Foundational wisdom from the Foster school's first ten years of Edward v. Fritzky chairs in leadership.
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What is the Fritzky Chair?

Edward Fritzky is the former chairman, president and CEO of biotech powerhouse Immunex Corp, acquired by Amgen in 2002. To honor Fritzky’s leadership contributions and express gratitude to a community of supporters that included the UW, Immunex presented the business school with a $1M endowment for a visiting leadership chair in Ed Fritzky’s name.

In 2004, the educational philosophy of “bringing the outside in” was institutionalized with the appointment of Charles M. Pigott, chairman emeritus of PACCAR Inc, as the first Edward V. Fritzky Visiting Chair in Leadership. This faculty position was specifically designed to bring distinguished business leaders to campus to share expertise with faculty and students.

In celebrating a decade’s worth of insights from a distinctive and delightful cast, Foster Business caught up with the former and current Fritzky Chairs and asked them to share some thoughts and lessons on leadership with our readers. Keep in mind these are people who could write books on leadership (and some of them have), so this article truly represents a mere two cents withdrawn from a wealth of intellectual capital.

“One of the things that has made this chair so valuable to Foster students and faculty is the tremendous initiative each person has brought to the role,” says Jim Jiambalvo, dean of the Foster School. “We knew we’d get some terrific results by creating a teaching role for veteran business leaders, but I couldn’t have predicted how much impact they’d have over time. The applied learning, mentorship, networking opportunities and updates to our curriculum that these chairs bring to us are priceless."

Wisdom from the chairs…in their own words

Charles M. Pigott
Fritzky Chair 2003-04
Notable role: Chairman of PACCAR Inc
“My advice to up-and-coming leaders? Make sure you really know your stuff. A sound set of facts and expertise makes you ready to seize opportunity. The best business student is the one who fully believes in learning and will view all of the time and energy as truly worthwhile. Because you can never stop learning—things are always changing. One of the ways I learned was by being asked on to a few boards. That was my substitute for a graduate business education. You listen to other board members and get great ideas and insights. Whatever level you’re leading, listening is incredibly important. It needs to be engaged listening with questions and comments—you don’t get to the head of the class by being a sponge. You have to exude a little water now and then. As for creativity, you have to encourage it and reward it within the culture. You don’t have all the answers—but you don’t have to, someone out there has the answer you need. Going back 50 years, I remember we had a senior engineer (at PACCAR) who came up with a radical design for a Kenworth truck. At the annual dealer meeting, I invited him up to the stage and presented him with a $25,000 check. That was a lot of money back then. That did more to encourage innovation than simply talking about innovation.”

Mike Garvey
Fritzky Chair 2004-05
Notable role: Chairman of Saltchuk Resources; Owner of Seabear and Made In Washington
“Too often, heads of organizations don’t follow their own rhetoric. Leadership is a lot like parenting, you need to behave in the manner you’re asking others to behave in, and model the outcomes you want. It’s easy to be judged by style, but what matters is substance. What’s important? How are you communicating that? If you want to avoid setbacks, create an environment where people aren’t reluctant to bring you bad news. If the team feels inhibited to bring up bad news, you’re going to find out about missteps you could have helped prevent after the fact. ‘Heroic leadership’ is a false concept. It’s not Patton out there; it’s about the objective and getting the group’s insights and buy-in to get there.”

Wayne Perry (BA 1978)
Fritzky Chair 2005-06
Notable role: President and vice chairman, McCaw Cellular Communications
“The thing about experiential learning is…trying stuff out is great, but you have to know the technical dimensions of the problem or situation. In working with students, they can be overly eager to emulate a mentor’s style or approach. Take mergers and acquisitions. There’s excitement to learn the negotiating tactics that can catapult your career, which is great. But I’ll bring up a real-world M&A case and point out the difference between the buyer’s and seller’s weighted cost-of-capital and ask what terms they’d like to negotiate on. The punch line is that there’s no substitute for a strong knowledge-base. When it comes to my management philosophy, I’d say: listen, gather data, make sure it’s okay for heretics to speak up and then make the call. And share information broadly. People will self-benchmark if they know what measurements matter and everyone can see the big picture of how they’re doing.”

