Friday, July 5, 2013

Thoughts on LSU's leadership

Jim Brown wrote an essay on LSU's current leadership change (view here). They are getting a new president. Jim faults LSU for not permanently and strongly establishing itself as the state flagship university. I was a contributor for a number of years and had a wee bit of an inside view. One word comes to mind. Arrogance.

They made this big in-your-face push of "flagship" that didn't go down well with many people associated with the other universities of the state. My opinion is that if they wanted that status they should just be it. But be it by an damned big margin that can't be legitimately argued against. Otherwise it's a big mistake. I've seen it many times in business. Start bragging and the knives come out. If it's just a PR war then you might need to make some claim to be noticed. But it better be a claim that can't be challenged. The "flagship" status might have made everyone inside LSU, and their "boardly" bodies feel good at home and around the country. I thought the "flagship" push was bad not only for bringing out the Louisiana knives in the Louisiana legislature, but also didn't likely help outside Louisiana. When I was president of my company I had no need to brag because I was Mr. Lewis. I had respect because of what I accomplished and my company's reputation. We never revealed revenue or profit, both of which were underestimated outside my company. We kept having record revenue year after year. Revealing that would have only caused problems with no upside unless I had wanted the bitter pleasure of letting people think, including competitors, that I was "better" than them. Well the LSU community seemed to have enjoyed that pleasure. Maybe they got the "pleasure" but the other universities certainly got the "bitter" from LSU. So where's the surprise that the knives come out in the legislature? And why the surprise at how many knives and how sharp they are and how determined they are to draw blood. And why the surprise at how much blood flows until LSU is just about slouching with the rest of the state which they see as inferiors? So now LSU is slouching and stumbling. I don't know much about the direction of the "inferiors" but I would guess their momentum is not on the bad downward trajectory of LSU.

The problem with the new president is that he likely got the job by making all kinds of assurances that he would quickly turn around the failing "flagship" mission. Don't be surprised to see more blood spilled.

I have not liked any of the recent presidents or chancellors. They are all from outside Louisiana. Sure they look good. But Michael Martin was the only one I ever heard anyone like. The rest were described as backstabbing and untrustworthy. Do you remember Sean O'Keefe? The search committee, as I heard it, stopped looking when they interviewed him. Stopped looking? Really? What in the world did they fall for? But they got what they bought. And could not get rid of him fast enough.

To be sure, William Jenkins was the real deal. I think what made him different, along with his special skills across the board, was that he was not a Yankee. He was from South Africa. And another thing that made him special was that he had been with LSU since 1988, only becoming chancellor in 1996 after eight years of getting the lay of the land. That is important.

One of the wisest things I learned about selecting leaders, coincidentally from someone I served with in the College of Science at LSU, was that when things are going good you promote from within. But when things are going bad you bring in new minds. Jenkins fit this rule. O'Keefe and John Lombardi failed this rule. The new president is coming from California. I think that's a big mistake. I think they need a local good-ole-boy for the turnaround. And by turnaround I mean in the actual operation of the university. Sure it's not as sexy to the outside world to introduce your local President Bubba, but President Bubba can get the knives back in their sheaths in time because he knows all the offended knife holders. He knows the "inferiors" can't be asked to decline while LSU arrogantly steps on them trying to become their superior. I've been away from Louisiana politics for about 20 years now. (Sad to say, but I now regret every single dollar I ever contributed.) In that time I only met a couple men who could be President Bubba. I'm pretty sure they are both in their eighties by now.

I wish the new President Alexander the best. If he calls me I will be glad to go see him. Yet you and I are pretty sure he's not likely to see things my way. Nor would his "security" screen want him to consider my approach. They will likely go with some sort of "bigger knife" strategy. Bad plan. A tiny blade in the right place will kill you. So will a hundred in even some "safe" places.

My advice for President Alexander: Find somebody to take your calls. Get a really good assistant and spend the rest of the summer visiting every single legislator in their personal homes. And especially visit ever other university President the same way. Chancellors too. (Together if you can arrange it.) They are all expecting you to be the latest enemy leader. Change that expectation before you make a single big decision. Win them over.

One last thought: If they suddenly have to fire President Alexander don't start thinking Jeff For President. My official resume is weak, well actually negative, from a university viewpoint. I'm just a wanna-be strategist. We never get evaluated so our thoughts are not to be trusted.

1 comment:

  1. I agree Mr. Lewis! And while they're at it they should FIRE LES MILES! Let Sports Illustrated investigate his Football Program...damn yankee!