Without any question, the wake of the Easley scandal at NC State has left an impression that the storied university’s former leaders ran the school at the whim of the corrupt state patronage system that makes the government of North Carolina more closely resemble a Banana Dictatorship rather than the values of the vast majority of the citizens of this state. For NC State University to fulfill its mission as the university of the people in this state, that must change. NC State University must have leadership whose only interest is the institution itself. That is not something that can happen if it brings in its next leader from the same system that created this mess in the first place.
If one wants to clean up NC State’s and the UNC system’s reputation in the wake of this scandal, they bring in an outsider with a record and reputation of being a straight-arrow who has a track record of success when it comes to managing the multi-billion dollar enterprise that is NC State.
Right now, State is in the same league as a Tyco – a company you may remember from the rash of corporate scandals several years back. In basic terms, Tyco was a multi-billion dollar public firm whose management enriched themselves at the expense of the stockholders and without the knowledge of its board. The key difference here is that former CEO Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Marc Swartz were convicted of fraud and misappropriation and went to prison. That’s unfortunate for Kozlowski and Swartz — had they been employees of NC State University, they would have been demoted to the director level, never served any prison time and would have received full pay and benefits from their former job level for at least six months. Instead, they both undoubtedly grasp their soap very carefully when they take a shower.
Edward Breen, a Motorola executive known as a reformer and straight-shooter was brought in and began changing the culture of the company — especially at the top, where Tyco was treated as a Good Ole Boy’s Club with an open bank vault. The company mantra was “ethics” and “doing the right thing.” NOT doing the right thing — from top to bottom — was backed by dismissal, no matter the position. In short order, quite a number of upper executives left to “pursue other opportunities.”
These changes at Tyco were instant from within, but took a couple of years to be noticed and believed from outside the company. In fact, at first, it didn’t look like Breen was doing well because he reported real financial results rather than numbers that were obfuscated in order to make things look right, but over time the stock market noticed and began to award to company through higher prices.
Now, Tyco is among the corporate world’s better citizens and is a steady if less than stellar market performer. That’s thanks to Ed Breen, and the sea change he brought that former scofflaw company. Without him, it is not too hard to believe that Tyco would have been forced into bankruptcy and its pieces sold pennies on the dollar to healthier companies.
The simple truth is that it took an Ed Breen to save Tyco, an outsider who was brought in to clean up a mess, which is exactly what he did. It is very difficult to believe that had Tyco’s board hired from within that the stock market would have trusted that man or woman, no matter how well they did their job. Undoubtedly, they would have voted with their wallets, sold short and let someone else take the risk.
An Ed Breen is the kind of guy NC State needs. Breen did not take “everyone does it” for an answer. Nor did he hide from any of his employees, be they a senior vice president or a factory worker. If someone saw something corrupt at Tyco, his door and his ears were open. If the problems reported were real, real change was made.
What NC State expressedly does NOT need is someone who has no experience running a university but loves NC State, not someone who is a member of the very system that created the mess in the first place and not someone that no matter how good a job he does his past will create questions about the job he does, good or bad, clean or dirty. As it was with Tyco, it would be unlikely if not impossible for an insider to gain the trust of the stockholders — in this case the taxpayers of North Carolina who actually “own” NC State.
This is a critical juncture in the history of the university. The choice it makes will define its direction for at least the next decade if not longer.
Finally, it is interesting that the current management of our state — Bev Perdue and the State Council — have been quieter than cat burglers in the wake of this scandal. One has to wonder when — if ever — they will display any managerial courage and speak towards this growing scandal concerning the former occupants of her office.