Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade, CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams and George Washington Director of Athletics Tanya Vogel sit down with AthleticDirectorU to discuss constituent management, managing influence, filtering information, and maximizing stakeholder value. The trio also touches on weighing opinions from various stakeholders and more.
Successful Constituent Management: A-10’s McGlade, CIAA’s McWilliams, And George Washington’s Vogel
- - How do you manage the many people that want to have influence over the leadership positions that you have?
- - How do you filter through all of the information and data that’s coming to you to be able to come to a decision on what consensus really looks like?
- - How do you measure all of the different opinions and how do you make decisions?
- - Walk us through the CIAA's decision to relocate its men's and women's basketball tournament from Charlotte to Baltimore. (McWilliams)
- - How does the long-term strategic planning process begin and evolve at the conference level? (McGlade)
- - In the business world and the for-profit world, they say that a CEO’s job is to maximize shareholder value. Obviously, we don’t necessarily have shareholders in college athletics, but what is your ultimate job for the student-athletes or presidents that you may serve?
Jason Belzer: I’m Jason Belzer for AthleticDirectorU and today we are at the Women Leaders in College Sports Conference. And I am joined by CIAA Commissioner, Jacqie McWilliams; Atlantic 10 Commissioner, Bernadette McGlade; and George Washington University Athletics Director Tanya Vogel, thank you for joining me today, ladies.
Bernadette McGlade: It’s great to be here.
Tanya Vogel: Great to be here.
JB: So we are going to discuss constituent management. And each of you sits in a unique position having to deal with many, many voices on a daily basis, whether it’s on the campus or in the conference office, or even potentially on the national level. So what I’d like to hear is how do you, from a general standpoint, manage the very many people that want to have influence over the leadership positions that you have. Obviously, there are strategic decisions that you need to make. You have to consider your student-athletes, your athletic directors, university presidents and CEOs. Let’s start with you, Jacqie, what’s kind of your general constituency management plan?
Jacqie McWilliams: Wow, you know, I start with my board. They were the ones who gave me the opportunity. And I work very closely with them to understand the direction they want to go, you know, with the conference. We spend a lot of time on strategic planning, but we haven’t been isolated or they’re not in the silo. We work very closely with our athletic directors, our senior women administrators, our FARs, our student-athlete advisory committee, and the campus advisory committees to try to get their feedback and input. Ultimately, the board makes the final decision, but my job is to ensure that I collect all the information, give them options. When you’re working with presidents, they don’t need all the other stuff. They just want to see the bottom line and impact. And so, to stay focused on the direction of where they want our conference to go, we talk a lot about tradition, leadership, and community in the CIAA. And we’re very consistent about who we should partner with, how the board wants us to create our championships experiences for our student-athletes that impacts tradition, leadership, and community. I mean, it’s a big deal for us, the longest standing, historically black college, majority HBCU universities. And so, everything that we do is watched. It’s a cultural experience that you can’t even explain. That’s not like any other conference. But at the end of the day, we’re all trying to create great experiences for our student-athletes. And so, the direction of our board and how they give me the autonomy to lead our conference, I think, has been really critical for me since I’ve been the commissioner.
BM: Yeah, I would say, so much of our decisions, and my decisions are based on what’s best for the conference. And that is predicated on our strategic plan, which we have a strategic plan that’s in five-year capsules, and it’s a plan that essentially, we worked really, really hard to get buy-in, buy-in from all of the governance constituents, whether it’s our council of presidents or athletic directors or senior women’s administrators. And then, in the last five years, we’ve incorporated our student-athlete SAAC into all of our governance meetings at least once a year. So, the most important thing that I feel is my responsibility and my staffs’ responsibility is that we are making decisions that are born out of building consensus. And it’s never what’s best for one institution, one team, one coach, or one program, but what’s good for the Atlantic 10. And again, we pride ourselves on great people, great places, extraordinary opportunities, and every decision that we make we try to keep that within the framework of those benchmarks.
TV: You know, my president made it really, really, I’ll say, simple for me when he said, “You know, your department is to be this very visible and positive display of discipline and excellence for the entire university.” And so, as we go out and we seek, you know, input from all of the various constituencies, it’s important for me to use that lens and say, “Okay, well, how does, how does this idea or this program or this investment help us become that very, very positive display for, for George Washington University?” I, you know, one thing I think about athletics directors is we have so many different voices, the student-athlete voices is paramount. The coach’s voice is paramount. The President, the board, donors, alumni, faculty, I mean, it’s, there’s a lot of voices coming at you and if you, if you start to get scattered, right, it’s going to become very noisy and chaotic. So having that lens of how does this help our department be that very positive display makes it much easier for us.
