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Building Winning Teams- Coach Merchant

Suzy Merchant, head coach of the Michigan State University women’s basketball program, has been known for winning during her eight-season tenure. The same attributes necessary to run a winning basketball program can also be used by business executives responsible for developing their own teams.

It all starts with building a culture, she said. Honesty, integrity, and being a good person are at Merchant’s core and she tries to show that to her team.

Coach Suzy Merchant
Coach Suzy Merchant

“Be true to your core values,” Merchant advised. “Know what you stand for; it’s important.”

The team’s operating style is derived from its leaders—whether that is in business or sports—so having initiative and working hard is not only an asset within, but also one that encourages others when it is seen coming from the top of an organization. The benefits of leading by example are critical, Merchant added.

Staying true to the culture and continuing that, as part of a highly touted program isn’t always as easy as taking a low performing team to a winning one—since people can become complacent. Merchant looks for those young women on her team who are self-reliant and high performers, regardless of where the program is at the moment—assets important in the business world, as well.

In her ninth season as head coach of the Michigan State women’s basketball program, Merchant is focused on inspiring her team, not motivating them. The difference, she said, is that they should be highly motivated to perform at the level expected, whether on the team or in the class. Inspiring her team to be better than even they knew is different than motivation.

She also believes instilling a work ethic that nothing is beneath anyone on the team is key. “You have to roll up your sleeves as a head coach, as a CEO, and do what needs to be done,” she said.

She will share her culture-building skills with business executives as part of the MSU Eli Broad College of Business and Department of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Building Winning Teams program.

Merchant will be joined by other MSU coaches, including Men’s Football Coach Mark Dantonio, Men’s Basketball Coach Tom Izzo and the Broad College’s prominent, award-winning faculty, in presenting to attendees at this year’s Building Winning Teams, a distinctive learning experience.

The three-day program focuses on helping attendees to:

  • Promote accountability and efficiency
  • Encourage creativity and innovation
  • Build a culture of shared values that promotes team performance and cohesiveness
  • Diagnose the causes of conflict to better manage it
  • Overcome resistance to change
  • Leverage current skills and develop new ones


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