avid reader, and asked them, what is the best way to do a book review on a podcast, right?


And Doug was like, you don’t want to do the whole book, because that could be very intensive and there’s a whole lot to read, but if you picked out certain concepts, and Jessica agreed, if you picked out certain concepts of certain chapters, you can review those and then people, if they find it interesting, they may go out and read the book you review. So that’s kind of what we’ll do here, just pick out certain concepts from the book and ask you, Mike, how you can related to those context, Bryan, you might give you some insight on how you relate to those concepts.


And I’ll give it over to you, Bryan, so you can talk about what concepts you related to, and maybe you have a couple of questions for Mike or me, with a follow up question or something along those lines.


BB: Absolutely, and I appreciate that segue, Tai. One of the big concepts that I heard talked about throughout the book is this notion of innovate or die, and he talks about it when he first started, and one of his mentors and bosses told him that then. And he actually devotes the entire chapter 12 on innovate or die concept and kind of how it led to some decision making.


So he talks about his notion of disruption, how you introduce a new product and service to an industry and dramatically disrupt it and I think he did it in the face of the disruption he was facing. And so Mike, I’d love to hear about how you think innovation and creativity helps to enhance your career today and maybe some of those examples.


MK: Well, sure, and obviously, as you mentioned when you really dug into reading it, during the pandemic hit, it kind of forced all of us to get really innovative real quick. I know Mr. Iger was talking more about being strategic and trying to stay a step ahead of the game which is good counsel for all of us, particularly in athletics, but this kind of hit us quickly, and trying a way to find the way our coaches, the way how we communicate with our staff so quickly, because when it all hit, this pandemic kind of just cause you to be so creative and find the immediate resource to do things, so being able to communicate in a totally new fashion, you thought first, we though first for our student athletes, how do we get to them in a safe place, how we transition them to remote learning, remote working out and taking good care of themselves, and you start obviously constantly working about your staff.


And then in our case, we have a brand new football staff, it just started, we got one practice in. So they’ve had to find ways that we use the software we have, or others that we were able to acquire to be able to put in, in essence, install our offense and defense and everything else. So that’s an example of this being creative and adjusting more in a crisis moreso than being innovative, but at least the adaptability and the flexibility held through.


I think another example of creativity that I’ve had to hit throughout my career, and it’s just – I did have an unorthodox path in journey to become an athletic director like Tai mentioned, but with particularly a lot of emphasis on major events with leadership roles as three Super Bowls and then ultimately with the CFP and the ACC, but I love projects and taking those short projects along the way from our journey, each situation is different and it kind of allows me to formulate some principles to apply each one, but you’ve got to be – you do that to be flexible, for instance, the one that comes to mind, that was probably the most challenging in my career was when I inherited the job as the CEO of the Jacksonville Super Bowl host committee. Well, some plans have been in place in there, I didn’t put the bid together, but when I got there, I knew that they had a vision for cruise ships, because we did not have enough, nearly enough hotel rooms to satisfy the bed requirements for the National Football League to host the Super Bowl.


So to get up there, to basically find eight cruise ships, find a way to merge two industries like a cruise line industry with security systems that were necessary after 9-11 and all the different sponsors going on with the NFL was a very challenging process, but ultimately, it was the only way to allow that event to take place there, and you find a way to be creative.


So those are just two examples, but the other example that – at the CFP, we did make, what I thought was a very progressive move, and it proved to be, because it’s now become somewhat common place, but I think we were one of the first major events to go fully mobile on ticketing. The reason we did that was because suck a quick turnaround between a semi-final game and a national championship game, it’s hard to get those physical tickets to those fans when you’re talking, 40,000, 50,000 tickets getting distributed within a week, kind of timeframe, and combined with a lot of the fraud and counterfeit tickets we had seen in the first couple CFP games.


So I’m convinced it was the right decision, we didn’t execute it as well as I would like to begin with, but it still work well now, it’s become extremely smooth out over the time to come, and now, we know it gives us better data, it makes it easier for people to adjust to, and all that sort of thing.


So that was a risky endeavor. I still feel it was the right decision, we had some other complications due to weather, due to the president coming to the game, due to the security and a brand new stadium that cost some extra disruption that we had to adjust to, and make it work, but that was another example where I felt strategically, it was an innovative move that I think has become followed by the rest of the industry.


