Video production: Andrew Kennedy Lewis
Michael Kennedy, associate vice president of talent and learning at the National Basketball Association, didn’t start his career in learning – or in basketball. Kennedy talks about his career path, how he became a top learning leader and what he learned along the way.
Read the full transcript of Kennedy’s interview below:
I did start out with the idea that I was going to be a therapist, so I was trained in cognitive behavior psychotherapy, that was my graduate training. At the time I was working in mental health services as well in more a lay capacity, community mental health work, and had the good fortune of while working within that field of moving into a training capacity, because once my education was finishing up and I started getting in front of people to practice therapy, I had the harrowing realization that, that wasn’t really well suited to my temperament. Thankfully, I had discovered the training department for the mental health agency was something that I was very well suited for. And over time it took me a while to realize it, but my preparation to be a therapist was actually very helpful at stages of my career as well – just for teaching me some diagnostic tools and giving me the mindset to look a little more deeply for root causes as opposed to just solutions – which I think has given me some differentiation in my field from the ways that we’ve practiced, especially in the past.
The more corporate part of my career really started with Tiffany & Co. where I did organizational development work, which was my first exposure to thinking that went beyond just training or even leadership development, so that was a critical development stage for me as well. And then six years with KPMG, I did several different jobs there – some in a learning consultancy practice, some running a training curriculum for the infrastructure part of that organization.
And then went to the NBA, going on my sixth anniversary there now. The NBA was on the verge of a transition, we knew that our former commissioner, David Stern, was reaching the end of his tenure, and we also knew – it wasn’t announced yet when I got there – but I think it was fairly common knowledge that Adam Silver would ultimately succeed him as commissioner. And the nice thing about arriving at that time was that the organization was really ripe for some change. There was the potential there for the learning and development function to be certainly the best in the sports industry, but it hadn’t necessarily gotten the right focus from the organization, or hadn’t really been positioned that way within the organization. The pieces were in place, so we were able to move really quickly, and first become, I would like to think the leader within the sport industry in developing our talent. But now, I like to believe also that we’ve really raised the bar on that, and become a pretty world class developer of internal talent across more than just the sports industry, I’ll put it that way.