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Former Notre Dame Football Player, Byron Spruell, Appointed to Aon’s Board of Directors

Spruell is also the president of league operations at the National Basketball Association (NBA).

2017 NBA Finals Cares Events
CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 28: Byron Sruell, President of League Operations of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2017 NBA Finals Cares Legacy Project as part of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 8, 2017 at Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland at East Tech High School in Cleveland, Ohio. (Image Copyright 2017 NBAE)
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

I stumbled across this on LinkedIn last week, and while it may not be “new news” ... it is still exciting! In a media release from Aon, “We are pleased to welcome Byron Spruell to the Aon Board of Directors,” said Lester B. Knight, Chair of Aon’s board. “With his dynamic leadership skills, unwavering integrity and keen strategic insight, Byron will provide valuable perspective on how the firm continues to evolve to better serve clients during this era of unprecedented volatility.”

In his role with the NBA, Spruell helps shape the future of the league, overseeing critical league operations, introducing innovations through strategy and analytics, and promoting the global growth and evolution of the game in coordination with League stakeholders, USA Basketball and the International Basketball Federation.

“Aon has been a leader in serving clients around the world for many years, and I consider it a privilege to join the team helping to chart its future,” Spruell said. “The most successful organizations build on their strengths, and it’s clear to me that Aon is committed to innovation and developing new answers to today’s most pressing challenges.”

Before joining the NBA in 2016, Spruell spent 20 years at Deloitte LLP, most recently as Vice Chairman, Central Region Marketplace Leader and Chicago Managing Principal. He led the firm’s client and business growth and strategic positioning across 22 states consisting of 31 offices and more than 14,000 Deloitte professionals. He serves on several non-profit boards, including the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, among others. Spruell earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA in finance from the University of Notre Dame.

For a list of the members of Aon’s Board of Directors, please click here.

I had the chance to interview Byron a few years back, and was able to walk down memory lane with him a bit as he shared stories with me from his time at Notre Dame. Here is a snippet of his story.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and was the product of two excellent role models. My mother was a seamstress/tailor and my dad was an engineer at the sewer district. They wanted my siblings and me to do our absolute best in everything we did. At the culmination of my high school career I was co-valedictorian of my high school class, and I had several opportunities to play football and basketball at Division I schools. The key criteria for what I wanted to get out of college helped me narrow down my choices, and to end up selecting the University of Notre Dame. What I was looking for was a school that was not only serious about academics, but also had a great athletics program. I also wanted a school that was close enough to home that my family could come see me play. Notre Dame passed all of my requirements with flying colors. My parents ended up being able to come see me play for the majority of the home games through my senior year, and then for my fifth year of eligibility they were able to see every home and away game. It’s one thing to be good on the field or off the field, but Notre Dame helped me excel in both of these areas and that was exactly what I wanted and aspired to achieve.

During his college search Byron was courted by several excellent Division I schools, when the Notre Dame Value Stream flowed into his life and it offered something that no one else could offer.

The other schools that I looked at besides Notre Dame were Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Ohio State (particularly considering that I grew up in the Buckeye State). I knew once I got on campus for my visit at Notre Dame that it was a great fit for me. The style of teaching and learning in the classroom, the people walking around, I immediately felt welcome. My host during visit to Notre Dame was Allen Pinkett. He was one year ahead of me and was in the school of engineering, so I’m sure they matched me up with him so that I could have the chance to meet another football player in a path that I wanted to pursue. By the time I got to ND the next year though, Allen had decided that the balance and rigor of studying engineering while playing football was tough for him and he had transferred into the school of business. The engineering school was aptly nicknamed the “pre-business” school for any student and they often times told freshmen, “look left and look right…one of you will be gone at the end of your freshmen year.” When I was a senior at ND they paired me up with a visiting Rod West, who was very focused on academics and mildly interested in studying engineering at Notre Dame. After shadowing with me, he made a comment that his head would explode if he had to take the engineering classes that I was in and it confirmed his choice to go straight to the business school! Allen and Rod are quite successful today and often talk about the lineage that stemmed from their campus visits.

I would have to say though, that one of the main reasons I chose Notre Dame was because of how well they combined academics with athletics. My sixth grade teacher told me I was good at math and science and that I should become an engineer. Ultimately, I wanted to be a design engineer for one of the big three U.S.-based auto companies and that’s why I chose to study mechanical engineering. But as I neared graduation the auto companies were not doing well economically. When I wasn’t drafted in the NFL after that year, I decided to remain at ND and finish my MBA during my fifth year at ND, which was special because it was Tim Brown’s Heisman year. The year I finished my MBA, Notre Dame won the national championship. It was fun and rewarding to be on campus and witness the team’s success. Coach Holtz gave me and my fellow co-captain Chuck Lanza national championship rings because we had done so much to get the team to that point. I cherish that ring and my relationship with Coach Holtz and he is a mentor to this day. A “Coach for Life” as he would say.

The Notre Dame Value Stream manifests itself in different ways through different people. Byron played under both Coach Faust and Coach Holtz, who molded and shaped their players in very different ways. Though their methods were quite different, they both played a big role in developing him into the person he is today.

Coach Faust really delegated a lot to his assistant coaches compared to Coach Holtz who leveraged his coaching staff but still had command of every single detail. Holtz fully utilized his coaches but was completely involved. Coach Faust appeared to be more of a delegator and was not so much into all the details. As a result, Coach Holtz really spent a lot of time not only with his coaches but with his players, too. He helped us grow and develop into men - and this carried off the football field as well. I still remember going into his office for career advice as I was deciding between several employment offers. He advised me to focus on “What’s Important Now” (WIN) and to secure a good foundation with a company that cared about my continued growth and development; a place that promoted excellence with people I could trust. Those words have always been in my mind throughout my career and the organizations I have been associated with.

Coach Holtz made sure you understood three things. One, he cared about his players. Two, he made sure you were ready for what you were going to face on the football field. Three, he was your coach for life, and made sure you were ready for your future both on and off of the field. He prepared you with the details that would make you a good football player, but also prepared you for the post-football journey in the business world or wherever life would take you. One of the most important factors that led me to choose to attend Notre Dame was how well they combined academics and athletics. Coach Faust helped me make the transition to college while Coach Holtz was a big part of why the proposition worked so well. Coach Holtz prepared you for the details that would make you a good football player, but this same attention to detail was also what was going to make you a good man and successful at whatever you pursued after football. He also lives up to the concept of “4 for 40”; i.e., you give me four good years at Notre Dame and I will support you for the next forty.

Being a member of Coach Holtz’s first team at Notre Dame provided Byron with many memorable moments at Notre Dame, but the one that most sticks out in his mind is the game against USC in 1986.

Out in Los Angeles the whole environment - the Coliseum, the Trojan horse, down by 22 points … we rallied together as a team that day to pull out the win. It was Coach Holtz’s first year at Notre Dame. We lost five games that year by a total of six points. It was crazy how close we were but just couldn’t pull out the wins. It was the final game of the season and we were down 37-15 at halftime. Sure, we were down 22 points out in Los Angeles, but we rallied under Coach Holtz’s leadership and came back to win the game on a last-second field goal by John Carney. We had started to build some real camaraderie that season and that win over USC gave us great momentum to carry us into the next year. On the flight back Chuck Lanza and I got the indication that we would be co-captains next year. To have that type of victory in a hostile environment and then to know the team felt that I was a leader moving forward is something I will never forget.

You can read more of Byron’s story in my second book, MORE Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became.

Cheers & GO IRISH!