Sport executives often debate the value of sport-specific college degrees. Some argue the focus is too narrow. Others claim an emphasis on industry-related subjects produces better applicants. Dr. Jason Williams, assistant dean of the Simon School of Business at Maryville University, also directs the school’s Rawlings Sport Business Management program. In this wide-ranging interview with Rob Cornilles, Jason weighs in on this debate. He also speaks to the hot topics on college campuses today: academics vs. affecting social change; opportunities for minorities; and, if teaching sales is worth classroom time.
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Dr. Jason Williams | The Present-Minded Professor
Dr. Jason Williams, this episode’s Game Face Exec is more like a Game Face educator. A New Jersey native, Jason was a college athlete who first pursued a football and track and field coaching career. Fortunately for thousands of students at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, over the last couple of years, Jason has had an even bigger impact as their academic coach and their business and life coach. Unusually vested in his students’ pursuit of knowledge and their success in achieving a career in the competitive business of sports, please meet one of America’s most present-minded professors.
I want to welcome Dr. Jason Williams from Maryville University with us. Jason is an old friend and someone I’ve been doing a lot of business worth over the last couple of years. We work together in the classroom. We’re teachers together and thanks to Jason’s invitation to me about a decade or so ago, we’ll talk a little bit about how that relationship started. Jason is coming to us from his home, as many people are in this new era of COVID. I can see already a lot of cool things that Jason’s picked up from his career working with sports organizations around the country. Jason is not only a friend, but he’s also someone that I turn to for insights into the best practices and what’s going on outside my world within Game Face. He has great foresight and purview of the sports business. Jason, thanks for joining us. Welcome to Game Face Execs.
Thank you, Rob. I appreciate you inviting me on and I look forward to our conversation.
Jason, you are an educator, and you’ve been an educator for many years. You’re one of the leading programs in the country to educate and prepare students for careers in sports. Before we get into the details of what you do, specifically at Maryville University, I want to talk a little bit about your past, your history, because you’ve had a long road. You’re not that old, but you’ve had a long road into where you are now. Can you take us back to the beginning where your career began and how you’ve been involved in academia all these years?
I’ve been fortunate, Robbie, to have an outstanding career and it’s been because of a lot of good people that have seen some things in me that have allowed me to continue to progress. I started out as a high school teacher. I went to Montclair State University, got my undergraduate degree, and also played football there, and track and field. I was fortunate enough to become a high school teacher after I graduated from Montclair State University. I was there for about three years and wanted to work on the college side of things in athletic administration and also coaching. I landed a position at Illinois Wesleyan University where I was an athletic administrator, assistant football coach, and also head men’s track coach.
As you know, at Division Three schools, you do a lot of different things and it was great for me to be able to do those things at such a young age because I got to learn from a lot of good people in a lot of different areas. During that time, I wound up taking advantage of some NCAA professional development opportunities and met some people who worked at Florida State. They had a position open, so I applied for it and wound up becoming an Assistant Director in the athletic department at FSU working on a variety of different things marketing, community service, and student-athlete development. I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot. I tell people all the time that it was a whole other education working in the athletic department of a BCS school, namely Florida State.
Shortly after that, I wound up taking a position at Endicott College where I worked a little bit more on the academic side, like developing some academic programs for them, as well as working on some things for the late president there, Richard Wylie. While I was in Boston, Boston College had a position open where they needed someone to work the ticketing and marketing for football, basketball, and also men’s and women’s hockey. I did that at night while working in college during the day, which was another great opportunity and I learned a lot from a different culture in BCS college athletics.
Later on, while I was doing that, a mentor, we all have those and are important for all of us to have, contacted me about a position at Maryville University had opened and his name was Dale Lick. He was a three-time university president. He had been the president of Florida State University, Georgia Southern University, and the University of Maine. He shared with me an opportunity that was at Maryville University. At first, I was a little bit reluctant. I didn’t know if I wanted to become a full-time faculty member at that time, but I knew Maryville University wanted to do things the right way. They want to grow. They had an earnest interest in educating young people so that’s what drew me to where I am now at Maryville University.
