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Now he’s working nonstop; ‘failure is not an option’ for DPS


He is constantly in the public eye as the emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, but few people really know much about Robert Bobb.

He is a snazzy dresser, but he doesn’t own a pair of dress shoes.

He is making $260,000 a year, but he searches the Internet for deals.

He talks tough, but he’s really a momma’s boy.

He loves to plan every single detail so there will be no surprises, but he has a tendency to make last-minute changes, especially in speeches.

He is an introvert, but friends say he has learned how to be comfortable holding a microphone and speaking to large groups.

He seems intense and serious, but he is surprisingly funny.

At times, he is walled off from the public behind a security detail. But he goes out of his way to talk to kids, poses for pictures and returns just about every e-mail.

Many people view him as a savior. Others say he is a villain.

But no one can argue that this complicated, decisive man is making changes that affect every child in Detroit.

A man on a mission

“Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean, I mean plumb, mad-dog mean.”

— A line from the 1976 Clint Eastwood movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” one of Robert Bobb’s favorite films.

It is an hour before daylight and the streets of Detroit are still snoring. This city doesn’t sleep like a princess. It snores like an old dog sprawled across the carpet.

At 5:31 on a warm winter morning, Bobb gets up and barges into a fitness center, wearing blue shorts and a blue tank top. He puts on headphones and turns on a television. CNN. A serious station for a serious guy.

One of his New Year’s resolutions was to get healthier. He has gained about 8 pounds since he arrived in Detroit 11 months ago because he stopped doing yoga and started eating on the run.

He will lose the weight. It’s certain. Resolutions are important to him. They offer a plan, a conviction and purpose. He is all about plans. That’s his mantra, which he repeats often to his staff, especially when a meeting gets out of control: “Order. Discipline. Structure.” Deviate from the plan and he gets frustrated. Get in his way and he gets “pissed,” IN ALL CAPS, messages sent via his BlackBerry to his staff or principals or parents, which he will do at any hour of the day or night — 1 a.m., 2 a.m. — it doesn’t matter. If he’s awake, he’s working.


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