M. R. “Mic” Dinsmore (EMBA 1999)
Fritzky Chair 2007-08
Notable role: CEO, Port of Seattle
“In terms of leading, I always believed I could do it. When I was a boy my grandfather would tell me, ‘You’re a Dinsmore, you can do anything you want.’ That’s great encouragement, but he also stressed the importance of listening: ‘I never met someone who learned stuff while their mouth was moving.’ Most of what I’ve learned was by engaging with people at all levels of the organization, and doing a lot of listening. When you’re part of a large, public entity, it’s safe beyond belief to keep things status quo, but strong leadership always takes change into account. Two pieces of advice I’d give to someone assuming a leadership role: 1) don’t go in with preconceived notions, and 2) become a phenomenal communicator—whatever skills you already have in this area, be relentless in improving them.”

Howard Behar
Fritzky Chair 2008-09
Notable role: President, Starbucks North America
“What is the most important leadership role I’ve ever had? I’d say the role of leading myself. I think that if you want to become an effective leader of others, you have to have a dialogue with yourself, and it needs to be very honest. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish? What are your values? What are you good at? Not so good at? Take stock. Then you’ve got the basis to lead. You may find it’s easier to take risks at the outset, and then harder once you’ve had some success. But to keep learning, you have to assess what risks you can take. And be willing to be embarrassed when mistakes happen. I don’t see myself as an enlightened ‘business humanist’ when I say that, ultimately, everything we do in business is in service of another human being. Businesses and corporations aren’t greedy. They’re made up of people, some of whom are greedy. Want to make a lot of money? Me too. Doing it on the backs of your people…that’s greedy.”

Dorrit Bern (BA 1972)
Fritzky Chair 2009-10
Notable role: CEO, Charming Shoppes
“Getting the strategy right is one of the toughest things about leadership. Where do you take your business? How do you stay ahead of the competition and Wall Street? How do you make your cash flow decisions? I think the best way to inform strategy is to listen at all levels inside and outside of your organization. One of my most important executives sat at the front desk—our receptionist was the first point of contact, and she heard everything going on. Also, talk to your customers, and have the humility to really hear what they’ve got to say. I walked into one of our retail stores in Brooklyn and had a customer tell me our line of jeans doesn’t fit. The store manager looked aghast that she’d said this to me, as the top person in the company. But the customer took me back into the dressing room and tried on a range of sizes to make her point. As a result, we undertook a massive info gathering project, measuring 50,000 women to get the redesign right. The result in our product line was very successful. And it was an opportunity for me to reinforce a culture that welcomes ideas. If it’s not safe to throw ideas out, you’re not going to get good input.”

Tod Hullin (BA 1966)
Fritzky Chair 2010-11
Notable role: Senior vice president of public policy and communication, Boeing
“The key to discovering innovation within a large organization is that you have to manage as if you had a flat organization—where all have access to senior management. Get outside the chain-of-command and listen to what people have to say. This also creates opportunities to find and reward initiative and celebrate success.

When people can see that the oar they’re pulling on is moving the boat forward they tend to behave in ways that make themselves and the organization more successful. Ultimately, good leadership requires the ability to persuade people that a specific path is the right one and it’s important to note that persuading people is harder than just communicating with them.

It is important to realize that leading is inextricably connected to learning and they’re both lifelong processes. I believe that you need to start with an assessment of yourself and figure out what you do best, what you know and what you don’t, and then think about what you don’t know you don’t know. Determine how to best shore up your blind spots. I believe key factors include: be humble, listen, learn from your mistakes and maintain a core set of values that are not negotiable.

You can’t impose order in a militaristic way and expect success in business or the public sector. You have to exemplify qualities of a leader that you would respond to. The attitude—and attitude is crucial—has to be, ‘We’re going to do this together, and here’s how.’”

