Dr. Michael J. Sorrell

Visionary Leader, Institutional Change Agent, President of Paul Quinn College
Michael Sorrell Speaker
  • Stepped away from his dream of becoming the president of an NBA team to take a job no one wanted and lead the remarkable turnaround of Paul Quinn College from failing institution to thriving powerhouse
  • Widely recognized in education and business circles as a visionary and change agent who can step into complex situations and get results
  • Recognized as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine
  • Engaging storyteller whose leadership lessons inspire audiences to think differently about how to achieve their goals while emphasizing the importance of authenticity, resilience, and a willingness to take risks in pursuit of success

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In 2007, Dr. Michael Sorrell faced a life-altering decision. He was part of an ownership group that was on the verge of purchasing the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and he would serve as the team’s president following the completion of the deal — a dream come true for him. At the same time, he was approached by Paul Quinn College, a failing institution, to serve as the historically Black college’s president in the interim while they sought out a permanent appointment to take over the role — a search that was proving difficult as the school continued to falter. Dr. Sorrell accepted the role, hoping it would be a brief side quest on his journey to becoming an NBA executive. In reality, it marked the beginning of a transformative and innovative era for the school that continues to this day. Dr. Sorrell has spearheaded one of the great turnaround stories of our time — leading Paul Quinn’s evolution from one of the worst in the nation to a higher education powerhouse. As the longest-tenured president in the college’s history, he has instilled a “WE Over Me” mentality in students, faculty, and the community at large and has been revered throughout his historic tenure for his ability to reimagine organizations to better serve the needs of the people that depend on them. He is a testament to the power of purpose and vision.

Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, Dr. Sorrell’s talks center on why the simplest approach to leadership is often the most effective one. As he engages the audience with the experiences that led him to Paul Quinn College, and the turnaround that followed, he introduces them to his values-based leadership formula. Dr. Sorrell emphasizes the importance of being authentic and establishing a vision as a leader and demonstrates how leaders can adapt when life takes an unexpected turn and unite people around a shared mission. Sorrell is a polished storyteller who captures the audience’s attention from his first word and keeps it until the very end. As a leader who truly walks the talk, Dr. Sorrell’s story of forgoing his dream of serving as a president and part owner of an NBA seam is one of sacrificing personal interest in order to serve and elevate others.

Prior to Dr. Sorrell’s tenure as president, Paul Quinn College was on the verge of permanent closure. He brought a vision for rebuilding the 151-year-old HBCU on foundations of problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and academic excellence. Dr. Sorrell’s revitalization plan began with rebranding the campus and partnering with PepsiCo to transform the college’s unused football field into the “WE Over Me Farm.” These initiatives were part of his broader mission to create a new urban college model and address the food desert in the surrounding community. Under Dr. Sorrell’s leadership, Paul Quinn College revamped its admissions policy to include the families of incoming students, established partnerships to increase academic offerings, and modernized operations leading to budget surpluses. By 2011, Paul Quinn had gone from struggling small college to being named the “HBCU of the Year.”

Among his most notable awards and recognitions, Dr. Sorrell has been named one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine, received the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Bush Institute Trailblazer Citation, and is the only three-time recipient of the HBCU Male President of the Year Award. Dr. Sorrell has also been named by TIME Magazine as one of the “31 People Changing the South” and one of “America’s 10 Most Innovative College Presidents” by the Washington Monthly. Among his numerous board appointments, Dr. Sorrell has served as the chair of the Board of Governors for the Dallas Foundation and co-chair for the Aspen Prize. He has also been a trustee for the American Council of Education.

Before becoming president at Paul Quinn College, Dr. Sorrell served as a Special Assistant in the Executive Office of the President during the Clinton Administration, opened his own business, worked as a public affairs consultant, and practiced law.

