My Story: From NFL Executive To Kelley MBA Student

Dawson with Mike Reinfeldt (Center) and Hall of Fame Defensive End Elvin Bethea

Dawson with Mike Reinfeldt (Center) and Hall of Fame Defensive End Elvin Bethea (Right)

I am on pace to earn my MBA from Kelley during the winter of 2017. I’m 44 years old and going back to school and balancing this was very difficult. I tried to start out at a slow pace and not put too much on myself.  I felt that taking one class per term was best for me to be most effective. As I’ve become better at managing my time, I’ve been able to take more classes. This semester, I’m taking three classes. It has worked out well. The fact that it’s online helps, though I do go to campus for various orientations, selected classes and networking. Being online, I’m still usually able to make the lectures and the webinars when they’re live. When I can’t make it, I can listen to that recording later at night (or early in the morning).

For me, managing my schedule with regards to school, family and work is very critical. With football, some times are busier than others. In the fall, you’re gathering information and also scouting teams, so that’s a busy time for me. Regarding my family, my wife does a tremendous job of stepping in and substituting when I can’t be there. I try to make my kids’ events as best as I can. I couldn’t do it without my wife’s help. Lori does a tremendous job in taking things off my plate.

As I look back.God has blessed me by putting good people in position around me. I think of Al Saunders, my receivers coach in Kansas City and and another great man. The one thing that has been just hitting me over the head at Kelley is how important the people are. In one of my classes, we studied Jim Collins’ Good to Great about getting the right people on the bus and (more importantly) getting them on the right seats on the bus. I equate that to not only building my team in terms of getting the right quarterback or defenders, but also getting the right people in place in terms of my personnel department. I want smart people who are competitive, disciplined, enthusiastic, and who have high character – that’s what’s important to me when hiring a staff. The same thing could be said with the type of players that you’re bringing on your football field. You can’t bring in the right players unless you’re in constant communication with the head coach so you can understand exactly what kind of team and scheme that he wants to put together. Ultimately, it’s about that right fit for your team – both on the field and inside the building.

Dawson gearing up for the game

Dawson gearing up for the game

In my career, I’ve found that the more you learn and the more you pursue different ways to be innovative, the better off you’ll be. It’s the same with the successful businesses that we’re studying at Kelley. They find a way to be innovative – because the ones that don’t change are the ones that die off. That doesn’t mean that you’re swinging at every little thing that comes by. You must have your core foundational pieces. At the same time, you have to be willing to change. And it’s even more paramount in the National Football League. As we talked about earlier, every year, your roster will change.So you need to find a way to build a competitive team. Every year, you have head coaches and general managers getting fired from a leadership standpoint. So you have to get ahead of that change dynamic.

The team dynamic is important too. At Kelley, you’re working with people from all over the entire world. That was the most amazing thing to me, just how broad the Kelley School is in regards to having classmates who are from China and India, let alone California. And then you have to come together on a group project to put something together. It’s exciting to hear about the different worlds that they’re coming from. You have engineers, business majors, artists – everyone has their own expertise and they’re trying to find a way to work together. Ultimately, that’s what a team is all about. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to go back to school. It’s very similar to Notre Dame: The professors give you the tools you need through the process.

I’ve had a few favorite classes so far. Obviously, Developing Strategic Capabilities, where we studied Good to Great was a favorite. With the group projects that we had, there were so many talented people and we worked so well together. I’m also taking a class on Organizational Development and Change. It’s been paramount for me. With the team I’m with now, we’re going through a management transition. When you’re going into a change like that, there’s both a strategic and emotional side of it. You have to understand the important issues regarding the current situation and the changes that need to be made. You can gain a lot of knowledge from the people who’ve been there by interviewing them. But you also have to figure out who the resistors will be during that transition. It’s not really the change that kills you, but the transition. So you need to understand the fear that people have when they’re dealing with change.

Pretty soon, I’ll be taking more economic and accounting classes. But those classes – Organizational Development and Change and Developing Strategic Capabilities – I’ve really enjoyed them because I was able to apply that information to what I was doing. There’s another book that we’re reading, The Human Equation from Jeff Pfeffer, that talks about how we overlook the human factor of business a lot of times because we get so focused on the financial side. That touched me because a couple of years ago, I went through a 2-14 season in Tennessee. And I think a lot of that was because we had the wrong people in the wrong positions. When I was reading some of the books and I was doing some of the case studies in my class, I could completely relate to some of the situations that I’d seen when I worked in Tennessee. But they’re on the right path with some of the changes that they’ve made recently.