EMHA student takes unique path to shaping mental health

May 28, 2015

From running sports card businesses to overcoming personal challenges, Bill Dully combines leadership skills and experiences to impact the healthcare field.

By Matthew Kredell

EMHA student Bill Dully went from of running major trading card companies to shaping mental health.

EMHA student Bill Dully went from of running major trading card companies to shaping mental health.

Bill Dully shot hoops with Michael Jordan, golfed with Tiger Woods, and rode in a race car driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For more than 20 years, Dully was a major player in the world of athletics, serving as president and chief operating officer of trading card companies Upper Deck and Donruss. His career highlights included securing an exclusionary card deal with baseball legend Willie Mays, signing Ken Griffey Jr. as a national spokesman, securing the rights to and producing Woods’ rookie card and being the first to reach a worldwide autograph memorabilia agreement with Jordan.

However, the sports card industry took a harsh downturn around 2008, and for three years he found himself an out-of-work, high-level executive unable to find a job that suited his talents.

So he decided to develop a different set of talents.

Inspired by his own experiences with overcoming alcohol addiction in his 20s, Dully determined to make a mid-life career change into the field of mental health. In August, he will complete the Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) degree program at the USC Price School of Public Policy and has landed a job as president of laboratory operations and logistics for Solid Landings Behavioral Health in Orange County, responsible for the H&J Toxicology division and many of the organizations non-clinical support functions.

“I never expected to be out of trading cards,” said Dully, 51. “I never expected all these companies to go bankrupt. I was lost, a guy with money in the bank but no direction. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy those days hanging out with MJ. But understanding what it takes to change your life and overcome addiction, delivering the level of care we do at Solid Landings is very fulfilling.”

The transition wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Initially, Dully couldn’t get a job in healthcare due to his lack of experience and education in the field. He also couldn’t get into the EMHA program at USC Price for the same reason. But he persisted, asking Mike Nichol, director of graduate programs in health at USC Price, and EMHA Professor Michael Harris what he needed to do to gain admission.

They told him to build up his relevant experience and try again. So he started at Solid Landings as an unpaid intern. He had gotten a certificate at UCLA Extension to be approved by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, which allowed him to do some group therapy sessions and individual counseling. But he also swept the garage and cleaned residential treatment houses, tallying 1,500 volunteer hours.

After obtaining the healthcare experience, he had an extensive interview with Professor Nichol. “Bill had an exceptionally clear vision of how he could combine his passion for substance abuse treatment and prevention and his executive experience,” Nichol said. “He made a compelling case that he would be able to help a large population in need with his background and commitment.”

Harris noted, “He’s an unlikely candidate to be in our program. He came from a very different background. But he was so passionate about reinventing himself. He knew what he wanted to do now, and he wanted to be in healthcare.”

“Mr. Dully’s passion and drive are precisely what we are seeking in our student population,” Harris added. “Our goal is to provide the necessary skills they need to reinvent themselves as successful leaders in the health care arena.”

During his second semester in the EMHA program, Dully got his first paid job in healthcare as Senior Vice President of Operations at Windstone Behavioral Health, responsible for 16 clinics and ambulatory centers for the mentally ill. In February, before completing his degree, he got the position at Solid Landings, going from a volunteer sweeping the group therapy room to a president overseeing more than 900 employees at the company.

“What USC did with the power of its brand and reputation of excellence in academics got me into people’s offices and brought credibility to my 25-year background in business,” Dully said. “I would not be where I am if not for the EMHA program.

“I got a complete, in-depth understanding of the largest sector of the economy in the world, learning about quality of care, delivery of services, treatment planning and how the business model of a hospital works,” he added. “I made contacts and developed a vernacular that are irreplaceable.”

Dully said his long-term plan is to someday be in the White House as the Director of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the country’s Drug Czar, in order to change the face of drugs and alcohol in the United States. Although his goals may seem particularly ambitious, Dully has made enormous leaps in the field at a lightning pace.

“Of all the people, I think this is the guy to do it,” Harris said. “He has enough skill, drive and belief in himself that he’s going to take his career exactly where he wants it to go.”