President's Speeches and Remarks

June 6, 2002

Welcome to Bowdoin College!  It is a joy to be able to welcome you to this beautiful campus on this wonderful June day⎯wonderful, of course, because we need the rain!  The College feels a bit eerie this week as the students have gone home and the reunion weekend is behind us.  But, I’m looking forward to the summer to enjoy and explore this wonderful state.

I have been at Bowdoin for nearly a year now and I have just finished my first academic year at the College.  After spending nearly 23 years working in New York as a lawyer, I haven’t yet gotten my internal working clock around to thinking about academic years.  All of the administrators at the school are desperate for me to start acting like a president and disappear for the summer⎯but I am looking forward to the time to kick back and think about the future.

Let me take a few moments to give you some of my background and then talk briefly about the College and leadership.  I understand that you are a very participatory group so I want to leave time for questions and debate.

I graduated from Bowdoin in 1972 and went off to Syracuse University to study biology⎯getting a Ph.D. in 1976.  Now I had intended to become an academic, but for a variety of reasons⎯principally related to my skill as a biologist, I went off to Columbia to get a law degree⎯graduating in 1979.  I spent my entire career as a lawyer at one law firm⎯Debevoise and Plimpton.  When I arrived at D&P we were 150 lawyers with two offices and when I left a year ago, we were nearly 500 lawyers with offices in New York, Washington, Paris, London, Moscow, Hong Kong and Frankfurt.

I was in a courtroom only twice in my entire legal career.  Once in Salt Lake City in a bankruptcy case for one of my clients and once for jury duty.  I was a transactional lawyer helping companies merge, joint venture, buy and sell assets, go public and then private, and finance their operations.  Perry Mason or Ally McBeal I was not.  I spent hours in conference rooms negotiating complex transactions.

I was also very involved in running my firm⎯doing everything from running firm parties as a young lawyer to serving as hiring partner, evaluation partner, management committee member, to the deputy to the presiding partner where I was principally responsible for thinking about strategy for the firm.  It was great fun and I enjoyed my time.  My clients were the likes of DLJ, JP Morgan, Nippon Life Insurance, Westfield, the government of Brazil. The work was heavily international.

In my role as a lawyer I was exposed to leaders from many backgrounds and many different styles.  I also had the pleasure of leading a large law firm.  I can say that over the years I saw many of the people, up close and personal, who find themselves in the world as the important business leaders you read about in The Wall Street Journal.  Just yesterday there was a front page story on my good friend Frank Lowy who is being portrayed as the “bad guy” mall developer and the WTC site.

In terms of what made them effective leaders⎯I can say that many were effective, but each had a different style.  Many were autocratic, others very, very participatory and inclusive.  It was for me a very valuable experience for what I do today.  I watched and admired many of my clients over the years and tried to adopt what I considered their best leadership qualities as my own.

Bowdoin is a wonderful liberal arts college with countless opportunities and many challenges.  Now I understand that many in Maine view Bowdoin as the rich school of the state and one that has no significant issues.  We are blessed with a very healthy endowment, but not as large by a fair measure as the schools with which we compete very vigorously for students.  Endowment is critical because it is what allows us to provide the wonderful program for our students and opportunities for our faculty to do their research, scholarship and artistic work.

Endowment is also critical because it is what drives our ability to attract the best and brightest students from Maine and around the country without regard to their financial need.  We are need blind-which means that we admit students without regard to their ability to pay.  We also support our students for four years.  This challenge and commitment is becoming ever more difficult in these tough economic times and in these times when students are being wooed by other schools offering attractive financial aid packages.

In that regard, Bowdoin has continued its historic commitment to students from the State of Maine.  Year in and year out we have between 12-14% of the student body from the state.  We devote nearly 25% of our financial aid resources to these students.  These students from Maine are often the most favorite of our faculty for their enthusiasm and zest for learning.

But, what we do isn’t only about the financial and endowment story.  We are a place dedicated to educating our students in the liberal arts model, with a commitment to the common good.  This year our students spent over 20,000 hours volunteering their time in this community to help people in need.  A remarkable achievement and evidence that many students take quite seriously our call to serve others.  

We spend a good deal of time and are intentional about preparing our students to be leaders.  That means we focus on their ability to communicate clearly and with precision.  We care deeply about their ability to write.  We focus on their ability to analyze issues critically and with good judgment.  We teach them to lead by example and with compassion.  All skills essential to a leader in this society.  

At the same time, Bowdoin must also focus on preparing our students for lives as moral leaders.  I believe we do this at Bowdoin today, but maybe not as intentionally as we might.  Bowdoin cannot and should not set the moral or ethical standards for our students, but we can set the bar very high for them so that they understand that while⎯ the numbers are important, the mission statement is important, communication and listening are important⎯true leaders must also create and adhere to an ethical and moral standard that is consistent and just.

As I think about leadership, this lesson of an ethical standard is paramount for me.  Reputation, trust, respect and honesty are for me the most important issues for a leader and for an organization.  We will all being doing business together for a long time in our communities, and the world is very small.  I am convinced that leaders are most successful if they are true to their moral and ethical compass and that this standard is clear to everyone they deal with and throughout their organization and beyond.

There are people who succeed by means that are less than ethical by the community’s standard.  However, over the long haul the most successful are people who uphold high standards of right and wrong and who believe that honesty is truly the best policy.  This may all seem a bit trite and old school, but in the end it is a very self–interested approach to leadership.  It is self-interested because the clearest path to success in leading an organization is one where people can understand that you are reliable and wise in your judgment on a consistent basis and will deal with them fairly and candidly.

So, as we think about leadership here at Bowdoin, we talk about leadership that is grounded on these principles.

Finally⎯leadership is about creating the right team of people to work with, identifying the core mission of your organization, sticking to what the organization can do and be excellent at, and then paying attention to the details sufficiently so that critical components for success are carried out perfectly.  Leadership isn’t about being flashy or showy⎯it isn’t about ego⎯it is about enabling those around you to succeed in a manner that works for your organization.  But, in the end, it is all about excellent people with the attitude to succeed⎯in what I prefer to be a collegial atmosphere of good will and enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm for the job is vitally important to me in the leaders I work with and the colleagues I lead with.  Nothing is more enervating than to have to drag someone along towards the goal line on issue after issue.

So, these are my thoughts on leadership⎯nothing unconventional, much that is grounded in common sense.  

I congratulate each of you graduates today.  Your achievement is impressive and very important to this State.  Understanding the issues that affect our state is vitally important to the future of Maine and I commend you on the time and effort you have put into this program, making it and you a success.

Now, let’s open the discussion up to questions and debate.