Rod Mitchell Takes Over from Michael
Johnson at the BGC CEO
For the past five years, Rod Mitchell (r) has been
Michael Johnson’s right-hand man in operating
and expanding the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County
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By Jonathan Gramling

It seems like only yesterday that Michael
Johnson came to Madison nine years
ago to head the Boys & Girls Club.
Johnson has always been a bigger than
life person who can strike up a
conversation and friendship with
anyone, from the streets to the
boardrooms and back again.
Johnson was driven to make things
larger — and better and the club has
grown considerably during his tenure.

Johnson didn’t accomplish all of this by
himself. Standing right beside him for the
past five years has been Rod Mitchell, the Boys & Girls Club COO and long-time collaborator with
Johnson. Mitchell is now up to bat as the interim CEO of the Boys & Girls Club.

“I think Rod is positioned extremely well to take this club to the next level,” Johnson said. “He’s
really been the behind-the-scenes person who has allowed me to get out in the community and to
build relationships. Rod has managed legal, finance, HR and programs. I don’t even go to the
senior staff meeting. He manages all of the senior staff meetings and internal operations for the

Mitchell has quietly gone about his work as the number two person at the club. While Mitchell has
been involved in the community through his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, he has purposely remained
in the background as Johnson represented the club and developed partnerships and resources for
the club.

“I know the club very well,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been here for five years. I would definitely say that
I am highly competent when it comes to all of the key functions of the club. My portfolio at the club
is pretty much to be the leader of all of those functions besides development, but I can handle
development as well. I’ve done my adequate share of fundraising here the entire five years I’ve
been here. I’m tied to the community. I have a lot of friends in this community. I do know the
operations and from my lens — and it might sound self-serving — that’s the person whom you
want to be next. You want someone who understands what’s happening with the internal
operations of the club so that as they are out building new relationships in the community, they can
easily answer questions for the person following them. We’re not learning from scratch. I would
say humbly that I have mastered what happens here. We’re not perfect and we still have growth to
do. We still have things to fix. We can always be better.”

Like Johnson, Mitchell’s life was positively impacted by the Boys & Girls Club and other youth
organizations when he was growing up.

“The reality is the club saved my life,” Mitchell emphasized. “That’s not something that I say lightly.
I can remember specific times from growing up in St. Louis where I was actually at places like the
club and the YMCAs. But I was literally in the club where if I had walked home that day, I would
have been in serious trouble. That kind of experience growing up in a community like that informs
what I do. When I was growing up in St. Louis, we actually called it Murderville. During my last
two years of high school, we actually had the highest per capita murder rate in the country. And it
was equal to the Vietnam War per capita. So that community teaches you a lot about survival. And
you have to really respect those things that kept you out of trouble. And the club was one of those

There will be a lot on Mitchell’s plate during the interim period. The club began an expansionary
phase early this year and is planning to establish a club in Sun Prairie.

“We are just at the point where our board has agreed to allow us to put a contract on the church,
on the property out there that we are interested in,” Mitchell said. “Once that happens, we can then
go into making sure that we can complete the purchase. It’s very early. We haven’t had official
communication with the city of Sun Prairie because we haven’t gotten to the point where we can
actually put a contract on the church yet. But our board has agreed that it’s a good thing for the
kids of Sun Prairie and Dane County overall. And it’s also a good thing for our club.”

And there are two other clubs that Dane County will complete the mergers with.

“The mergers with Ft. Atkinson and Walworth County are done,” Mitchell said. “We’re now trying to
grow those facilities. I’ll give you a good example of why it’s important for us to do that kind of
work. The Walworth Club was a good club in one school site. It had good academic outcomes for
kids. The outcomes actually surprised the principal and everyone else there. But the reality is they
didn’t have the resources to actually maintain it. So here was a club that was only serving 40 kids
at the time and doing good work with those kids and having good outcomes. But they
were getting ready to lose their standing and close down simply because they didn’t have
the human capital and resources that we have. So within two months of actually acquiring
them, they have gone from being one club in a small school site that was getting ready to
close to now there will be 3-4 club sites by September. And their first-ever summer camp
is happening this summer because of our support and helping them grow. There is a lot on
our plate, but it’s work where if I can give the kids the same opportunity that I had when I
was in the Boys & Girls Club, it doesn’t feel like work. It goes fast and you’re in a job that
you are enthusiastic about.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County will be conducting a national search for its next
president & CEO. They will begin accepting applications July 9th and the application
process will close at the end of August. It’s a position that Mitchell will apply for.

“If I didn’t think that Michael was outstanding, I wouldn’t have followed him three times,”
Mitchell said with a laugh. “We’ve worked together three times and I’ve learned a lot from
him. I appreciate his leadership, his skill set and his friendship more than anything else.
But you know, sometimes like in sports, they say, ‘Next person up.’ And I’m the next
person up potentially and we’ll see how that works out with the search.”

The search is on.
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