Before we go into your career at Maryville and what you’ve done there over what has been a couple of years now, what you described is not typical for those people who want to work in the sports business. In that, it sounds like you lived out of your car so to speak. You always had to keep a full tank of gas because you might be going to another job before you know it. You were probably opportunistic. Meaning when an opportunity presented itself, and you thought it would be a good fit for you, you did everything you could to grab that opportunity and run with it.
[bctt tweet=”Gain as much knowledge and experience as you can in different places, doing different things so you can learn to work in different cultures.” username=””]
There are a lot of people though that would not make that sacrifice. They’re so married to a particular market, or they want to stay close to home. Some of this is necessary if you’ve got family obligations or those types of things. You have the freedom to come and go as you please. If you could talk a little bit more about that decision to be mobile and I’d be curious to know, I know you’re married, you’ve got a beautiful family, what role did your spouse play in these decisions?
I’ve had good mentors and one of the things that my mentor has always taught me about is at a young age, you have to look at opportunities wherever they are and look at it for the opportunity, not so much of what part of the country or the world that it’s in. You need to gain experience and gain as much knowledge as you can in different places, doing different things so you can learn to work in different cultures. Even though we’re the United States, we have different cultures in each part of our country. I listened to my mentors very well and that was one of the things that always kept in the back of my head. It was like, “What’s the opportunity? What part of the country is it in?”
My wife has been a trooper. When we got married and when we were both working at Illinois Wesleyan University, one of the things that I shared with her before we got married was, “I’m still young in my career and I may not always live in Bloomington, Illinois. I can’t tell you where we’re going to live moving forward but I can tell you this. Family is important to me and I will always keep that at the forefront even as we make these decisions.” She’s been awesome with that even to this day as I’m looking at opportunities as they come up, but it was a combination of my mentors and also then taking into consideration my spouse that made me make all those different moves.
Can I ask you a little bit about that relationship you and your wife have without getting too personal? Nobody can dictate to a spouse, “This is what we’re going to do,” and expect to have a happy and fruitful marriage. There has to be a mutual understanding and mutual respect for one another. I’ve spent time with your wife and kids and know that there is a deep and loving bond that brings you together. How does that materialize, that type of relationship with a spouse where, in your case, she would be willing to follow your career and in other cases that meant the roles might be reversed? What are some of the tips you can give people to enter into that relationship? Is it something you have to lay down your expectations from day one, that first date, or do you evolve into that understanding?
I definitely think it’s an evolution, but I do think it’s something that you do before if you decide to take the serious route and be married to someone. You’ve got to have that discussion beforehand. If you plan on having children, have that discussion beforehand. That way, it doesn’t become a surprise to anyone if those things start to materialize as relates to moving or whatever. I don’t think it’s something that I have to tell him on the first date but maybe a little bit as you get a little bit more serious but it’s a conversation that you have to have. If there’s mutual respect for each other and an understanding of why that person wants to do that and also understanding who that person is. Working in the sports business industry is not the same as working for any other industry in my opinion. Your spouse has to understand that and want to be involved in that because if that’s what makes you happy and that’s your career, it’s not going to go away.
You know at Game Face, and certainly on Game Face Execs, we talk a lot about sales, the power of influence, and the necessity for persuasion. It sounds like you had to exercise some of that in your marriage. Is that a fair statement?
No question. Moving from Florida to Boston took a lot of persuasion. As you can imagine, waking up Christmas morning and it’s 72 degrees versus waking up Christmas morning and it’s 10 degrees for my wife was not always something that she had envisioned but it did take some persuasion. There’s also give and take in that. There were times when I didn’t want to travel because I’ve been traveling so much for work, but she wanted to visit her family, so you make those sacrifices because marriage and any relationship is about give and take. It took some persuasion, but it also was a lot about, “Here’s what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this then I have to allow these things to happen too that I may not want to do but need to do,” because you have that respect and love for that other person.