JB: Sure. Bernadette, you just mentioned this idea of coming to consensus. You are being bombarded with an unbelievable amount of information from all directions, whether it’s coming down from the national office, whether it’s coming down from your campus, maybe it’s what your presidents want, how do you filter through all of this information and data that’s coming to you to be able to come to a decision on what consensus really looks like?
BM: Well, I think it’s really important to study, to do your homework and to really understand what are all of the facets of any one of these major, whether it’s a national issue, whether it’s more of a regional issue, whether it’s more of a campus issue, whether it deals with student-athlete activism, whether it deals with issues like name, image and likeness, whether it deals with media contracts, whatever it is. I think it’s really important that, that I do my homework, that my staff does the homework, and then also to try to look at it from the perspective. There’s a perspective of which presidents and the council of presidents look at these major national issues. There’s sometimes a different perspective that head coaches will look when they, when they look in the lens of a, of an issue that will undoubtedly impact their future. So it’s critically important, I think, to gather all of the facts. And then, at the end of the day, sooner or later, you know, it’s critically important to make the decision, you know, go ahead and set the roadmap, set the game plan, set the direction that you think and that the rest of the league feels is in the best interest of, for us, for the Atlantic 10 where we fit nationally as a basketball-centric conference, and what’s going to be the best to keep us relevant in a national scope.
JM: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think the… I had a colleague that told me to read the book, The ONE Thing, and it, as soon as I read it, it really got me focused on what was most important at the time when I walked into the seat of being a commissioner, and it was the financial health of the conference. I always tell my team, if we’re financially healthy at a Division II conference and the work that we do with our tournament, then every other championship gets to benefit from it. We all get to benefit from it. So I think, you know, you have all these external, internal groups and people just grabbing at you constantly. There are times where I’ll take and I’ll hear what people say. But I’ll take moments to myself, and then come up with the best resolve based on what I’ve heard. And like Bernie said, “I stay focused on why we do this.” It… when it’s about the student-athlete, and I tell my staff, we don’t make no bad decisions. You know, sometimes we say, “Dang, if you do and dang if you don’t,” whatever you do, somebody is not going to be happy, but whatever we do, let’s be confident enough that we made the best decision for the best interests of this conference for these student-athletes. We don’t operate in a silo. I don’t operate in a, in a room by myself and make decisions. We take voices. We hear voices. But at the end of the day, we make great recommendations so we can make the best, best decision. And the CIAA has had to make some hard decisions since I’ve been here—culturally, financially, historically. And at the end of the day, we’re still standing, like we’re good. It’s okay.
JB: Health first.
TV: You know, I think alignment is really important. And understanding, for me, understanding, like I said, what my president’s idea is for athletics at GW, that’s critical. And so, as I’m gathering data, or hearing different inputs, being able to prepare that data for him so that he understands this is what we’re doing to help fulfill that mission, that’s key. But one of the things I would say about our commissioner, she does such a great job of understanding what the presidents are thinking, what’s important to them, and bringing it to the ADs, because for all of us, there’s 14 of us in the room, it’s really important for us to know the temperature of the university presidents in the Atlantic 10 because, again, we’re trying to drive towards that alignment and make sure that we’re making decisions in the best interest for our institution but also in the best interest for the conference.
JB: What about opinions? Because there’s lots of different opinions, of course. And is it just a default, “I work for the presidents, they’re the ones that put me there at the board, and so their opinion matters more”? Or, is it, “I have to actually really weigh their opinion versus what the athletic directors are saying or even what the student-athletes are saying”? I mean, how does that measuring process occur? And what happens at the end of the day when the decision actually gets made?