BB: I appreciate it, Mike. I think one of the things you hit on early on, was the unique timing, at least for me when I picked up the book, amidst the COVID going on, talking about name, image and likeness for our student athletes, fan attendance numbers, what were they before COVID, what would they be after COVID, all of those.


And I’ve tried to think of innovation as one of my own core values, I’m big on core values for organization, and for individuals. As you think about your own core values, would you say innovation or risk taking were any of those a part of your core values and the organization? Or how do you articulate those?


MK: Yeah, innovation is definitely clarified as one of our core values here at USF, it’s been, I’d say, risk-taking has been a personal philosophy of mine as I’ve developed my career, but I think at our level here at USF, I mean we played the sport of football for 23 years, we’ve had a lot of proud moments, but we’re still – we may not have as many resources as many others. So it forces you to be efficient and it forces us to be innovative, because if we don’t find ways to get more out of less resources, we will die, as the title of the chapter goes.


So we’re encouraged by the success we’ve had in the past, and we’re driven by what it means to our future, because we know we’re always going to have to be lean and mean and get the most value out of what we have.


BB: One of the trick things about innovation is, change is hard for a lot of people. So when you’re – when you make a decision or do you think something may be the right move but it’s a little bit risky, it’s a little bit innovative, it’s new to a lot of people, how do you go back to communicate that to the various stakeholders or what is that timeline look like or who do you involve with that decision making to make sure you’ve got the right people on both?


MK: Yeah, it’s a very insightful question that you’ve got. You know change is hard for people and – but it’s also inevitable and therefore sometimes, once you feel you made the right decision and for me, I call on – obviously rely on our senior staff to provide me good counsel and what we’re looking at and I also tend to talk to colleagues and peers across the country and kind of just get a feel for them. I’m the type that likes to get a lot of information and feedback before I make that decision. But in sports, it’s like you can’t, and many other industries as well, you don’t have endless amount of time to make it, so you’ve got to – as the saying goes you have to make the decision with the best information you have at the time and roll, so.


And I think what’s interesting about intercollegiate athletics and I’ll be interested to hear your viewpoint on this Bryan is that, it’s kind of interesting because whereas athletics has to move at a certain speed, the academic environment with which we work within, can tend to be a little bit more long term planning wise from an academic standpoint and from decision-making. So I think there’s conflicting time urgencies are unique sometimes and that we might be working at one level or one speed in the athletics and the academic research side to work and are totally different. And that’s not a critique, that’s just – can, at all, because that’s the way that should be but it’s interesting how it kind of counterbalances the unique mission of both combining athletics and the value of higher education.


BB: That’s a great point. I think my last two stops both at Rice and at Washington State that’s come up particularly now as we navigate COVID. And, you know, you have a lot of new student-athletes that conferences are approved, and volunteer work hours during the summer but many times, the campus is mainly focused on, “Okay, how do we get our students back in the fall and how would it then look like?”


And I think what we’ve relied on and what I think is probably, it goes beyond just college athletics, is the value of relationships and having those relationships developed before you need them is really important. A quick example, our football program, similar to yours, Mike, we didn’t get any spring ball practices in, we hired a brand new coach in January and brand new staff in February. They only had a handful of weeks to get around the team and know the guys before COVID hit and everybody was home. So we kind of scratched our heads, “Okay, how do they install a brand new offense, a brand new defense? How do they build relationships?” Like we’re all gravitating towards Zoom, but then Zoom cannot always be the right answer giving the circumstances on what you’re trying to teach.


So we partnered with our global campus across the system. Each of these classes sets up these classrooms virtually for every professor on campus and they came to us with a solution before we even diagnosed the problem. But that relationship started because there are some of these we’ve done with strategic planning, started with our previous head coach and one of the partnerships we had there. So I think relationships as much as anything, when you’re communicating something that may be a risk or you’re talking to various stakeholders and there’s got to be a sense trust, there’s got to be humility, you go to people and say, “Hey, I don’t know the answer, help me come up with an answer” because I think that’s really how you can help build consensus. But to your point, in athletics because we move so fast. Sometimes, that’s more challenging than it sounds coming out my mouth right now. So I think if we try to juggle those two both ways.


MK: That’s very good. And I’m glad you pointed that out too, Bryan, because the cooperate – you know, once you’re looking for silver linings under these challenging times – and I do feel even a greater level of cooperation with the rest of our campus now because we all are so dependent on each other in finding solutions and, you know, there’s a lot of things we do well that the rest of our campus can learn from.