I can attest to what you’re saying, Jason, that you live what you say because when I’ve been with you in the St. Louis area when we’ve been working on campus together, you’ve made it clear that it’s time for you to go home and for you to spend time with your kids. Also, when you and I talk on the phone halfway across the country, there are times when you’re not available because you’ve got that devotion to your family. I would let those who are reading know that Jason is not spouting off some platitudes. He lives what he’s saying, and that’s why you have such a successful marriage, and you’re always happy in your work.
You and I are both fortunate that way, we’ve been married for some time to our spouses. Despite the travel and the long hours, and in your case, hopping around the country to pursue your career, we have been blessed to have spouses that are supportive of that, believe in us, trust us and hopefully, that trust has been rewarded as well. You got to Maryville. You were essentially recruited to Maryville but when you got there, the Sports Business Management Program was nonexistent, wasn’t it? Can you tell us how you and Dr. Lombardi, the university president, grew it to become what it is now?
When I got to Maryville University, they had already started a sports business management program but hadn’t hired anybody full-time to put their full efforts into it so the results weren’t there because this is when somebody that wasn’t taking care of it and growing it. When the University hired me, Dr. Pam Horwitz, who was the dean at the time, hired me along with Dr. Lombardi. There is nothing short of, “We want this program to grow. We feel it, it can grow,” and that’s what we’ve done. We’re fortunate that we’re in St. Louis, Missouri.
There are so many sport business organizations here. I know that the first thing everybody’s going to think of is the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues. At the time, we had the St. Louis Rams. We also have organizations like Momentum, Rawling Sporting Goods, and many other organizations, both minor leagues, and marketing agencies. We also have a Division One Athletic Conference here and the Missouri Valley Conference is downtown. From a practitioner’s perspective going into academia, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities for our students to gain experience because of the city that we were in.
As you and I know, and we’ve said before, there are hundreds of sports business or sports administration programs around the country. Certainly, there’s an exponential number beyond what existed when I first got into the sports business in the early 1990s. They’ve popped up all over the place. When they approached you and said they wanted you to assist them in building this program, one word that I like to use a lot is differentiate. What did they say to you or what did you bring to that interview table to be able to convey to one another that we’re going to make this program different from any other? What was the original inspiration or vision for the program?
The vision of Dr. Horwitz, the dean at the time, and Dr. Lombardi was we needed a differentiator and I had shared with them that it wasn’t going to be a cookie-cutter program. One, I knew that wouldn’t work and two, that’s not who I am. When we had this discussion during interview processes, I had said to them, and I used this quote, “We’re going to do it the right way.” The right way meant that our students were going to leave here with skills that the industry valued.
We were going to work with professionals like yourself and others, to help us build the program so that one, we knew what we were doing was valid, they would have a vested interest in seeing it succeed. Also three, we’re going to make sure our students had a lot of experience so when you look at their resume moving toward the end of their senior year, it may look like someone who already had 2 or 3 years of experience, because of all the things that they had done and the skills that they had developed so that’s how we had. That’s how we define the right way.
Cynics, maybe parents of young people who want to get a degree in sports, would say that you don’t need a Sports Management or Sports Business degree in sports administration. It’s not necessary. It’s too specific. It’s too focused. You need to get something, maybe a broader education and I’m not saying that they’re right or wrong. Frankly, from my perspective, Jason, it depends on which program they’re referring to. Some programs probably aren’t worth the amount of tuition you have to pay to acquire it. I would not say that about Maryville. That’s why you and I are talking and that’s why you and I have a partnership because I feel strongly in what you, the program, and Dr. Lombardi are trying to accomplish. What would you say to those parents, those funders, if you will, and even to the students who suspect that maybe a sports specific degree is unnecessary?
There’s no question that there are people out there who think that way. What I have shared with our prospective parents and current parents as well as one, at our university, our Sports Business Management Program, that’s why it’s called Sports Business Management is in the business school. They get a business core of accounting, finance, general marketing, as well as operations. Lay it on top of that, you will have our sports business management courses that are not built upon tests and writing papers. They’re built upon exponential learning that we do projects for organizations.