JM: Great question. I, you know what, everybody, opinion matters, at least they think it does. And everybody knows that they can be the commissioner, I’ve learned that as well. And they can make a better decision than I can. And so, I think, me being transparent, being open enough, being a great listener, trying to have an understanding of different perspectives, but I always go back to the core, even with my board. We have gone round and round, you guys know in circles, on issues. But when you get back to the core of what your strategic plan is, what you… the outcomes you want, then the opinions may sound great at the time, but ultimately, we just got to do what’s best for the student-athletes. I mean, opinions, you… I always tell our team, let’s control our own message. Don’t let people control our message. The social media will tell the stories for you. You can either get ahead of it or ignore it, or you can get behind it. And so, we really have worked hard on how do we manage our message and control it in a way where, you know, that opinion may been heard, maybe it responds to that, and maybe it doesn’t, or maybe we just don’t say anything because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.
BM: Yeah, I, I look at opinions that opinions have to be taken with a grain of salt and they also have to be matched with values, perspective and mission, mission of the organization. Whether it’s a member institution, whether it’s a conference office, and I think that all opinions are valuable, especially if it’s from your inner circle of your governance, of your membership, of your student-athletes, of individuals that have really bought into the mission and values of your organization. So I do think they’re valued… valuable, critically valuable. But I also think that you can enter into a very chaotic decision-making process if you allow yourself, your staff or your organization to be driven by one-off opinions. You have to combine them with facts, perspective, value and mission.
JB: Does that play out differently on a college campus?
TV: I don’t think it plays out differently. I’ll share, I think you got to be intentional about how you get those opinions. You got to seek input in an intentional manner. Otherwise, it will come at you in all different ways and try to sift the message from the noise, right, and place the appropriate weight on the different opinions that are coming at you. But I do think gathering great ideas from different constituents is important. That being said, we’re hired to be the experts on our campus in this industry. And so, my President, I think about the scope of my job and then I think about the scope of a president’s job, and I don’t know how he sleeps at night. And I do believe he has a clone because you’ll feel like he’s everywhere. But that being said, he wants me to bring the information to him, and he’ll have opinions. And when he brings those opinions back to me, obviously, I put the appropriate weight on it. But sharing my opinion and sharing my expertise is what he hired me for. So I think that’s really important.
JB: Jacqie, you spoke about change, and how much has changed since you got to your position. From a cultural standpoint, from a historical and financial standpoint, you recently had a huge change with moving your men’s basketball tournament and women’s basketball tournament, which is the lifeblood of the conference from a financial perspective. Let’s talk about long-term strategic thinking and planning. How did that process play itself out? Who was involved in making the decisions? And how did you ultimately come to that very, maybe controversial decision to make it like that?
JM: Yeah, it’s, you know, it was a pretty intense process. I mean, I think my, my experience at working with the NCAA and doing championship bid sites before really helped me prepare our team. I don’t think we’ve been in a process where the board is involved. We’re talking to athletic directors. We’re talking to student-athletes. We’re talking to fans. We’re doing surveys, asking. We’ve been in, you know, one city 15 years this year. And we’ve moved our conference office to be in the city that has hosted our championship for 15 years. And so, when you start thinking about moving, what does that look like? And honestly, I will tell you, I was a little scared. Fear will help… will, will not allow you to move yourself forward, more afraid of what does that look like for the fans. How much work do we have to do? Oh, my gosh, we’re going to have to travel to a new city, you know, what does that look like? And ultimately, I think we had the best process. My team, our consultants were on it. Every city that bid was outstanding. That ultimately, the board, after we provided all the information, whether it’s financial, whether it’s the experience, whether it was the opportunity, whether it was the rebranding, the marketing, I mean, the city that we’re going to in Baltimore couldn’t have provided a better package. And you couldn’t say no after you went through all the details. I think we had a fair process. I think it was a hard decision to make. But I do think it was the best decision that we’ve made right now for our conference and where we need to go. And it was actually fun. I mean, after going through it and seeing, you know, now what it looks like, you know, we feel pretty good. But again, we have one more year. We’re in our 75th tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this city has been outstanding to us. And so, we feel like a part of that community. And so, to see us transition, we’re working through that as well, but at the end of the day, we have the best time and resources and opportunity to move our tournament for the best interests of the conference, for all 12 member institutions, and the 3,000 students we get to serve and the 14 championships that we get to manage every year. So, it’s a big deal.
JB: Bernadette, it seems like the strategic planning process, at least long term is a little bit of a circular process in a conference office, whether the presidents are coming to you and saying, “There’s this issue, go do some research and come back to us with feedback.” Or maybe you’re doing the opposite and saying, “Hey, this is bubbling up through college sports. We need to address it.” Where is most of the long-term strategic planning being… where is it being generated from? Where is it being birthed from? Is it coming from you? Is it coming from the actual institutions? And where is that? Where does your responsibility lie in either situation?
