Robert Hilson shifts from Brock Sports to BUSU


The process to finding the next BUSU General Manager was thorough and lengthy, but has finally come to a conclusion. With the executive turnover coming at the end of the month, outgoing President Faisal Hejazi and the hiring committee were keen on finding the right person for the job.

Brock University Students’ Union received applications from across Canada when the job posting went up in mid-February; however the final decision was unanimous.

Robert Hilson, who has worked with Brock Sports since 2011, was officially announced as the new BUSU GM on Wednesday morning.

May 30 will mark Hilson’s seven-year anniversary at Brock as he begins his transition from the Athletic Department to the Students’ Union over the next couple weeks prior to the new executive team taking office. Hilson is expected to begin his new role with BUSU on May 14. He will also be joining the BUSU staff and executive team on their annual retreat, which will take place in late-April.

What attracted Hilson to the position was the potential he saw in the organization and the opportunity to remain at Brock. In relations to making sure his transition is smooth, Hilson will use the retreat as an opportunity to listen.

“Why I sort of welcome this [role] is because we have the opportunity to develop people and that’s what I like doing,” said Hilson. “There’s a lot of great things that happen here and for me to come in and think I know it all, I don’t. I’m going to seek to understand before being understood. The students are the people that do this. It’s how can I help empower them, how can I make sure they’re successful.”

Prior to taking on the role with BUSU, Hilson held the title of Director of Marketing and Business Development since 2014 with Brock Sports, and before that was the Director of Athletics and Recreation from 2011-2014. During his time at the head of Athletics, Hilson helped pass the Student Life Referendum, which allows students free access to The Zone Fitness Centre and Brock sporting events held on campus.

Originally having graduated from McMaster University with a degree in Physical Education, Hilson was employed at two universities’ prior to Brock. After earning his degree, the Hamilton resident became an Assistant Basketball Coach at McMaster and then spent 12 years as the Manager of Marketing. He then moved to the University of Western to hold the title of Communication Manager with their Department of Athletics and Recreation.

“I’m still going to have a passion for sport, but this provides me the opportunity to broaden my scope and my understanding of how other things work,” said Hilson.

The hiring committee consisted of seven members within BUSU: Hejazi, the current President; incoming-President and current Vice-President of Finance and Administration Aidan Hibma; outgoing Vice-President of Student Services Maddy Wassink; outgoing Vice-President of External Affairs Nadia Bathish; incoming VPFA Bilal Khan; member of the Board of Directors Brandon Haidon; and Kate Swiatek represented the full-time staff at BUSU.

“The group had a specific vision of who we wanted to see as our next General Manager,” explained Hejazi. “We had an abundant amount of applicants, then short-listed to about 20 and then the committee narrowed it down to six or seven candidates that we believed were worthy of an interview.”

Following a second round of interviews the committee had a two to three hour meeting to narrow down the list to two candidates.

Hejazi said the committee was looking for an individual with many characteristics that expanded from experience, a multi-dimensional skillset, someone with a unique background, vision for growth, leadership skills, management skills, and someone who would motivate others in the office. He also emphasized the importance of a financial background as well.

“At the end of the day, it’s a $14 million not-for-profit organization and you want someone who has a really strong financial background because there’s a lot of accounting and budget work that goes on,” the BUSU president explained. “Essentially the General Manager will sit down with the incoming President and VPFA, and the rest of the executive team, and they will formulize the budget for the year to come.”

The candidates also needed to have some experience with student life, business operations, government operations, and student equity and inclusion.

Hejazi said there was a conversation about if the application process should be kept totally internal, but it was unanimously decided by the hiring committee to go with an external approach.

“I’m a firm believer that an external approach will never hinder your options,” said Hejazi. “An internal approach wouldn’t have allowed us to look outside of BUSU.”

The committee was focused on having someone hired before the end of April so the transition would be a lot easier for the new GM and BUSU’s 2018/2019 elected team.

“I thought we would have someone starting in the job in mid-March,” said Hejazi. “That was an unrealistic expectation to put on ourselves. We revamped the job description; we consulted all the stakeholders in the office from senior managers and student coordinators, and what they envisioned that position to be.”

The job posting was public for about three weeks, followed by interviews. With applicants coming within Ontario, and from the east and west coast, the process was extensive trying to accommodate for interview times.

“I had an ultimate goal of having a candidate selected before I transition off, because it’s important for the incoming General Manager to have the opportunity to begin transitioning with the old executive team so we can provide the continuity,” said Hejazi.

Hilson was also vocal about what he learned during the interview process and what the hiring committee was looking for. He specifically touched on three points: a strategic plan, a plan for social justice and to fix the limited office space BUSU has.

“They are looking for someone to come in to work with their executive team and develop what our plan may look like in the next three to five years,” said Hilson. “I did that with Brock Athletics, we developed a strategic plan and you can see where that has led now. We talked about spirit, a turf field, the performance of our teams. Many of that is coming true, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took seven years.”

In terms of social justice, Hilson understands that BUSU is not only trying to find a plan to improve student equity and inclusion, but how they can fund it.

BUSU has also been limited in space, as they took over their current office in the Student Alumni Centre in 1991 and the population within its staff and partnerships have grown tremendously since that time. Hilson wouldn’t commit to a solution, but said they would look at the potential to renovate space, or add to the existing space, or potentially construct new space.

Hilson expects a smooth transition as the 2017/2018 executive team conclude their term in the next couple weeks.

The 2018/2019 team will see a familiar face with Aidan Hibma going from Vice-President of Finance & Administration to BUSU President – he was elected this past February with 36.6 per cent of the votes casted. Joining Hibma on the new executive team are Bilal Khan, the new VPFA; Joyce Khouzam, Vice-President of Student Services; and Peter Henen, Vice President of External Affairs.


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