Spelman Johnson is pleased to welcome Mr. Dell Robinson to our athletics practice team. Meghan Godorov, a Spelman Johnson strategic partner, recently had the pleasure of interviewing this impressively passionate and experienced professional in the industry. Below is a snapshot of his background, intended contributions to the Spelman Johnson team, and lessons on leadership in athletics.
Meghan: Start by telling me a little bit about yourself, and your background within intercollegiate athletics.
Dell: I have been in athletics for about 25 years. Working in four conferences has allowed me to observe more than 60 public and private institutions, embracing all of the institutions’ missions, sports programs, and offerings. My experience stretches from the Midwest to the West Coast, allowing me to engage with many types of professionals across campus such as in the areas of advisement, the Deans of Students, and more largely student affairs. I understand the depth and breadth of the higher education landscape and how the athletics department fits into the fabric of the college.
As a former student-athlete myself, I serve as an advocate for the students and appreciate that I have remained close to this mission in my every day work. Additionally, throughout my career, I have invested in student leadership development initiatives, mentoring and advising students and fellow professionals who want to enter and/or advance into the field.
Outside of athletics, I have had the pleasure of serving as chair of my undergraduate alumni association for two terms. Seeing the institution from a different side instilled within me an appreciation not only for my area of expertise but also for the system of higher education as a whole.
Meghan: Being an athlete yourself, how does that enhance your career as a leader in athletics?
Dell: It enhanced my career. I joined as a walk-on for the football team and earned my spot. It took hard work, the development of character, dedication and true commitment to prove what my contribution would be to the team. These early experiences gave me the opportunity to compete and lead, not just be present or simply go with the flow. I showed my college coaches in practice as early as pre-season training taking extra catches, listening intently to the coach, and making changes when needed. I have found that if you love the game, it makes you want to be that person who is called on often and wants to lead. These leadership skills are transferrable and do not go away.
As a professional in athletics, drills have been replaced by projects (short or long-term) and games are now presentations or important meetings. The teams have changed over the years (i.e., former staff, NCAA committees, student affairs colleagues) but the support felt and given, has not wavered in athletics, just as it was as a student-athlete. My early and continued successes as a student-athlete proved that I could excel in that space becoming part of my DNA to lead, win, and continue the cycle.
Meghan: How has your career progressed and how did you get to the point where you are today?
Dell: My career has progressed as a result of every day hard work and the possession of a solid work ethic. I was consistently sought out to oversee projects or asked to develop better policies and procedures through by-laws, enhance SAAC facilitators, and elevate the mental health and financial literacy of student-athletes. I identified what the needs were wherever I went and pursued the need. I also sought mentorship and coaching from others in the field. Many of whom let me work under them or partner on projects so that I could learn.
Enhancing the national profile of athletics through volunteering for national conference committees also accelerated my career. For example, I helped improve student national graduation rates and examined how students performed in and outside of the classroom. I met colleagues from across the country, proving my skills and leadership abilities on a higher playing field.
Additionally, I consistently stepped out of my comfort zone, moving geographically to gain new professional experiences across divisions from compliance to sports administration with the ultimate goal of becoming a commissioner.
I learned over the years as I experimented with different athletics departments and workplace environments what I needed personally too. The factors of geography, compensation, community, and closeness to family, played a part of my career journey with varying importance overtime and are surely part of every professional’s formula. It is important to pay attention to what remains high on your list and what can fade with each professional opportunity you take so you can progress in your career effectively and happily.
Meghan: What do you hope to bring to the Spelman Johnson team? Specifically, the athletics practice.
Dell: The vast network I built over the years. I worked in four conferences and served on various NCAA committees, which allowed me to meet a lot of professionals at various stages of their careers spanning many decades. Those relationships could be leveraged to gain Spelman Johnson clients, searches or even candidates for open positions moving forward. I am also a huge advocate for diverse pools of candidates so my historical involvement with groups of diverse backgrounds will enhance my work with Spelman Johnson on advancing this national need.
In past positions, I completed compliance reviews and strategic plans, which are some of the requirements of this new position. I worked with various groups on and off-campus in athletics and beyond so I truly understand the higher education landscape across all three divisions. Being connected to many groups adds to what I do in my work, fueling my level of intrigue and thirst for knowledge in the pursuit of professional relationships in other associations.
Meghan: What can we expect out of the athletics practice in the coming year?
Dell: You can expect a bold approach and the pursuit to heighten the number of RFPs and positions that are pursued. I want to investigate where the practice can have impact and be plugged in. I will work hard to help the practice gain notoriety and make the Spelman Johnson brand more visible to this group of athletics professionals so that we can collectively be a strong player in this executive search space. I plan to supply superior service to our clients by giving them prepared and high-quality candidates in each of their searches. As I shared earlier, I want the Spelman Johnson athletics practice to be a leader in the area of search for professionals of color and women, to have the strongest database of candidates than anyone else in that area for the lower tiers of Division I and all of Divisions II and III, the latter two are where I have spent most of my career.
Meghan: You have a very intriguing network within higher education. Talk to me about the value of your network and the strategies you employed to build it.
Dell: Spend time investing in people. Invest in professional friends in the same ways that you would invest in personal friends. I looked for individuals along the way with which I had commonality at all stages of their and my career. Sometimes there is an initial chemistry and connection that you should continue to pursue and other relationships you initiate may not move forward but it is the effort and practice of connection that count. I often met potential professional contacts on their home turf if I had extra time on a trip to stop in for a quick visit or meet them in person for the first time. To me, networking means growing friendships through joint projects, the consistent sharing of best practices, and learning about each other’s lives on a regular basis. For example, if you struggle together on a project, your relationship will be strengthened. When you have a need, you each have the opportunity to ask for support and can solve the problem together.
Over the years, I have liked and wanted a certain naturalness, organic, and natural feel to my relationships. My advice to you is to examine the realm of friendship and networking, borrowing aspects of those definitions that will work for you. My success has been in the blending of personal and professional.