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S+B: One big difference between academia and the corporate world is lifetime
tenure. Leaders in the corporate world can always threaten to fire people if
they don’t get with the program. But university leaders can’t, right?
HENNESSY: You certainly have more of a stick in the corporate world than you
have in the academic world. But my observation is, in both settings, that people
respond a lot more to inspiration, to being challenged to do something really
great. And that produces the highest-level performance. If you have to use the
stick, you’ve already lost some level of productivity and accomplishment that you
could have gotten out of your team.
S+B: In your book, you talk about humility as an essential trait for
leadership. But the institutions you’ve been associated with — Stanford,
Google — aren’t exactly regarded as humble. So how did you experience
humility in your journey?
HENNESSY: That’s not the kind of humility I really mean. [To me,] humility
means, “Don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room. Don’t think you
have all the answers.” You’re willing to engage others, you’re willing to respect the
knowledge and expertise that your colleagues have. And you recognize that it’s a
team effort that will do great things. To some extent, it comes naturally in a
university. I’m an avid reader, I’m interested in a lot of topics, but believe me,
there are thousands of undergraduates who know more about — pick a field —
than I know about it. I always thought of my fellow faculty members as colleagues.
And my job was to help make them successful. And that’s what the job of a CEO
is. The job is to help make the employees at the company successful.
S+B: Companies have lots of stakeholders — the board, customers,
shareholders, etc. — whose needs must be considered. And so do universities:
trustees, students, alumni, research funding organizations. How apt is the
governance analogy between a university and a corporation, and where does
it break down?
HENNESSY: Certainly the cornerstone of it is that your stakeholders are more
than any one group. Universities are, by their nature, more focused on the long
term than corporations. Corporations have to balance the long term together

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