A Journey of Leadership, Discipline and Passion

On Jan. 31, St. John’s welcomed Michael Kelly ’88, vice president of athletics at the University of South Florida and St. John’s trustee, as the guest lecturer for the annual Distinguished Speaker Series.

Prior to taking on his current position at the University of South Florida, Kelly served as chief operating officer for the BCS and College Football Playoff from 2012 through 2018. He was president of the Super Bowl Host Committees for Tampa Bay (XXXV), Jacksonville (XXXIX) and South Florida (XLI). He also previously served as executive director of the 1999 NCAA Men’s Final Four and senior associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. 
  
Kelly began his remarks by offering three of his centering principles, a method he said he learned from Dr. Maya Angelou when he was student at Wake Forest, that have guided his career path. He told the packed room, “Love what you do.” Kelly loves what he does and is grateful for all the opportunities that have helped and continue to help him grow both personally and professionally. Second, he stated, “Life is a relationship business.” All but one of his positions were the result of a personal connection. Finally, he advised, “Keep calm and play to your strengths.” Throughout his talk, Kelly returned to these principles to demonstrate their significant role in shaping his attitude and professional expertise.
 
During his remarks, Kelly focused on three centering principles that have guided his career path, a method he said he learned from Dr. Maya Angelou as a student at Wake Forest. The first, “Love what you do,” has defined a career that is centered on a field he is passionate about and that has offered him opportunities to grow and take risks, both personally and professionally. The second, “Life is a relationship business,” is applicable to both his career path, as all but one of his positions were the result of a personal connection, but also to the importance of building relationships with those around you. Finally, he advised, “Keep calm and play to your strengths,” which is applicable to both life and sports. Knowing the value of managing nationally-recognized sporting events, Kelly pursued short-tenure challenging positions in which he could use his strengths and develop additional skills. Throughout his talk, Kelly returned to these principles to demonstrate their significant role in shaping his attitude and professional expertise.
 
He also spoke about the important impact of his family, particularly his parents, who encouraged him to be embrace discipline and to be passionate about his career, and St. John’s, where he found many excellent role models among the diverse student body. He explained that he started living up to his potential under the charism of the Christian Brothers at St. John’s, which gave him the foundation for a successful life. “I’m all in on St. John’s,” he said. Kelly also outlined his career path, emphasizing that “You have to take risks. It’s not our plan; it’s God’s plan. We must emulate others and be present to them.” At the conclusion of his presentation, he took questions from the audience that allowed him to speak to business aspects of college athletics, such as the proposal of stipends for college athletes and collegiate student-branding.
 
The annual Distinguished Speaker Series provides St. John’s graduates with a chance to network and hear from successful individuals in fields such as business, politics entertainment, athletics and the arts. Recent speakers include Karl Racine ’81, attorney general for Washington, DC; Chris Stevens ’70, one of the founders of Keurig; Raul Fernandez ’84, chairman of ObjectVideo and vice chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment; and Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, DC; and Akihiko “Kiko” Washington ’76, executive vice president of worldwide human resources for Warner Bros. Entertainment.
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