And to your point on the IT side of things, we’ve been so impressed, I applaud our department here on campus for doing that, I mean, just having the kind of relationship with Microsoft Teams and things that frankly I knew I had on my computer and I use it a little bit. But when we launched into this crisis now, it’s become – it’s showing a way to be so easy and proficient to make a lot of things work and it’s been a real God-send to us and I just shudder to think what we would’ve been able to do the last couple of months in the university if we haven’t had what I applaud as a very good IT department. I was thinking ahead and getting us ready for, you know, just to be better and efficient in general times but it sure has come in great – as a great resource during these troubling and pandemic times.


BB: Yeah, I always feel like team work makes the dream work. It’s a corny phrase, but it’s tried and true, I promise you. We can’t be bouncing off and then thinking about your team and your athletic department for those that you work with. And as we talk about innovation, risk taking, innovator, that concept that are your outline, I mean, there’s an inherent risk of failure with that, right?


And I think we’re all, to some degree or another, slightly risk averse. Especially on college athletics, I feel like we’ve got a collegial industry and we steal a lot of ideas from each other, but it’s really hard to be the best at something and not be unique. So how do you encourage your team, your department to be innovative despite the inherent risk of failure?


MK: Yeah, that’s good. Good point. I feel that, you know, as I was pointing out in the book, there’s the various mergers or various shows or whatever, might’ve hit the – I remember – I forgot the exact show but one of the shows that Iger was involved early in his career, when he’s more on the programming side that that was very bold and different, but it didn’t – but it end up not going well, but then it established his identity, brand and caught the eye of many people in his corporate structure and others about his willingness to take risk to understand that there is growth from failure and from speed bumps that you have to move forward from.


And so that’s what I’ve mainly been challenges in our folks during this pandemic is like, look we can’t just survive this, we’ve got to look at ways that it’s going to allow us to really dial in and focus in our strengths that much more so we can emphasize those coming out of it even more than we did before. We’re blessed with a great city, a great university, you know, and obviously our staff had to adjust and become so much more streamlined to move forward.


So because people gave me a chance when I was a relatively young administrator that I’m grateful for, to have been a tournament manager in my mid-20s for an instate term and to basically be a head executive for Final Four and the Super Bowl before I was 30, you know, people gave me a chance when I probably didn’t deserve it but they had confidence in me. And so I’ve kind of done the same thing now as I try to bring people or assist people’s career. And it’s not just assist their career, I actually think it’s be truthful to our organization, not only from the diversity side but I think the – especially as I start getting older myself, to learn from our young people, to learn what I’ve been learning even from our own student-athletes in recent days and weeks is just excellent.


So like anything, you know, another book that I value and Desiree Reed-Francois from UNLV gave it to me a couple summers ago, you know, my other favorite book is a book called Team of Rivals, and it talked about how Abraham Lincoln, when he took the presidency, whereas most of times when you put your cabinets, you might bring in all your friends, you know, or all your people that agree with you. And he took basically the people he had just defeated in strong and tough, political battles because they knew they were experts in certain areas and so he wasn’t afraid to bring in a cabinet, if you will, of folks with different opinions, different thoughts, diversity of ideas that ultimately makes your decisions better.


And so that’s why I really just challenge our staff to go for it. We need to – we don’t have the resources, you’re brought here for a reason and as long as we’re kind of within certain guard rails, we’re going to have to take some risks and we’re going to win some or we’re going to lose some. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better and it’s the reality of our situation here at USF.


BB: Yeah, I mean that – the whole – we have this conversation and take that with a – I love that book recommendation.


Now more than ever, I’m a huge history nut, so this idea of diversity around the table and not surrounding yourself with people there, just going to tell your ideas great and you’re right, I think that’s simple and the way you phrase it and talk about it. But it’s really complex when you really think about putting together your team and encouraging the people to take risk but also encouraging people to challenge you in the right way, challenge your ideas, have robust discussion about some of the things you’re doing, because I truly believe that’s how you get to the best ideas. I love that book recommendation. Team of Rivals.