When you add those things together and put on top of that the amount of experience our students have with the internships that they acquire because of the skills that they have, the events that they have the opportunity to work, because of the relationships that we’ve built with the industry. Those things make our students what I call employable, which also make them successful out into the industry. They hit the ground running because they know what to expect on that first day of the job and they have the skills to do the job that they were hired for. Those organizations don’t have to retrain our students once they leave our program.
[bctt tweet=”The Cardinals embody the culture and the values of the St. Louis community. That is why the people love them.” username=””]
You and I are both wearing shirts that have the Rawlings Sporting Goods logo. I’d like you to describe the relationship you have with that company. One thing I’m sure most people outside of St. Louis are not aware of is that not only is Rawlings based in St. Louis, but they are next door to your campus. In fact, you share parking lots practically. Your students can within moments go from the classroom and they could walk across the parking lot and be in the headquarters of Rawlings. How did that relationship develop?
Pam Horwitz, who I mentioned before when I first got the job when Rawlings moved to the Maryville Centre Drive where they are housed, where you said, their worldwide headquarters is right there, they talked and said, “How can we partner?” They didn’t know what to do at that time so when I got to Maryville, my dean introduced me to the Senior Vice President at the time, Art Chou now the President of Rapsodo. He and I started to talk about what our relationship might look like. Art’s been a great partner of our program since that time, but it didn’t start out as the Rawlings Sport Business Management Program when I got there a couple of years ago, it was like, “Let’s do some things together.” I’ve always been involved in partnerships as it relates to any professional career that I’ve been and so I always try to continuously create added value for Rawlings.
When we had an opportunity to be the official interim provider for Texas versus The Nation Bowl, which was a collegiate football of all-stars, I brought Rawlings to the table with us. I said, “They’re doing things in football helmets and football equipment. You guys should take a look at what we can do together.” That relationship fostered and we continuously did those things. It’s like, “Jason, we need a couple of students to do some grassroots marketing for us at this event. Can you give us some of your best and brightest?” That’s how it started but it got to the point where they had research needs and we could fulfill those needs as related to their products and consumer insights. We started to do research for them in a variety of different areas. Soon after that, I sat down with Art Chou one day at lunch and said, “What do you think about you guys naming our program?” He said, “Jason, that would be a great idea.”
We talked with the President at that time, Robert Parish. He thought it would be a good idea as well so soon after that, we were then the Rawlings Sport Business Management Program. That relationship has been intact for almost a few years now and we have built a relationship where our organizations are working side by side in a variety of different areas, specifically, our sports business management program, but they also provide uniforms for our softball and baseball team. Their logo is outside on our baseball field. We’ve continually done a lot of things together. It’s been an outstanding partnership that has continued to grow. Now we do a variety of research projects for them. We’re working on a new one with some of their corporate sponsorship partnerships evaluating that for them. That’s how it all got started and every year it’s gotten larger and larger.
As far as student placement within Rawlings upon graduation, you have some good success stories there too, don’t you?
We do. We have a few students there that are working at some of the higher levels because they’ve been at Rawlings for a number of years now. We also have a lot of our students who have been hired at entry-level positions in a variety of different areas, marketing, digital media, social media, or product development. It’s been fruitful for our students as well. Plus, our students have the opportunity every semester to intern with Rawlings. We have three internships with Rawlings, the fall and spring semester. For each semester, there are three. Plus, we help Rawlings with the grassroots marketing that goes on around the country in the summertime.
You’ve talked about not only this relationship with Rawlings, which is at the center of the program, but you also have reached out to other professionals. You don’t only rely on the academics to teach the business of sport, you go out and find practitioners. I happen to be one of those that you have reached out to over the years. I was a little skeptical at first because I had been contacted by many programs in the past, some of which turned out to be nice, maybe one-off experiences but you were talking about something much broader and deeper than that. It’s something much more long-lasting, which thankfully, has lasted a couple of years now where I get to come into the classroom every fall and assist you in teaching, the business of sports selling. You and I co-teach that class. I love teaching your students and the way you prepare them is tremendous.
