President Mark Schlissel announced Friday that he was appointing James Hackett, the recently retired chief executive officer of Michigan-based Steelcase Inc., as interim athletic director for the university.
The announcement came during a press conference where Schlissel said David A. Brandon, the university’s athletic director since 2010, had submitted his resignation.
“Jim is a highly experienced and respected business leader, a man of integrity and a devoted member of the Michigan community,” Schlissel said.
“I am confident Jim will immediately begin the process of moving the department forward, including working closely with me to develop a plan to identify and recruit Michigan’s next permanent athletic director.”
Hackett, 59, will serve as interim leader of the university’s athletic department while a search for a permanent director is launched. His appointment is pending approval in November by the university’s Board of Regents. He said he would not be a candidate for the permanent position.
“I am humbled to help during this interim period to keep our momentum as a great institution,” Hackett said.
Taking questions from reporters that packed the Regents Room in the Fleming Administration Building, Schlissel declined to address specific questions about the future of the Wolverine football program.
He said Hackett would evaluate the program at the end of the season and is delegated to handle any decisions regarding the coach.
In searching for a permanent director, Schlissel said he would seek “a person that prioritizes the welfare and experience of our student athletes, a person of unquestioned integrity — not just integrity to the level of NCAA, but integrity to the Michigan way of doing athletics.”
He said it would be a “serious and thoughtful search” that will take as long as necessary to make sure it is “a great fit for what I think is actually the best opportunity for an athletic director in the country. So I don’t have a particular time frame. I have excellence in mind.”
Asked if the new director should be someone from, or with ties to, the university, Schlissel, who came to U-M from Brown University in July, said he would look for the “very best person possible.”
“Despite the fact that I’ve only been here for about 110 days, I feel like a Michigan man already. You can learn the values of this great university.”
He also said that although athletics is an important positive force for U-M, the university’s mission is to transform lives through education, do research, and conduct scholarship that benefits the public.
“At its best, athletics is just so deeply ingrained in the culture of the university and really does serve to bind us all together, bring us through the generations, develop memories and associations that feeds back and helps support this university. But at our core, we’re an academic institution, and we do other things, as well, that are important.”
Schlissel said he would continue with Hackett the work he started with Brandon to more closely integrate athletics with the rest of the university, “to make the athletic program and our student-athletes a way closer part of our student community and part of our campus life.”
In a statement, the Board of Regents expressed its gratitude to Brandon for his years of service to the university and its appreciation to Hackett for his willingness to serve as the interim athletic director.
Hackett is a 1977 graduate of U-M, where he played center on the football team. He is a member of the board of advisers for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the Life Sciences Institute.
“My time as a student at Michigan introduced me to two people who would become lifelong heroes of mine. Early on, there was Bo Schembechler, and the other was President Gerald Ford whom I met later in his life after he had retired from public office,” he said.
“Both of them would be quite certain that the future of Michigan is not in doubt. They would be reminding all of us of the legacy of extraordinary performance in the classroom and on the field and how that unique combination puts us in a rare position.”
Hackett retired in February after 20 years leading Steelcase, the Grand Rapids-based global leader in the office furniture industry. His career there spanned 31 years, and he led the company through a transformation from traditional manufacturer to industry innovator.
Hackett also serves on the board of trustees for Northwestern Mutual Life in Milwaukee, the board of directors for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit and Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati.
He is a member of the executive committee of the board of directors for the National Center for Arts and Technology and a past president of the Institute of Design Board of Overseers at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Brandon’s separation agreement with U-M calls for him to receive $3 million between now and June 30, 2018. The university could reduce that by an amount equal to whatever cash compensation he would receive if he becomes employed elsewhere.