Yesterday, we spoke about the background that greeted Teresa Sullivan, as she began her Presidency of UVa. Today, we’ll talk about what she did to endear herself to this place, steeped in those traditions.
As the Number 2 Exec (Provost) at the University of Michigan (another university steeped in tradition, of a different sort, one of the largest- and best- public institutions in the USA), Sullivan was known as the “Provost on the Prowl”. She was everywhere- at all the various campuses (all in Ann Arbor) and schools. She was the agent of change for that institution, also beset and buffeted by the dismal budgetary situation that prevail(ed) in the state of Michigan. Prior to that Sullivan rose from the professorial ranks to become the Executive Vice-Chancellor of the University of Texas (with nine campuses sprawled about the state).
UVa may be a Virginia institution (capitalized or not), but its budgetary needs are not provided by the Commonwealth. With only 25% of its funds provided by Virginia, UVa must rely on grants, research dollars, and alumni donations. (UVa is not alone in this denigration of educational assistance by the states; no longer are any state colleges able to rely on the funding dribbling from their respective capitals. A sorry state of affairs, but not the subject of these blogs.)
Coming to UVa, she knew she had to learn the new morés- well and fast. Her predecessor, John Casteen, was a triple PhD, all from UVa, so he had no such learning curve. As opposed to most new executives, Sullivan requested that Casteen’s staff stay on- for at least a year and half- to help her at UVa. Sullivan made it clear that UVa should be a transparent institution, where authority could be (and should be) questioned, and whistleblowing (if needed) would be acceptable (to contrast with the situation then unfolding- and still unfolding- at Penn State, another state school).
Sullivan went everywhere- to sporting and athletic events, to arts presentations, to faculty meetings. She met with state legislators (another body which prides itself on Virginia tradition)- in Richmond, on their home turf. She criss-crossed the nation, meeting with alumni (many of them older than she, who herald from the male-only UVa of the 60’s and prior years). Just as importantly, she won over the faculty at UVa. In short, Sullivan got to know her stakeholders. But, the one question is did she have the support of the Board of Visitors. (It IS clear that she lacked the support of three of the 16.)
That is the key function for any CEO. A CEO must know the needs of the institution itself (the company or, in this case, the context of UVa), the needs of the employees (in this case, the faculty), the needs of the managers (in this case, the deans and department heads), as well as the Board of Directors (the “Visitors”, here), and its clientele (the alumni and students of UVa).