Jason, while the Rawlings relationship is certainly the keystone of the program, it’s been evident that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort building relationships with practitioners throughout the industry. I must say it’s a little bit unlike many sports business programs that I’ve seen around the country. In that, though you are a practitioner in your roots, you are also an academic. You are Dr. Jason Williams, and for many people, for the world of academia, there’s a perception that they may not be as quick to reach out to those who are in the industry, but you’ve done it. You’ve done it freely and rapidly. To me, it suggests a level of confidence that you have. You’re not afraid to bring outside voices into your classrooms, and perhaps to give a new or different perspective. What is it about the way you’re wired that you want to build those kinds of partnerships that you’ve talked about and you don’t try to hoard all the information to yourself and create your own little fiefdom on campus?
Rob, it’s one of those things where when these young people graduate every May, I’m not the one who are hiring them. I’m not the one who hires them. The industry is the one who is hiring them. In my opinion, for me, not to include the industry wouldn’t make any sense for our students, it would make any sense for them at all because the industry is the one who is hiring our students. It also allows me to continually sharpen my skills on what is pertinent. Also, what is important to the industry so I can figure out a way to put that in the educational model for our students to have the skills that the industry values. It’s a variety of different reasons why we include the industry, but the most important reason is they are the ones that are hiring our students. I have to take my cues from them as relates to the skills that they see valuable so our students have those skills and they get hired into these positions.
I want to say for those who may not be paying close attention to what you said, for you, it all comes down to what happens after campus life. They’ve got to get a job. That’s ostensibly why they get this degree. They can work in their chosen industry. I want to attest from observation and from our countless conversations over the years that is always your number one priority. What are we going to do to prepare our students more than others to land in the industry?
Your placement rate is fantastic. I want to applaud that students first attitude that you have. It’s not about building up your name or about becoming a prolific author. You’re on campus to try to help students get into the career choice that they’re looking for, get them meaningful work and employment, which is going to improve their lives. I want to thank you for that. I wanted to give you a shout-out for that because it’s never been lost on me and it’s always evident in all of our interactions.
Thank you, Rob. I appreciate that and that’s our goal. To me, it’s like nothing else that we do in any other organization. We have goals and objectives that need to be met. For our program and for Maryville University, those goals and objectives are getting young people into the careers that they want to be in. That means that we have to make ourselves humble as educators. We know some things, yes but we don’t know all things and no one does. The more we can include the industry and professionals, the better off our young people are going to be.
One of those relationships beyond Rawlings there in St. Louis is a brand you mentioned, the St. Louis Cardinals. I’ve got a jersey of theirs because they are a great and long-standing client of Game Face. They have been a great long-standing partner of the Rawlings Sports Business Management Program at Maryville University. What do you think about their brand, Jason? You’re in the community and I’m not but I’m pretty familiar with it. I’ve been working with the Cardinals for nearly twenty years. From an academic standpoint and from someone who does a lot of research who observes the industry, what is it about the Cardinals brand? Why are they so beloved in that community? It seems they can almost never do wrong. What’s your observation?
It’s one of those things where the St. Louis Cardinals in this community have continuously proven themselves to be community leaders. Yes, they are a business. You and I both know that and everybody probably reading knows that, but they see themselves as a community leader in leading in the community to do right for the community in which they live and work. That’s why the brand of the St. Louis Cardinals is so strong.
The other reason why that brand is so strong is that the culture of the St. Louis community is the culture of the St. Louis Cardinals and vice versa. Those who work for the organization embody the culture and the philosophy of the community, which is family, hard work, and putting others first even in tough times. That is the reason why the St. Louis Cardinals brand is so strong and people in this area love baseball but it’s not baseball. It’s the Cardinals. If the Cardinals were a badminton team, a badminton team that’s strong, the St. Louis area would love the Cardinals badminton team. It’s because they embody the culture and the values of the community as it relates to working in the community, being good to one another working hard and the community supports that type of culture. The Cardinals embody that.