MK: And you know my opinion, Bryan, part of this, at least to the way I approach things from a temperament standpoint, I think that’s important, you know. No matter – I’m not trying to – I don’t want to change people’s personalities by any means but the temperament in a room or in a decision-making process, it has to be respectful and to try to encourage that type of balance so you’re not afraid to offer a suggestion, you’re not afraid to fail. But I also try it to make clear that ultimately in some cases, if it’s ultimately my decision, I’ll even remind to the staff, say, “Hey, I need everyone’s opinion. I don’t want anyone to be mad, whatever happens at the end of it either because I’ve got – I can only make one decision.”


And that’s not – And we already know it inherently it’s not going to please everybody. But we want to make the right decision and it’s not playing favorite, so I want to hear what you say, how does it affect your part of our organization? How is it going to affect our constituents so that I can just make that decision eyes wide-open? And that’s the key part of it and ultimately, when you have that, I think you’ll cultivate the right team that can feel comfortable working together and get the best out of everything.


Bryan, I have a question for you with the –


BB: Sure.


MK: With what you guys are dealing with that in Washington State and what you’ve done in your career, I mean, part of what I was impressed with the – in Mr. Iger’s book also is, you know, while you might be innovative, you might react to crisis, you might take bold, bold risks and that sort of thing, but the decisions are still related to strategy. And I’ve applauded and I appreciate our president here, Dr. Steven Currall as we’ve talked about it as university leadership moving through this crisis. He still, you know, it’s easy to just say, “Oh, we’re in this mode for the next couple months, we’re not going to focus on our strategic goals or strategic plan.” And he’s been a great leader to kind of force us to continue to do that and make time even though we’re in a midst of a crisis, you still got to look ahead, brighter days are still going to come.


So how have you and your career and even now at Washington State, how are you all staying, you know, looking toward the big prize while you’re dealing with the daily challenges?


BB: Yes. This is one of the challenges, right? I mean, you talk about it, you want to have strategic thinking and thinking long term at the same time balancing the day-to-day. But to me, your strategies, your priorities, your core values, your mission, are more important in these times, not less important.


I think so often these times, you get hit left and right, I mean, every morning, I get hit with a new set of facts or an issue we’ve got to deal with. But if – we’re alive and we clearly communicated our priorities and the process that led us to reach in those was the right one, then we should feel comfortable reflecting back on those or re-emphasizing those – that we these decisions.


I brought it up with our AD Pat [Chun] the other day, we were making the decision on how to educate a certain group. And when I told him, I mean, we talked a lot of our strategic plan and then our core values about being a family or about being a tight-knit unit, I mean, this is one of those things where, yeah, we could do this in one format, it’d be pretty callous and off-putting or we can treat them like family like we talk about. And I think whenever you have these hard decisions reflecting back on that plan, is really important.


The other thing I’d say is, your plan, your strategy, your strategic thinking, you should have the flexibility and nimbleness to react to sudden changes in the overall context. So one of the things we’ve done, we lost our strategic plan obviously last August. Every year we’re going to revisit that on an annual basis. So we’re doing our strategic plan retreat, just like we did to develop the plan. We did it with, I’m going to say over 60 plus campus partners, coaches, staff all in the same room, virtually of course, talking about, “Okay,” we had a long conversation, “What’s changed in our environment?”


Whether it be the acceleration of name, image and likeness. Whether it be COVID-19 or what that may do to the enrollment factors or those kind of things. I mean, what’s changed in our environment? And the entirety of college athletics in the world, involvement in Washington. And then okay, let’s take a step back, looking back at our strategic plan, what do we need to change? What needs to be updated? What’s no longer relevant? Because that so often you’re getting this discussion of strategic plans. Well, I don’t believe in a 10-year plan. I believe in a 5-year plan. Or I don’t think a five-year plan – because the world’s changing too much. We need to have a 3-year plan so it will be quick. I’d rather discuss it as, here’s our 5-year plan but we’re going to review it annually, revisit and update it annually. And then we’re going to re-launch 2.0 of our plan later this summer. We’re going to do the same thing year-3, year-4, year-5 and hopefully into perpetuity. Just a strategic thinking is a part of what we do here at Washington state all the time, in that way you’re not stuck in a situation where we have to choose between your strategies, your priorities, your strategic plan and what’s going on currently.


