Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Ivy League University President Who Loved Math

Today's New York Times, in one of my favorite columns, The Corner Office, has a wonderful interview with Dr. Amy Gutmann, the President of the University of Pennsylvania. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak while I was a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard in 2005-2006.

In the interview, conducted by Adam Bryant, she is asked many questions about her leadership style but what impressed me most about her (besides her energy, intelligence, and elegance that always shine through) :

1. her gratitude to her parents and especially for her father's courage and farsightedness -- he left Nazi Germany for India, and for her mother's survival of the depression, experiences which taught Dr. Gutmann to focus on the long term and not just to react to the next small challenge;

2. how she loved math and emphasized that she was captain of the math team and enjoyed solving puzzles. She thanks her 8th grade math teacher for motivating all kids and quotes Emerson: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." In addition to enthusiasm, she emphasized the relevance of "hard, smart work," and

3. the importance of communications as a leader, which I completely agree with. She emails, calls people, walks around campus, and drops by her employees' (31,000 worth) offices. She listens and wants to know what motivates people. Employees who are noticed and paid attention to will respond in kind and will produce for the organization.

Dr. Gutmann graduated as the valedictorian of her public high school class in NY and was the first from her school to go to Radcliffe (which has since become part of Harvard). She received her PhD in political science from Harvard, after receiving a Master's from the London School of Economics. Before coming to Penn she was a professor and then Provost at Princeton (who now also has a female President as do Harvard and brown -- all simply terrific leaders). Dr. Gutmann's daughter, Abigail Gutmann Doyle, is now an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, having received her PhD from Harvard, too. By the way, she also was the valedictorian of her high school class.

Read the interview with President Gutmann here and learn from this great leader.