I know it’s cliché and it may be so cliché that it’s totally lost its luster and its meaning but when I think of good Midwest values, I think of the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s why it’s such a pleasure for me to work with them and I know that you would say the same. More specifically, you and I, when we teach our class, we are engaged in helping those students learn the sales skills that are necessary for sports and we do it through a sales campaign that’s partnered with the St. Louis Cardinals. We have this triangular relationship. We have Maryville, the Cardinals, and Game Face. Those three parties are trying to assist those students to learn proper sales methodology that will be applied in the sports business when they go into that business, whether they’re in a dedicated sales job or not. Why do you include sales in your curriculum? Why is it so important that your graduates have an understanding of that skillset?
One, it goes back to a couple of things. When talking with the industry, as we continue to build our program and shape our curriculum, where are the jobs in the industry. Most entry-level positions are in some aspect of sales. That’s number one. That’s where the jobs are. Number two and when I say sales, there’s corporate sponsorship, promotions, marketing, event management, and ticket sales. The other aspect of that is business doesn’t work unless sales are made and we all are in the business of sales to a certain extent because there’s no need to account for any money if there are no sales made. There’s no need for an accountant. There’s no need for any operations if no sales are made.
[bctt tweet=”Don’t worry about what you aren’t getting. Worry about what you are getting. Opportunities sometimes do not look like opportunities.” username=””]
That’s the general perspective of business because if there are no sales, there’s no business but there’s also an aspect for us of that’s where the jobs are. That’s what we need to be training our students in. Even if they don’t want to go into a direct line of sales, everything they do is going to revolve around sales. They’re going to have to sell their boss on an idea. At some point in time, they’re going to have to sell a product. They’re going to have to influence their co-workers to go in a certain direction to achieve a certain goal. To a certain extent, that’s sales as well. We feel that because of the training that we receive from you, with Game Face, our students also become better communicators and that’s always a skill that everyone needs to continue to work on.
I appreciate that. Beyond your curriculum and relationships that you’ve built with the professional ranks, the other thing that I admire about Maryville is your vision and aggressiveness when it comes to online learning. I want to ask you a little bit about that because the traditional degree is basically four and done. You’re in there for four years or whatever, you get your degree and you move on. The world is changing. Coming to campus, as we now know, is problematic. It’s challenging for many people, either for health or perhaps financial concerns. Along the way, Maryville University has become a real player in this idea of online education and that complements the on-campus education. Could you share with the readers how that has happened at Maryville and where you’re at this point in time?
Our president Mark Lombardi has been a visionary since probably the day he was born. He’s always looking forward. When I got here, he was already thinking about an extensive online program. His vision of educating young people or people in general, wherever they are and meeting them wherever they are, is something that has been in the fiber of Maryville University since day one. The other thing as it relates to specifically the online learning route is that online learning is the way we were going and the situation as related to COVID-19 has accelerated that for us as a country. As a university, we’ve been doing this for almost a few years now because of the vision of Dr. Lombardi in understanding that we had to continuously grow our market. We couldn’t rely on the St. Louis area to be the market for our university and that allowed us to grow it. As it relates to COVID-19, and also online learning, this was something that had to be done.
COVID-19 has accelerated that for us as a country but a university, operationally, we were already there from a standpoint of having the operations to support online learning, with all of our students having iPads, and also with all of our faculty and staff having iPads. We were already ready to teach online. We had been doing it for some time. Also having faculty who were trained to teach online, while still providing an excellent exponential or learning educational experience. That’s one of the reasons why Maryville University has been successful in that area. It’s part of the vision, it’s also part of having operations to support that vision, but also having a work staff of faculty and staff who were capable of delivering an online experience of learning education at a high-level quality.
Can you describe a little bit more about what that looks like on campus as far as that staff and those facilities that you referenced? When I first saw it, it blew my mind. I did not expect what I saw.
