Brad D. Smith and Christian Spears Deliver Keynote Address at PACnet ‘23 Conference

Marshall University President Brad D. Smith pictured with colleagues at the PACnet ‘23 conference.

President of Marshall University, Brad D. Smith, and Marshall Athletic Director, Christian Spears, delivered a keynote address at PACnet ‘23 on “Lessons in Leadership.” The four-day conference was hosted by software company Paciolan, in Huntington Beach, California. The event’s theme was “Simplifying Success,” and aimed to inspire and empower attendees. Brad and Christian’s keynote address was guided by moderator Sarah Davis, Senior Vice President of the University Partnership Group at Learfield, who initiated discussion on topics such as shifting how your team thinks and taking care of people in order to win on multiple levels.

Marshall University Undertakes Design Thinking

One of the broader topics Brad discussed was design thinking and how it is being instituted across Marshall. Design thinking is an idea Brad brought to Marshall from his time as an executive leader in Silicon Valley and teaches the concept of falling in love with a problem, versus an idea. Introducing this methodology is one of Brad’s more recent initiatives to help Marshall University and its students move beyond ideas and get to impact. All first-year students take a six-week course in design thinking and university staff members, including deans and faculty chairs, are also trained in this unique curriculum. 

This method of thinking puts the focus on achieving a goal versus being wrong, which allows for people, particularly students, to unleash their creativity and find solutions. Brad also mentioned how the Marshall athletics department has taken on design thinking — implementing new initiatives, testing them out with fans and gauging feedback quickly.

ROT and Retention

Another talking point between Christian and Brad was the importance of utilizing new tools, improving processes and working efficiently. Christian brought up how he and his team have “replaced outdated tools” (ROT) to best serve the visitor experience and the internal team. Christian acknowledged that while learning new tools may feel like a hassle, taking advantage of the tools at your disposal can help a team become more efficient and effective.When talking about employee retention, discussion focused on avoiding burnout by changing the narrative and creating a positive space. In a world that is rapidly changing, Brad emphasized the need to cultivate environments where employees can “raise their hand and say ‘I need a breather.’” Comparing this work initiative to top athletes, Brad stated, “There isn’t a single athlete at the top of their game that doesn’t take time to recover.” Allowing employees and staff to recover from long hours and burnout is essential to creating a healthy work environment.

Adaptive Leadership

In an era of disruption, the ability to adapt to new obstacles and overcome adversity is more important than ever. In relation to higher education, Brad said, “our business model is challenged, and we have to imagine the version of who we want to be without losing who we are in the process…We have to find a way to paint that vision and that future; bring people along but be willing to change the things we did in the past so we can be the version of who we want to be in the future. That takes a lot of negotiation, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of constructive debate…When we get it right we can not only be the reference case for others, we will have changed lives in the process.”

Driving Marshall Forward

Brad D. Smith and Christian Spears have worked together for just over one year, and have used that time to begin driving Marshall athletics forward. Their continued partnership and collaboration will undoubtedly yield positive results for both the athletic department and the university at large.

To watch a video from the conference, click here.