MK: I got a great advice and great insight because you’re right no matter what your length is, in terms of a strategic plan and that can vary, but that annual review, well it might sound painful in some ways as an exercise, I think now, we’d see more than ever that your priorities can change. It’s still good to have the core principles and to be able to relate back to those as you start to make decisions, but it’s great to see what you’re going to do long term and then you have to probably adjust year to year based on conditions. And I think from an academic standpoint, before, you would think, you know, the changes might have been more gradual but as we’ve seen this year, your changes have been immediate and requiring a lot of adjustment and that might change your priorities a lot. So, I think that’s a great approach and great advice.


BB: I appreciate that. I did want to hit – we talked a little bit about innovate or die concept of Iger’s outlines. I was hoping to shift gears. One of the other – and there’s lots in the book I love, is really hard to single it into two pieces, but Tai forced me to, so I got to do it. We talked a little bit about making difficult decisions. And Iger talked about some of his bold decision making. I think when he saw cord-cutting, and advances in technology kind of coming over, he thought, “Okay, we’ve got to make some hard, hard decisions within the Company.” I think one of the quotes he uses is, “Avoid getting in the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest manufacturer of oil in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year.”


And I think what he’s saying there is, as you balance your time, as you balance the things you put in the time, effort into, make sure your return on investment is what you need it to be. So, I think as – we all have to make difficult decisions, but as you outlined before me, I’m in the position I get to give advice on decisions. I get to suggest and walk away. Whereas, our leader, Pat, he makes a decision, he has to own that decision and just like you might being an AD at USF, you have to own those decisions. So, what framework what process do you use when you’ve got a really hard decision you got to make?


MK: Yeah, again, as I kind of mentioned before, I certainly try to get to a point where you’re getting – seeking the best counsel and letting our various senior staff feel empowered to provide advice. And so, I’m hopeful and expecting that they have – the council there, the experts in their department as well, so that just in a matter of timeliness that by the time it gets to me, I hope I’ve gotten the great thoughts of everyone in our department. So that comes forward so that I feel good about that. So that’s my expectation that you try to build toward, and you know, and make that happen to be able to help make you – make the best decision possible.


I also try to, I think for people’s own development, you know, and part of it is because you can only make so many hard decisions a day but I do like to allow our cabinet to have to make some of those tough decisions because it’ll help you better when you become an athletic director, as you will, Bryan. And sometimes, you don’t want that first decision to be on the job per se, you want to have already had to make some and obviously the types of job you’ve already held allowed you both the security of just being an adviser, but then also now that you’re leading so many aspects of department, to make some key decisions as well.


Because the bottom line is, once you’re in a top chair like an athletic director or, gosh, forbid as big as a multi – you know, a huge corporation like Disney, like Mr. Iger was – I mean, that’s a – when you’re coming up, you’re able to be so hands on and so relationship oriented and I think that’s still important, I want to be accessible, but unfortunately, when you get to a certain point, you can’t – you can’t touch everybody every day and so, you got to rely on your staff to be able to do that. So for me, just trying to get the right council, try to get people comfortable and mature, and empowered enough to make that decision, to try to put themselves in my shoes. So it is important to kind of allow for that type of – that type of development.


So, that’s kind of how to go about it in my opinion but it’s a – you know, the bottom line is, you – and you got to think a little bit down the line too. I like the way some of these – in the book’s case and just looking at how interesting Disney’s strategic decisions have been made. And so if you didn’t read the book or didn’t really know the industry very well, you would think some of the acquisitions of going to Marvel Comics or going to Pixar or something like that would’ve not really make sense.


And then in some key decisions like ESPN getting involved with the BAM and in terms of the, you know, streaming and becoming so proficient in that, has now become so critical. And I think about that, that’s affected me directly on this book and I hadn’t really thought about it, for ESPN to work with the Major League Baseball Technologies, to acquire those type of things and now, you know, really put ESPN+ into the next level which is important for our conference when we did our recent television deal, which we knew was going to be a good thing. But there was always education on our own customer saying, well, people had a discomfort with streaming or they didn’t think, “Oh, I got to log on a computer or phone.”


Well, that was already progressing not much more with cord-cutting as it was. But now, with what we’ve all gone through for the last three or four months, you know, my fans I know are already fully integrated with using Zoom, using Teams, whatever it is, they’re using technology like crazy. So I shouldn’t hear any challenges from Bulls fans that that need to know – yeah, it’s easy to get on ESPN+.


But for Disney and for ESPN and others to see, knowing that was the future and now that future’s probably come a lot more rapid than they thought, is just another great example of what I think is a great takeaway from this book and obviously, you know, just want to applaud obviously, everything that Mr. Iger and many others who have done to put the Company in this position.