When you walk into our online educational development area on our campus, it looks almost like a television studio. You’ve been there. We’ve got blue rooms and technology that will allow for lots of graphics. It’s almost like if you were at CBS. We’ve got a great team of people who are educational designers that work with our faculty and say, “Yes, these are the goals, objectives, and the experiences you want your students to have. Let’s work with you to develop what that looks like from an online perspective.” It’s a combination of having the facility with outstanding and talented people, but also having faculty who are ready to teach and develop courses in that way. We were fortunate from that perspective. We’ve got all. We’ve got the perfect mix, so to speak.
I don’t know how many employees are housed in that facility that you described, but it’s close to 40 last time I was there all told, so it’s a remarkable operation. Because of the necessities of dealing with COVID-19, I’m sure those numbers are growing since I was there. It’s impressive. Within the Sports Business Management Program, how many online courses are you anticipating by the end of 2020?
We will have our full development of all those courses, hopefully done by the end of 2020, as far as the general sports business management classes. As you know Rob, there are two tracks. There’s the Game Face Sales Track, and there’s the Data Analytics Track so all those courses should be done by the spring of 2022. There will be a nine courses layout for each of those tracks within the Sports Business Management Program.
You saw through the fog before anyone ever knew there was a fog, you prepared for it, and you’re going to be rewarded for it. More importantly, your students are, not only students on campus. We’re talking about students all over the country and internationally who are going to fit in because of that vision. It’s quite commendable. Speaking of on-campus, there’s a lot of discussion in our society today about the role of campus life in effecting change being perhaps a place where students can feel and see that they are effecting positive change.
I want to ask you, as a professor, as a leader of a department within a business school, how do you balance that need to remain true to your traditional institutional priorities of making sure people get an education that’s meaningful, practical, going to lead to good employment and they’re going to be contributors to society from a commercial standpoint? Also give the students what they’re apparently looking for, which is a platform to affect positive social change, how do you balance that?
You bring up a good point, Rob, because there is a balance. You’ve still got to stay true to the mission of the organization from an educational standpoint, but the key is, and this is something Maryville has done since I’ve been here, is you have to continuously listen to your students. Sometimes universities forget to listen to their students and allow them to have the freedom to express themselves while developing as young adults. We forget that sometimes. These are 18 to 22-year-olds. When you look at them from a traditional perspective, they’re continuously developing. Part of that development is allowing them to learn, make mistakes, and have them learn from their mistakes.
Sometimes institutions get away from that because they’re so worried about protecting something that they forget the reason why and partly why the educational institutions were developed in the first place. Also, they forget about why students decide to come to universities in the first place. It’s because they need to develop not only from a standpoint of being a practitioner in some industry, but they also need to develop into a bit more mature young men and women. As long as universities continue to listen to their students and allow them to make those mistakes and grow, they’ll have that platform. The challenge comes when we don’t listen to them anymore and don’t allow them to make mistakes that they can come back from.
Speaking of the word balance, do you think that there is a balance between listening and guiding, as a member of a faculty? For example, and I’m not saying that college kids are children, but if I allowed my children and your children, as you’re raising them now if you allow them to make mistakes that could be detrimental? As a parent, you feel a need and an obligation to step in and perhaps say, “That’s a choice I don’t think you should make. I don’t think you should run out in the street now. I know it looks enticing and maybe your friends want to do it but I don’t think it’s for your own good.” You do have to have a balance between giving them that freedom of expression and learning from their mistakes, but also protecting them. I don’t know what the answer is, but you’re in the epicenter of it now.
We are and from my perspective, we always have it because as you can imagine being a university of over 12,000 students, both online and on-ground, we have students coming from all over the world to study with us. That allows for an amount of growth and mistakes to be made by all these different cultures coming and learning together. You’re correct, Rob, where you don’t want them to use your term, running the street but you also need to be able to share with them and have them understand maybe why running in the street isn’t the best idea. If you do go down that road, there may be some consequences. Those are the things that we like to work with our students on and share with them while also truly allowing them to make some mistakes, but they’re calculated mistakes.
