The Kind Of Leader NC State Needs

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.

Campus News General NC State Administration

26 Responses to The Kind Of Leader NC State Needs

  1. TopTenPack 06/14/2009 at 10:05 AM #

    I would like to see an outsider and a strong leader come to NC State.

    NC State in particular and universities in general tend to find people who strong ties to the university to lead. We need someone with fresh ideas and diverse perspective.

    MAF type person…

  2. statemech2010 06/14/2009 at 11:15 AM #

    I won’t admit that I know a whole lot about state politics, but not too long ago wasn’t Perdue butting heads with the state’s superintendent and appointed another guy as CEO of the State Board of Education, basically making the superintendent powerless? Would that move have anything to do with how she is reacting to the current problems here at NC State?

  3. Flannel Avenger 06/14/2009 at 12:23 PM #

    Bev Perdue & Co. have been in the State Government long enough that they’ve probably got dirty laundry tied to this whole mess and are desperately hoping that it will end without bringing them down too.

  4. Cardiff Giant 06/14/2009 at 12:44 PM #

    The less Bev the Joker has to do with the chancellor search, the better. Her lack of forthright, competent leadership as the scandal unfolded (she instead bleated neutrally from the sidelines) shows her as the pawn many of us thought her to be when she took office.

  5. wolfbuff 06/14/2009 at 2:55 PM #

    I agree the next chancellor needs to uphold ethical standards and bring about a culture of change from top to bottom. However, I don’t just want him/her to just be a manager and bring less than stellar results. That’s kind of what Lee Fowler has done the last several years. We need somebody who can not only take care of the culture but at the same time bring NC State’s vast resources and potential to bear in order to make us leaders in research, academia, and athletics. Mediocrity and maintaining status quo should no longer be acceptable.

  6. blpack 06/14/2009 at 6:02 PM #

    We are asking a lot of our next chancellor, as well we should. Someone with experience and integrity. Honesty, charisma and results oriented. We have not been all we can be as a university lately and we need a serious culture change. The new chancellor will have his/her work cut out for them, but I believe the best is yet to come.

  7. graywolf 06/14/2009 at 7:16 PM #

    Alpha, thanks for the great thought you put into writing this great piece. You are most correct and have great insight into what NC State needs in its next leader.

    This is a must read for anyone interested in NC States future.

  8. howlie 06/14/2009 at 8:57 PM #

    I heard both Monteith and Turner are available.

  9. choppack1 06/14/2009 at 9:28 PM #

    I’d feel better about these type of things if we didn’t have that type of leader already and she hadn’t been censured by the faculty.

    Doesn’t that say all you need to know about the faculty and PTBs at NC State – MAF doesn’t do anything really stinky and she’s censured – Oblinger, Nielsen, Easley, etc – nary a peep.

  10. leewolf 06/14/2009 at 11:12 PM #

    With any luck Bev the Bobble Head will be tied in with the Easleys and go down to a similar fate. I am still absolutely baffled at how in the world she won. I’m convinced that no one who actually heard the woman speak could ever have voted for her.

    Excellent write-up and quite true about what NC State needs. The BOT and BOG have a tall order in front of them and they cannot afford to screw it up.

  11. Greywolf 06/14/2009 at 11:57 PM #

    Chop is right on. MAF was basically punished for trying to do what Breen did. People weren’t doing the right thing and she wanted them fired. Their bosses wanted the tenure system to rule the day and declined to fire them. (over simplified, but who’s got time to spell out what no one is going to read.)

    I am resigned to this is the way it is. The tenure system is designed to keep things the way they are. What do we really expect the Chancellor to do? He came up through the system. His salary and Nielson’s salary are rewards for staying the course within the system. Does anyone really believe you need 6 months to write a lesson plan?

    Big time college athletics has its part in this. Coaches are paid big money to teach football, etc. Faculty feels entitled to big money for teaching too. Coaches fail to produce results and we buy out their contracts. Coaches get caught in minor violations (or sometimes major violations) and often nothing happens to them. They get a slap on the wrist and at worst move on.

    And right now my guess is the interim Chanchellor and when we get a permanent Chancellor, we are not going to change ADs unless there is major scandal in that department. Don’t count on that happening with TOB, SL, the late Kay Yow, Avant, etc., in the roles as HC’s. One exception: that c–t volleyball coach. Fowler needs to fire her ass or explain why he doesn’t.

  12. Gene 06/15/2009 at 9:44 AM #

    “What do we really expect the Chancellor to do? ”

    Some things people need to accept about large research universities: (1) the prestige of the university has nothing to do with teaching undergrads, but with research and the professors’ ability to get grant money, and (2) what folks like us want, who got their undergrad degrees from NCSU and what others want to improve the rankings of NCSU are pulling in opposite directions.

    There is some common ground a new Chancellor needs to bring in and these are improving the size of our endowment, make it easier for people who want to continue in grad school at NCSU to find financing, and work with business to help improve NCSU’s research facilities.