BB: Yeah, I agree with you. I think reading the book and some of those decisions as you mentioned, don’t make a lot of sense on the surface but then you drill down to his strategic priorities when he took over, how he reflected on those as he went about some of these acquisitions. I mean, in hindsight, it just looks absolutely genius, right? The way the world is at and as a Disney+, ESPN – I mean, it’s been – it blows my mind a little bit that he had that kind of foresight to shape a huge, huge company that Disney is with all these different assets and parts – whether it be the parks, the cartoons, the shows, and now, ESPN and Pixar, into the direction that got them in that – I mean that’s just a great model leadership and hopefully, I will live up to something like that one day. I think –


MK: And it shows that he listens too, he listened to a lot of people that I can only imagine what may be his first reaction to them. “Hey, we’re going to buy Marvel or we’re going to,” He’s like, “What? Why are we doing comic books?” He’s just like, “No, no, you got to think about this and this is what lead to and everything else,” So, you know, again, you listen, you learn from subject matter experts and from industry experts that you find – you find a way to work together and if it makes sense, you make that bold decision and you move on.


BB: I mean, Mike, that’s one of the things – and I heard you say it a couple different times now. The value you place around – all those that you put around you to help make these decisions, the trust that has been involved, the diversity of thought that has to be involved, the importance of humility and listening to those voices because to your point, you can’t trust everybody or you can’t touch everybody you hear from every single person. And I think as we talk about Rising ADs, and the value of this podcast, I think that’s probably – and I don’t know if you would agree, one of the more important aspects that determines your success is those individuals you put around you whether they be the senior leaders, coaches or your staff in your department, would you agree?


MK: Oh, I absolutely would. And again, as someone that’s rising, it’s two things, who you surround yourself with, who – while still being authentic to yourself, who do you – who are you able to be around? Who are you able to observe?


I’ve been blessed to have so many great bosses and leaders and co-workers that again, I can’t – I can’t be the same exact person that this coach is or that this AD was, or what have you, but as I catch myself getting older and in different position, I say, yeah, I did try to take – I try to take that aspect of a personality from Lee Roy Selmon, and this aspect from a John Swofford, and this aspect of a Bill Hancock. And, you know, just different things that you still going to be treating yourself. But if you can observe and see what might work for you is one thing.


And then also, I just think that the best part of the network I’ve been blessed with so far is that being able to count on them to get advice. How would you look at this, you know, what would you do? And it just helps you kind of talk things – talk things out. So, I do, I think. And then I just also believe that once you have a position of higher authority like you do now, Bryan, you’re already figuring out how can you help young people coming up even behind you so by the time you get into the athletic director chair full throttle, you’re going to kind of know who you might want to surround yourself with or at least who to counsel with to find some other great people to surround you and build the culture you want in your department.


BB: Yeah. I’ve had a lot of help far in my career. I’m always happy to help pay it forward but don’t think I’m just doing that out of charity. Just like you mentioned, you’re always recruiting, you’re always looking for talent and hopefully you have that decision to make around who you want around you. You kind of added some of those individuals and got an idea of how they can go about it. So, Mike, I really appreciate it. I’ll hand it back over to Tai now to wrap us up. I can’t thank you enough for this conversation and share this book review with me.


MK: Bryan, it’s been a pleasure for me. I look forward to getting to know you better. Congratulations on all your – during your career, it’s very impressive and I know it’s only the – only the start and I look forward to working with you even more in the future. And hey, we’ll have to start reading some more books together. It will be good.


BB: Absolutely.


TB: Gentlemen, this has been excellent. Of course, I didn’t have anything to say, anything to ask. I was sitting back and listening, absorbing all of the knowledge that you guys discussed. It was pretty interesting how this thing unfolded. I’m looking forward to doing more of them. And Mike and Bryan, I really appreciate you guys joining us here on the Rising ADs podcast.


BB: Thanks for having me, Tai, I greatly enjoyed it.


MK: Thank you, Tai, my pleasure.


TB: Yes, sir. That was Michael Kelly. He’s the Vice President of Athletics at South Florida and Bryan Blair who is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Associate Athletics Director at Washington State. Of course this is Tai Brown with Rising ADs and in the words of Jill Bodensteiner, “Keep learning and keep leading.” Have a great day.