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Martin Jarmond: The Road to Success

Tuesday, July 2 2019 11:00am

OHIO MSA alum, Boston College Athletic Director named to Sports Business Journal 40 Under 40

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By Brooke Preston

Martin Jarmond’s energy is positively contagious. Since arriving on Boston College’s campus as the new athletic director in 2017, he has quickly earned a reputation (if not a legend) for leaving anyone he encounters with a spark of enthusiasm and forward momentum.

According to Jim Kahler, executive director of the AECOM Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University, that gift was already evident in the early 2000s when the pair first met. Jarmond was enrolled in OHIO's Master of Sports Administration and MBA Dual-Degree program (class of 2003); Kahler was then Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing for the Cleveland Cavaliers (not yet at OHIO). He remembers, “I’ve always admired his energy and his ability to relate to and connect with people. When I met his class, he was very outgoing. I told him, ‘you're going to be a rainmaker. You’ll be in a position to bring money into whatever organization you’re working for.’” 

Kahler’s prediction came true: at just 36 years old, Jarmond became the youngest AD in a Power Five conference; now 38, he has already been twice awarded the Sports Business Journal 40 Under 40 award, one of the sports administration field’s highest honors.

A native of Fayetteville, North Carolina who captained the Division 1 basketball team at UNC Wilmington, Jarmond credits his own early involvement in sports as a catalyst for shaping his values and drive. “I always appreciated the staff and coaches who poured into me and my program, it was so invaluable to me and who I was becoming. When you have such a positive experience that shapes and molds you, you want to pay it forward. I wanted to give that back to other young people competing,” he said.

By the time college graduation approached, Jarmond had decided to pursue a graduate degree in college athletic sports administration. One of his coaches mentioned Ohio University. “I wanted to go to one of best MSA programs. I was part of one of the first classes that did the dual degree program with the required MBA component. I’d never been to the Midwest, but said ‘sounds like it’s the place for me.”

Despite big dreams and bigger drive, his GMAT scores put his plans at risk. “Everybody that goes into the MSA program has to do an interview on campus. The last thing I said in that interview was ‘I know I have the lowest GMAT scores of probably anyone, but if you let me in, I will become an alum you’re proud of.’ And they gave me an opportunity. You don’t necessarily have to be the smartest or have the best grades to be a success. That’s why diversity of thought, action and purpose is important: one size doesn’t fit all.” With the help of an NCAA postgraduate scholarship, Jarmond headed to Athens.

The first year was tough academically, he remembers, but he persevered, despite also being the only black student in his program (at the time) entering a field historically dominated by white men. “I didn’t see anybody that looked like me doing what I was trying to do, but OHIO gave me an opportunity and am forever grateful for that. I never saw it as a hindrance or problem, I think that helped me.” 

When the students traveled to a symposium during his first year, Jarmond recalls calling his mother to relay a disappointing fact. “I remember saying ‘there’s no one here that looks like me!’ She said, ‘that’s why you’re going to come back one day, so someone else won’t feel like you.’ If anything, it gave me more fuel to do the best that I can. I try to be someone now that people can look at and say ‘he was able to do that, and I can, too.’” (Since that time, the University and the COB has made it a priority to increase diversity and inclusion across all programs and the OHIO system.) 

Jarmond lauded the emphasis of the MSA program, which is part of OHIO’s College of Business (COB), on building one’s professional network. “The biggest hallmark of the program, and I still feel it's the best in country, is the focus on building relationships.” This has borne out in his own career. “At Michigan State, an OHIO alum connected me with another alum. My career would look very different if I didn’t get that opportunity to go to Michigan State, to have that opportunity as soon as I left school.” He added that the program’s approach reinforced the importance of a professional’s reputation and relationships. “It can’t be something where you just email someone to death. You never know how they may help you.”

The program’s MBA element was also critical to helping Jarmond understand finance and economics, a necessity in today’s booming sports climate. Some of his biggest lessons at OHIO happened out of the classroom, by professors who went above and beyond. “My professor who taught accounting said ‘come by this weekend, I teach students about the stock market on weekends.” That was the first time I learned about the stock market. Through the MBA component, I learned how you manage money and invest. So by the time I had to balance a budget, that wasn’t difficult at all.”

Jarmond’s success at MSU soon grabbed the attention of Ohio State University, where he became deputy athletic director. Athletic Director Gene Smith saw an opportunity to mentor and sharpen a promising young professional. 

Says Kahler, “He had an amazing mentor in Gene Smith. One of the things Gene did was give him additional responsibility. The fact that he was #2 at OSU and the responsibility that Gene gave him there propelled his career.”

Jarmond agrees, “Gene Smith is the best in the business, I really think the best thing that prepared me was being around a great leader, a boss that is really talented that helped shaped me. “I learned how to help people be the best they can be from Gene. He also loved me enough to tell me what I didn’t want to hear sometimes.”

In 2017, Jarmond was chosen as Boston College’s athletic director. And while his training and exceptional early career helped prepare him to step into this large role, he admits it was still a game changer. “I go back to an age old adage in basketball: the difference between assistant coach and head coach is 12 inches...but it's much more than that. When you move over to that first chair, ultimately you’re now responsible. Now you go in a room where it’s your call, everyone demands your time, and you have to think about the culture, strategy, vision board—what pieces do we need? How do I move this battleship in a positive direction?”

Far from one to rest on his laurels, Jarmond has used his boundless energy to begin transforming the culture, performance and perception of Boston College athletics. Since his arrival, BC teams have achieved ACC (women’s lacrosse) and national (sailing) championships, back to back winning seasons and bowl appearances (football), postseason bids (basketball) and more. Off the field, he also orchestrated the athletic program’s first-ever five-year strategic plan, supported by an unprecedented $150 million capital campaign called “Greater Heights: The Campaign for Boston College Athletics.” As if this weren’t enough to tackle in his first two years, he also opened the school’s first student-athlete 24-7 fueling station, launched a fan council, and established a program for first generation student-athletes. 

How does he do it? By using the lessons learned at OHIO and beyond: valuing people and relationships, and building on a strong foundation of business, mentorship and belief. Says Jarmond, “My favorite phrase is ‘See it through’. I want to surround myself with people that give, because if you do that, that becomes contagious. 1 becomes 2 becomes 4…. Have a growth mindset. My team and I are lifelong learners, we’re going to work hard to sharpen each other’s iron. “

Jarmond has indeed seen it through, as have countless other OHIO graduates since it became the first school in the country to offer the MSA program. “Today, the program has been ranked #1 or #2 for the last eight years by SportBusiness Professional, with a 100% career placement rate.” Kahler credits the faculty, strong alumni network and hands-on approach, such as capstone projects that provide students real-world experience with top organizations and valuable portfolio samples. 

In Jarmond’s case, the mixture of education, mentorship and personal drive has been a powerful recipe for success for himself and the people and organizations he leads. “It starts with belief and energy. You have to have a belief in yourself, your mission and your organization. I believe in BC. You can be passionate for something you truly believe in. Bet on yourself. You either give energy or take it, which one are you? You’re either up or down, so be up. Have some juice!”