    There’s room for a lot of improvement at NCSU and somethings overlap, so hopefully it will form some sort of cooperative goal for the university. For example the majority of people getting degrees are undergrads, so the largest group of people contributing to an endowment would be undergrads, therefore making the undergrad experience enjoyable – including things to do on campus and sports – would help enlarge the endowment.

    Hopefully the Chancellor can see things in a wholistic perspective and see where there are overlaps in what would not appear to be common interests.

    “Faculty feels entitled to big money for teaching too.”

    There’s a bidding war for top professorial talent and it’s been going on for sometime now. You can’t fault someone for looking out for a new job that would pay more money. There’s a lot of pressure for schools like NCSU to retain top professorial talent.

    I’m sure we’d like to see NCSU ranked highly in U.S. News and World Report’s list of college rankings, but those rankings are based on research done be professors. They aren’t based on how well a professor teachings undergrad classes.

    On tenure: I can’t fault professors for fighting to make sure their tenure isn’t challenged. Until a professor gets awarded tenure, they are under a lot of pressure about their future and tenure is the light at the end of the tunnel for their career path. There’s no guarantee a professor will be awarded tenure and the petty politics of universities are legendary. I’ve known professors who weren’t awarded tenure and it’s a big blow to someone and amounts to the same thing as getting laid off.

  13. TomCat 06/15/2009 at 9:51 AM #

    Maybe they’ll hire Pat McCrory… I hear he’s looking for a job. Jesus…. I hate to burst your bubble –those of you living in your ivory tower– all of you who seem to have ‘amnesia’ to your personal life advantages and experiences, all evidently as Holy the Pope. The world in every aspect- involves politics, connections, networking, resources, influence, power, compromise, relationships. Look in your own life experiences. How you got where you are. The angelic figure you now attept to paint in a job description doesn’t exist in the profile of anybody with any ability to get anything done for NC State University. All these aspects will be critical skill sets in whom ever ends up at the helm. What is most important is not to go to extremes. Thats how you end up with Les Robinson. Ridiculous to expouse extremes with no real perspective on how things are done in this world.
    So- Oblinger and crew made mistakes in their personnel movements and decisions. Was it for personal gain? Was it for NC State’s gain? Where any secrets sold to the Chinese? Yes, no? —- More than anything at this point what is required- is perspective.
    The credibility of the Oblinger team has been lost and without question they have to go. This does not however require becoming extreme and ridiculous in the approach for what needs to be done next to work most effectively for NCState. Its all great to ‘pile on.’
    Everyone knows the obvious handful of agendas here which drive much of the bantering of the loud few. Whats most important is to be level headed and make the right decisions that will not handcuff NC State and make the University competitive and as effective as possible.

  14. nycfan 06/15/2009 at 10:18 AM #

    While I think the actions of Obliger et al were indefensible and the related firings and resignations justified, I think it is absolutely absurd to compare this sorry series of events to Tyco. Not even the same ballpark, heck not even the same rotten game, IMO. If you want the example of some one who cleaned up the mess, fine, but it seemed more of a stretch than that.

    It is your site, obviously, and your freedom to air your greivances as you see fit, but in my view the tenor of this thread and the post regarding Jim Hunt (which included a lot of unsubstantiated negative allegations about a 4-time governor who I thought was an NCSU alum) is detrimental to NC State.

    Don’t get me wrong, I see absolutely no down-side in demanding that a high bar be set for the new hire at chancellor and this kind of site is a great venue to discuss what the chancellor’s resume and history ought to look like. And I don’t think it destructive to object to a political candidate like Hunt on a reasoned basis.

    But it seems like the bitterness of the crusade against Obliger and the current management of the athletic department has infected some of what I’ve read here in a manner that seems destructive (to me), or at least to lack the credibility of constructive (even if pointed) criticism or loyal opposition.

  15. Greywolf 06/15/2009 at 10:23 AM #

    You say, “For example the majority of people getting degrees are undergrads, so the largest group of people contributing to an endowment would be undergrads, therefore making the undergrad experience enjoyable – including things to do on campus and sports – would help enlarge the endowment.”

    I expect the 80 -20 rule is in play here. 80% of the donors are giving 20% of the money and 80% of the money is given by 20% of the donors. Hard to argue that “making the undergrad experience enjoyable… would help enlarge the endowment.” however, to ignore what would make the big donor experience more enjoyable is folly.

    Were it not against SFN rules, I’d have to say that the comparison of Obie to the Tyko execs is a little over the top. Obie was fired IMNSHO for lying to Bowles, not because of criminal activity. ALL activity that we don’t like is not criminal.

  16. McCallum 06/15/2009 at 10:26 AM #

    You do not need a PhD nailed to the end of your name. You need to be able to draft letters of statement and cause, understand people, grasp the concept of a land grant school, and integrate those basic three items into a North Carolina based philosophy (this is going to mean Christian so get over it) of ethical and fair treatment of positions.

    No long winded mission statement is required. No pronouncements of new direction, fresh air and all that non-sense; just find someone that will not be EASILY influenced by the political class, can balance a check book and will be humble and open.