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The Four Ls of Leadership. Leadership is always challenging, but it doesn’t need to be complicated, as Dr. Michael Sorrell points out. Regarded as a visionary leader and change agent, Dr. Sorrell, who is the president of Paul Quinn College, is widely respected in education and business circles for the manner in which he led the school from near-certain closure to becoming a leader among America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

As he shares in this talk, none of what has been accomplished during his tenure would have been possible without the “Four Ls of Leadership” that Dr. Sorrell holds near and dear:

  • Leave places better than you found them
  • Live a life that matters
  • Lead from wherever you are
  • Love something greater than yourself

Pointing to real-life examples of his purpose-driven approach with Paul Quinn College and the incredible results it continues to yield, Dr. Sorrell shares thought-provoking anecdotes and practical strategies any leader can apply to become a catalyst for positive change within their own organization. As he addresses topics such as servant leadership, inclusive leadership, and leading through change, Dr. Sorrell challenges those in the room to dismantle outdated systems, establish a vision that others will rally around, collaborate in pursuit of a greater mission, and leave things better than before.

Reviving and Thriving: Strategies for Business Turnaround Success. Dr. Michael Sorrell’s leadership of Paul Quinn College for close to two decades has become one of the great turnaround stories in education, business, and beyond. Dr. Sorrell moved away from his dream of becoming the part-owner and president of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, and instead turned his attention toward how he could help Paul Quinn College’s students, faculty, and surrounding community achieve their dreams. What followed was the school’s remarkable transformation from on the brink of closure, to thriving beyond what anyone could have imagined before Dr. Sorrell first stepped through the doors.

In this talk, Dr. Sorrell revisits the complex challenges he faced when he assumed the role of president of Paul Quinn College, as well as the difficult decisions he had to make in order to get the institution back on its feet, and then lead it to where it is today – the model of what a thriving and innovative organization looks like. An engaging storyteller with sought-after insights that are applicable to organizations in any industry, Dr. Sorrell equips leaders with strategies and the mindset shift needed in order to lead change, build strong teams, develop forward-looking solutions to underlying problems, drive progress, and create a lasting impact.

From Chaos to Clarity: Strategies for Leading Through Change and Uncertainty. When Dr. Michael Sorrell accepted the position of president of Paul Quinn College, the future of the school remained in the balance. Graduation rates were low, academic standards had plummeted, and there was almost no money left for the school to operate. Despite uncertainty lurking at every corner, Dr. Sorrell succeeded in communicating his vision to the Paul Quinn community, and the school is now pointed to as an example of academic excellence among HBCUs and small colleges. In this talk, Dr. Sorrell focuses specifically on the challenges of leading through change and times of uncertainty. Drawing from his own experiences leading at Paul Quinn College, Dr. Sorrell offers valuable strategies for managing resistance, overcoming obstacles, and seizing opportunities for growth and transformation amid the complexities and disruption that exist all around us. He inspires leaders to embrace the unknown, lead with empathy, and drive positive change within their organizations and communities. 

Overcoming Fear to Write Your Next Chapter. Dr. Michael J. Sorrell has faced fear and uncertainty directly on several occasions, both in his professional and personal lives. While the story of him jumping in headfirst and leading the remarkable turnaround of Paul Quinn College is often pointed to as an example of embracing and overcoming the unknown, a lesser-known story is Dr. Sorrell’s own personal turnaround following his battle with sudden cardiac death in 2008. Reflecting on the episode and the long path to physical and mental recovery that followed, Dr. Sorrell opens up to the audience and shares how he was able to overcome his fear of the future to make the second act of his life as meaningful as the first. His personal story inspires people to reframe fear and use it as their fuel to be more resilient, be better leaders, and achieve those goals that seem out of reach. 

Lessons to Last a Lifetime. Among all the awards and accolades, Dr. Michael J. Sorrell counts winning the “Father of the Year” for the city of Dallas as his greatest accomplishment. Reflecting on his interactions with his children, including a series of journeys with his son over the course of a year, Sorrell shares lessons that will resonate with any audience on leadership, setting goals, uncovering your purpose, and aligning the steps you take on the path to success to your purpose. 

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