Jason, in our industry of sports, and not everyone will be reading this isn’t necessarily interested in a sports career or making that career change, but we are in an industry that’s always front and center. We always had that spotlight on us and it’s something that we asked for, that’s why we broadcast our games but in this industry of sport, people want to know about opportunities. Is there an opportunity for me to make a career? I decided a long time ago for me that I was never going to be 6’4” and 240.
I know that surprises you, but I did have that realization several years ago. I didn’t anticipate working in sports when I was in college, but eventually, I had that opportunity. To your comments, I decided to take advantage of it and do all I could to make something of it but you’re a minority. You’re a black man in America who has led a successful career. You’ve worked for it. You’ve had opportunities that have been presented to you, pounced on them, and made the most of them. What do you say to people who feel perhaps that they’re not going to be presented those opportunities or it’s not in the cards for them?
I’ve been fortunate to have some good mentors. I believe that I’ve been able to acquire those mentors because they saw hard work, dedication, a willingness to learn, listen, and to go above and beyond. My father and my mother taught me those things at a young age, whether it was working around the house, cleaning up, and taking pride in what you did, but then also having the opportunity to do those things and make some mistakes along the way. What sometimes happens with other young people is they don’t want to put their nose to the ground and work hard.
Don’t worry about what you aren’t getting and worry about what you are getting because they don’t think about the opportunity sometimes as an opportunity. They think of it as, “This is all I get to do?” Don’t think about it from that perspective. If you think about it as, “This is what I get to do,” and also think about it as if you do it well, you will get to do more things and take the more responsibility that you get as a badge of honor rather than a badge of burden. I’ve been fortunate to look at it from that perspective and that thought process has served me well and I try to instill those same things in the young people that I have the opportunity to affect some positive change on at Maryville University.
[bctt tweet=”Find something that you truly enjoy, become good at it and that will be your career.” username=””]
At the risk of thinking or suggesting that I can add anything to what you’re saying, you do remind me of some advice I’ve tried to give young people over the years, especially when it comes to the sports business but in any industry. That is if you focus on what you were doing at the time, that you’d been asked to excel at, whether you are working in the mailroom, pulling the tarp, or you’re working in the promotions department, it doesn’t matter what. Whatever you’re being asked to do, if you will do your best at that and excel at that and exceed expectations, the world will find you.
You cannot hide. I always like to say that success cannot hide. People will tap you on the shoulder when you least expect it and say, “I’ve observed your productivity, value, the worth you bring, your dedication to your job, and I’ve got an opportunity for you.” Instead of always having what I call professional impatience, have the opposite. Be professionally patient, diligent, and do your best. It’s amazing how opportunities open up.
My father taught me something at a young age. Your parents always want to know what you want to do when you grow up or what you want to do. I told my dad that I wanted to be in the same business that he was in. He owned a couple of different businesses in the town we lived in and he said, “No, son. What you want to do is find something that you truly enjoy, become good at it and that will be your career.” That has stuck with me all this time. That and being coupled with putting in those values that I shared, I’ve been fortunate to have a good career.
You’re making great careers for other people too. Once again, I want to express my admiration for what you’ve done, Jason, and what you continue to do. I sure hope Maryville keeps you there for a long time because you’ve created a legacy there. I’m proud to be a part of it and I hope that I can continue to make a small contribution to the great things that you, Dr. Lombardi, and all of your colleagues are putting out at Maryville University.
I appreciate that, Rob. We’re fortunate to be able to work with you. We thank you for that. We are fortunate to have many others work with our program as well and that’s what has made the program be successful. Also, that coupled with the vision of Mark Lombardi, our President, it has been outstanding.
Thanks for spending some time with us and sharing some wisdom with us and also your own story. It’s inspiring. I’ll see you, Jason. Hold tight.
We’ll see you in the fall of 2020 as always. We look forward to that time and again. We appreciate the time and the opportunity to speak with you, Rob. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you, Jason.
Thank you, Rob.
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About Dr. Jason Williams
As a practicing professional and industry educator, my work is heavily focused in building innovative partnerships and sport business sponsorship.
I am an experienced, collaborative, energetic leader who excels in data-driven decision making.