    Most of the qualities needed are not found among the people that desire such power so do not follow the usual channels.

    Attitude: follow the rules, get there early-stay late, and know the institution vertically (this means departments, physical plant, contractors, and janitors…………..hell yes I said janitors.) What you do not want is a 20,000 ft up big picture guy that no longer sees the need to do grunt work. Losing the desire or ability to do grunt work comes right before the fall.


  17. packalum44 06/15/2009 at 10:31 AM #

    “The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate. You change the culture of a company by changing the behaviors of its leaders. You measure the change in culture by measuring the change in the personal behaviors of its leaders and the performance of the business.”

    Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
    By: Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

  18. beowolf 06/15/2009 at 11:44 AM #

    Frankly, nycfan, I don’t know what could be viewed as “bitter” about Alpha’s post, and furthermore I think the objections to Hunt as chancellor especially in light of the particular details of the current scandal are eminently reasonable.

  19. McCallum 06/15/2009 at 11:53 AM #

    All of these hires have the Orwellian smell about them.

    “Ram Charan”?

    I would suggest another book on success by someone named otherwise.


  20. nycfan 06/15/2009 at 12:07 PM #

    The tone seems bitter to me (taken I guess with other posts and comments in the series of articles about the subject on this site, so it is more of a cumulative impact than this particular post in isolation), but that is just one woman’s impression. I think the underlying goal, laying out and discussing the qualifications of the new chancellor in the wake of this mess, makes a ton of sense.

    I personally would like to see some one who, aside from having impeccable credentials and character, is from an engineering or computer technology field with significant experience in public/private partnerships.

  21. packalum44 06/15/2009 at 1:20 PM #


    Thanks for posting. Because this is primarily a sports blog, I don’t think we get enough insight from the females’ perspective.

  22. Cardiff Giant 06/15/2009 at 5:18 PM #

    “It is your site, obviously, and your freedom to air your greivances as you see fit, but in my view the tenor of this thread and the post regarding Jim Hunt (which included a lot of unsubstantiated negative allegations about a 4-time governor who I thought was an NCSU alum) is detrimental to NC State.”

    The allegations made about Jim Hunt’s patronage hiring practices made in my post are absolutely true and are well known to anyone with knowledge of or experience in state government during that time. Moreover, that Hunt is an alumnus is irrelevant to that issue. John Edwards is an alumnus and I won’t be easy on him either.

  23. choppack1 06/15/2009 at 9:40 PM #

    nycfan – always appreciate your input – even though I don’t always agree. However, I think Hunt poses a problem in this case because he’s just kind of the previous regime on steroids.

    Could we do worse – hell, yes.

    But, will Hunt help restore integrity and grow the university – I think that’s a huge question mark. The university should target someone w/ a proven record of turning things around and a lack of tolerance for the status quo…IMHO, Hunt does not meet those qualifications.

  24. Gene 06/15/2009 at 10:00 PM #

    “I expect the 80 -20 rule is in play here. 80% of the donors are giving 20% of the money and 80% of the money is given by 20% of the donors. Hard to argue that “making the undergrad experience enjoyable… would help enlarge the endowment.” however, to ignore what would make the big donor experience more enjoyable is folly.”

    The major donors all have some sort of tie to the university. Increasing the base of donors is important. How many almuni does NCSU have? Aggressive donation drives and membership drives, like the WPC did recently, can help increase total donations.

    Our endowment is pathetically small for a university of our size. I don’t know how UNC Chapel Hill or Wake Forest have endowments triple or quadruple ours, but increasing the size of our endowment should be a major goal of new leadership. Even the University of Richmond and Yeshiva University, in New York City, have endowments that are at least double the size of ours.

    You aren’t going to get it solely from big money donors.

    “Modern” (I put it in quotes because I think this goes back a couple of decades, at least) college administration has become an “arms race”, where the biggest universities will keep their status, while those that can’t keep up will lose their place.

    Increasing the endowment will enable NCSU to retain top professors and offer top professors, at other schools, better incentives to come to Raleigh. It’ll increase the scholarships available, the money for construction, and host of other things, which are lagging for lack of money.

  25. tractor57 06/16/2009 at 8:24 AM #

    Personally I haven’t donated anything to any organization connected to NCSU in several years.

    Why? Two reasons – the first deals with some personal financial considerations that required me to very carefully place any donations I make (and yes even though I donate less I do donate). The second ties into the more carefully considered donations – when I got to the end of my review I found that dear ole State was lacking as compared to other opportunities.

    To be frank athletics suck and I’m not one for being in crowds these days (especially not with the last decade’s performances) and yes I’ll miss out on the rebound of the football program and hopefully eventually the men’s basketball program.

    That pales in comparison to the “academic” side of the issue. For many years it has been obvious that there hasn’t been effective leadership and I’ll not support that more than I’m already required to do through taxes.

    If I’m given a convincing reason to provide support I would reorder my giving priorities.

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