Paula & Steve Reynolds
Fritzky Chair 2011-12
Notable roles: CEO, Puget Energy (Steve); CEO, Safeco (Paula)
“A genuine leader thinks about what’s good for the organization as distinct from what may be good for the leader personally. Leadership can be exhausting at times, so it’s important for the leader to remember that leadership is a privilege—and a tool to do good in the world. The term you hear a lot now is ‘servant leadership,’ and that may tend toward jargon. But the concept is certainly on the mark because there is a quality of selflessness in great leaders. How do you stay fresh as a business leader once you are no longer the CEO? Remaining on boards is an important element for both of us. There’s nothing quite like learning a new company, industry, business model—or even country—to keep you on your toes. In the board room, we are sitting next to living libraries of knowledge from which we derive new ideas and keep our thinking fresh, independent and creative. What’s the way leaders grow? We’ve both asked (insisted!) that colleagues step out of their roles and take on special projects, maybe a skunk-works or some blue ocean or blue sky thinking. Getting away from the everyday framework and focusing on something completely different gives them the bandwidth to innovate. As we mature as leaders, we begin to discern there is a rhythm to business. By allowing ourselves some contemplative time, we give ourselves a chance to recognize the points of inflection in strategy and act accordingly. The ability to know when to change is essential to leadership. Recognizing when to stay the course, when to innovate radically, when to hunker down, and when to get out there and disrupt are critical to the success of the enterprise.”

Ken Denman (MBA 1986)
Fritzky Chair 2012-13
Notable role: CEO, Emotient
“One great thing about being Fritzky Chair was really tapping in to the power of mentoring. It gave me a chance to get out of my everyday hustle and bustle and dive into a new aperture with the students. At the same time, I had a student team work on a project for my company and they brought a tremendous amount of value. I spent a lot of time working with students, in fact I’ve kept up my mentoring since being chair, and one of the recurring themes I saw was angst around what to do next. ‘How did you get where you are?’ type of thing. There’s no optimal decision tree for finding the next opportunity. The best place to start is by defining an end goal. Not the end goal, but an end goal where there’s joy in sight. If you know your destination, you can see multiple paths to getting there. The next decision and the one after that? They’re not going to be fatal. You’re going to gain the experience you need to do the next thing as you go. You can’t define someone’s objectives for them, but you can provide navigational advice and sound cautionary notes where relevant—it’s a lot like coaching. As a leader, one of the best tools you can have is a process for thinking and planning. As the velocity of innovation accelerates, there’s decreasing relevance in the things you learn by rote. You need to keep learning, and have a methodology for adapting so you don’t get tied up in knots.”

Neal Dempsey (BA 1964)
Fritzky Chair Current—2013-14
Notable role: General partner, Bay Partners
“Eighty percent of people aren’t risk takers, so my approach to leadership is to convince that large majority that it’s OK to fail. There’s a perception that success looks like everything going in the right direction along a certain trajectory, but that’s only through the lens of history. Decision by decision, things go great and things go badly and you have to tell yourself that it’s not failure forever—it’s just temporary mental stress. Because I’m in the business of starting up tech businesses from scratch, I have to embrace risk and the possibility of failure. There’s no better business if you love continual learning and you want to stay fluid and creative in your thinking. ‘The way things are done’ means very little in my work, and assumptions can be very costly. I learned a lot about how to focus on what matters to a business when I worked at a big company. I headed up sales, and my boss, who headed up the entire sales and marketing organization, would begin each week with five piles of paper across his desk. This is before everything became electronic. Every day he’d move the stuff he didn’t get to into the next day’s pile, and he’d end the week tossing everything that he hadn’t been able to address. We all looked on in amazement, but he pointed out that nobody ever came asking about that stuff. He said it was basically make-work and didn’t impact what matters for our business. Great lesson!”

An exciting legacy
In an era of higher business education in which blending technical, academic knowledge with hands-on and behind-the-scenes business experience is fairly common, the Foster School is fortunate to have the Fritzky Chair. The time, energy, passion and commitment we’ve gotten in the first 10 years of the program has been phenomenal. This hasn’t been about bringing successful business leaders on campus as part of a public relations push to market the kind of company we keep—far from it. The Fritzky Chair has been about working closely with students and faculty to provide a transformational business education. Our chairs serve as mentors, guest lecturers, conveners and consultants. They make themselves very accessible and they inspire and encourage greatness in our community. What more could a business school ask for?
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