BAR Awards Profile – Martina K. Ballen ’80

2011 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumna Award
Martina K. Ballen ’80

What surprises people who know Martina Ballen isn’t that the petite CFO of UNC’s athletics department was a starter on her high school basketball team in Southern Pines. What raises eyebrows is learning that she is only 5 feet, 4 inches tall.

“She seems taller,” said her longtime friend Ranota Hall. “In personality and presence, she’s a much taller woman.”

Martina certainly has reached great heights at Carolina. As the senior associate athletics director and chief financial officer, she is the first African- American woman to become a senior administrator in the department of athletics. She develops the diversity goals for athletics as co-chair of the department’s diversity committee. She serves on a number of other committees, including the current committees to select a new athletics director and a new vice chancellor for finance and administration. She is a guest lecturer in the Sports Administration program, and every summer she leads a session for Project Uplift.

Tonight Martina receives the Harvey Beech Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the Carolina community, which began with beingelected Homecoming queen.

When Martina joined the program as director of finance in 1987, it was still a good ol’ boy network. There were very few women or African Americans. Despite having played sports and being an avid Tar Heel fan, she had reservations about whether she knew enough about athletics to do the job. But she knew that money is money, revenues are revenues and expenses are expenses, regardless of the industry. The opportunity to do what she loves for her alma mater compelled her to take the post.

After completing her undergraduate degree in business in 1980 and an MBA from Wake Forest University in 1984, Martina settled into work as a commercial lender at what’s now Bank of America and as branch manager of the Franklin Street branch in Chapel Hill. Dean Bennie Renwick banked there. Martina knew him through his advocacy of minorities at UNC. One day he told her of an opening in athletics. He had been very vocal about the lack of minorities in administration and athletics at UNC. He encouraged her to apply.

“Everybody has a Dean Renwick story,” Martina
said. “That’s mine.”

Over the years, Martina has seen the athletics department budget increase from $16 million to $72 million. In the mid-1990s, the department experienced some significant financial challenges, operating at sizeable deficits. She and longtime athletics director Dick Baddour ’66 reinvented the budget process to bring the department back into the black, and Martina has led the effort to keep it there. “When Martina talks,” Dick said, “we listen.”

But Martina isn’t all business, her friends and sister, Pam McDonald, say. Her sister remembers the two of them “dancing to Soul Train on Saturday mornings when we were supposed to be doing our chores” Yes, she’s no-nonsense, but she’s also a good sport and won’t shy away from a dare. (You know there has to be a wealth of good stories behind that one.) Busy as she is with her husband, two sons and her unpaid job as board chair for the Autism Society (her older son is autistic), she still makes time for friends.

She’s focused and has a flair for design and innate good taste. In the throes of a labor contraction, shestill had the presence of mind to tell her husband to
pack the good suitcase; she wasn’t going to go to the hospital with her things stuffed in a gym bag.

Those who know Martina admire what she’s accomplished professionally and in the community, while still keeping her home open and welcoming, and her family organized and stable.

While she’s quick to brush away praise, Martina takes her role at UNC seriously.

“I’ve become acutely aware of the need for others to see and hear from someone who looks like me,” she said, “an African-American woman in a leadership role in one of the major college athletic programs in the country. …

“We all want to represent our university well, in a first-class way.”