Seventy-year old CEO announces retirement in a few months.
Business promotes second-in-command to replace retiring CEO.
Maybe not, in Nina King’s case. The 42-year-old Tampa native will become one of only three Black women to take over the AD spot, joining Carla Williams at Virginia and Candace Storey Lee at Vanderbilt.
King will officially take the reins on September1 but the announcement was made earlier this week.
King came to Duke in 2008 and has garnered consistent praise, while undertaking a variety of tasks. She rose to the rank of senior deputy AD for administration/legal affairs and chief of staff at Duke. Three years ago Sports Business Journal named her to their list of Forty Under 40 Class of 2018, recognizing “excellence and innovation.” She has been a member of the NCAA Division-1 Women’s Basketball Committee since 2018.
But she’s never really been in the spotlight. She’s been a behind-the-scenes kind of person.
Today she was introduced to the broader Duke community in a media conference, one that was actually held in person, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Masked and socially-distanced to be sure but not on Zoom, a sign of better things to come.
King knocked it out of the park, showing the right blend of intelligence, confidence, humility and knowledge.
Which is what she did to get the job in the first place.
Duke president Vincent Price made it clear that Duke conducted a thorough, national search to find White’s successor. They didn’t assume they had the right person under their nose, they made sure.
King felt the same way. She was widely considered the front runner by people outside the program but she said she never took anything for granted.
“I went into it not assuming anything. This was not a beauty contest. I needed to earn the job and so I went in – of course I knew everybody on the search committee and had relationships with most if not all, but I went into it again focused on winning and earning the job and I was confident I that I could do that and clearly, I did.”
Duke AD is a destination job, not a stepping-stone job, King could be in the spot for a long time.
What will a King administration look like?
King discussed her management style and strengths, comparing herself to an air-traffic controller.
“I am a builder, a connector, a communicator. My leadership style is all about teamwork, about collaboration.”
She is in an interesting situation. As she freely acknowledged on several occasions she’s stepping into a job where things are going pretty well. Duke is winning championships, while graduating its student-athletes at a high rate. Indeed, Duke is one of the schools where one can use the term “student-athlete” without a hint of sarcasm.
But Duke is doing so in a landscape that could change dramatically in a pretty short time span. Sometime in the next few years, King is going to have to undertake one of the most difficult jobs ever undertaken by any college administrator, replacing Mike Krzyzewski, who actually isn’t going to coach forever.
And a new football coach could be on her dance card in a few years.
But there are more immediate concerns.
King says Duke has weathered the pandemic-induced financial shortfall in good shape, maybe better than good shape.
“We are in a good place and we will be ready for 2021-’22 and whatever that might mean hopefully as we kind of get out of this COVID fog that we are all in and start to open up here a little bit.”
But what about the looming name, image, likeness train headed down the tracks at runaway speed?
King made it clear that Duke is ready for whatever comes.
“I think we should be a leader at the forefront of change. That is what Duke is all about and as I mentioned, we are going to continue to innovate and be modern. Name, image, and likeness is a good thing. Change is okay. As an organization, we [the NCAA] need to remain nimble and flexible.”
She made it clear that she wants the NCAA to be the ones driving that train, not Congress, not conferences, certainly not individual states.
“We need to work together as an institution with our conference brethren and folks around the country to propose the rules that make the most sense for all of us. It’s really hard to apply NCAA legislation to institutions that are all different. Private, public, small, big, it’s a challenge and frankly very complicated and I think that’s why it takes a very long time for the NCAA, us, to get it right. But, we have to. We have to for our student-athletes. It’s coming fast and like I said, we will be ready. We are talking about it at the conference level. Obviously, it’s a very big national conversation and we need to get out in front of all of the states that are applying their various versions of NIL so that we have more uniform legislation that applies to all of us.”
King didn’t run from the historic implications of her hiring, saying “One of the biggest reasons I am here today is to be a role model for little girls who look like me and to tell them ‘Dream big because your dreams can be achieved.’ But I’m a boy mom [she and husband Rick have two sons] and my message is the same to little boys; to children of all races – aspire to achieve greatness, dream big, be passionate because with dedication and hard work anything is possible.”
What are King’s long-term goals for Duke?
“First and foremost we are going to continue to provide a world-class experience for our student-athletes, a meaningful and enriching academic and athletic experience. We are going to ensure that our student-athletes are performing in the classroom, graduating and are afforded every opportunity to be productive members of society once they leave Duke. We’re going to provide opportunities for competitive success, to win ACC and NCAA championships, build on momentum of this historic year that we are having. We have six conference championships – unmatched. We will build on the incredibly rich traditions and our departmental strengths by being innovative and modern in our approach. Decisions will be made in the best interests of our recreation community. And we will do all of this together as a team, as a family with integrity and respect for others.”