BM: I think it’s a combination of both. I have an extremely active council of presidents, very engaged institutions, very engaged athletic directors, and the strategic planning process as opposed to kind of looking at as a circular process, I look at it more like a stair stepping type of process that, you know, you, you build a strategic set of goals that are sort of walking up x number of stairs for x number of years of what’s in the best interest of the league. And then there comes a time where that is coming to an end. And, you know, I think you’ve got to build the consensus. You’ve got to be able to, you know, I have to provide vision as the commissioner, again, that’s my role, and, and then to be able to lay out opportunities and options, but I have a very active membership. And so, they also have expectations of myself and of the conference office and where they want to see the conference be. And I think at that point in time, you know, that stair step can… there can be a landing where you’re actually maintaining where you are on a national level. You might make a right turn or left turn, but then you’re going to start moving up the steps again. I think at the end of the day, every strategic plan that we have, and we’re on our second iteration of our strategic plan since I’ve been commissioner, and we want to be better. We want to be better. We want to be a stronger brand. We want to be able to be… have a larger swath of expansion as far as the country is concerned. We have changed our scheduling models, guidelines. We’ve moved our championship into New York City, number one media market in the country. And so, I think it’s always a process that you have to keep building but you also have to stay true to what your values are and what your membership is looking for in terms of growth.
JB: Sure. Tanya, last question for all of you, but we’ll start with you. In the business world and the for-profit world, they say that a CEO’s job is to maximize shareholder value. Obviously, we don’t necessarily have shareholders in college athletics. But what is your view of that statement? And maybe who are your shareholders? And at the end of the day, what is your ultimate job for the student-athletes that you serve, for the presidents that you may serve? Where do you see yourself in that equation?
TV: Yeah, I mean, we might not have shareholders, but we have stakeholders for certain and, you know, we all talk about this, but we’re all student-athlete-centric. They’re our number one stakeholder. That being said, you have coaches, you have alumni on your campuses, the board of trustees, your president, your faculty. Like I said, there’s, there’s many, many people that you’re trying to serve. But staying true to your core values, it’s, it’s student-athlete experience and making sure that we’re doing everything in our power, which includes being in the right conference, which includes raising resources, which includes making great decisions when it comes to hiring and retaining great coaches. So all the work that we do, for me, is centrally focused on the student-athlete experience.
JB: Sure. Bernadette?
BM: I think it’s critically incumbent upon a commissioner, and I take it very serious. I was a student-athlete myself. I competed. I was on campus. I coached. I went through administratively working on campus. And so, I feel like I have a perspective of what’s important from a campus perspective. And I think that’s critically important for conference office staff. And to be able to build value for your membership is very important and stay true to the goals. At the end of the day, Tanya, my other athletic director, presidents, they literally are focused on their institution and what they need to do and grow. And myself and I, we need to be 24/7, thinking about what’s best for the league, so that we can basically provide that information and be a critically important and correct resource for our membership to be able to grow. And I think when everybody was together, that’s when you get the beautiful synergy for everyone to be really successful.
JM: Yeah. Yeah, I would say, you know, just the relevancy and being relevant and leading with passion, understanding the influence that you have in the circles like here at women leaders, like the power of people that you’re around, but we just see ourselves as people just wanting to do our jobs and do it well. But as soon as you call me Commissioner McWilliams, you know, I have a job and responsibility to care for a conference that gave me the opportunity and the privilege to serve these amazing student-athletes who just want to play their game every day. And so, I have to protect the brand. And we’ve done a hard… we’ve done a lot of work on connecting ourselves to partners that are, that bring something to the table. They’re not just taking. Like we’re giving to each other. And so, that has changed the scope of what CIAA looks like from our media rights partnership, to our sponsors. We align ourselves not just for money. We align ourselves because you match the mission, you match what our student-athletes and we need. And so, for me, it’s been really fun just to see the energy that this conference brings in the region nationally, but then also to be able to be a woman leader and sit on the platform with these amazing women that I’ve known or have known me and we’re here to help each other to serve just a better community of student-athletes.
JB: Well, Jacqie, Bernadette, Tanya, thank you for joining us today on AthleticDirectorU for a spirited and insightful discussion.
TV: Thank you.
BM: Thank you.
JM: Thank you.