Women in Leadership: Drew Gilpin Faust

SUSIE GHARIB, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR:  Meet Harvard`s first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust. As a child she got some memorable advice from her mother.

DREW GILPIN FAUST, PRESIDENT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY:  She said, it`s a man`s world sweetie and the sooner you learn that, the happier you`ll be.

GHARIB:   In this “Women in Leadership” special, we`ll tell you how this professor of history is leading the nation`s oldest and most prestigious university into the future.

Good evening everyone and welcome to this special edition of NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, “Women in Leadership.” We`re reporting today from Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since Harvard University was founded in 1636, it has built a worldwide reputation for excellence any “Fortune” 500 company would envy.  But for most of its history, Harvard has been a man`s world. Women were not admitted as undergraduates until the 1970s.  And it would take almost 40 more years for this Ivy League powerhouse to name its first female president. Her name is Drew Gilpin Faust.   Her job on this rainy afternoon was to make sure her team triumphed over arch-rival Yale.

FAUST:  I just wanted to be here and say good luck, congratulations on what you`ve done so far. And go crimson!

GHARIB:   The response was just as enthusiastic on a historic day in 2007.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The next president of Harvard University:   Drew Faust.

FAUST:   I can imagine no higher calling and no more exciting adventure than to serve as president of Harvard.

GHARIB:   But it didn`t take long for a reporter to ask the obvious question:   what did it mean to be the university`s first woman president?

FAUST:  I`m not the woman president of Harvard. I`m the president of Harvard and I was chosen as the president of Harvard.

GHARIB:   Faust learned she had been selected at a secret meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Cambridge. Members of the university`s governing board were waiting to deliver the news. What was your reaction?

FAUST:  I was thrilled, excited, sobered. I thought I just have given them my life.

GHARIB:   Did you ever picture yourself being president of a university?

FAUST:  That day I did. If you take me back to when I was six years old or when I was 20 years old or even when I was 40 years old, no.

GHARIB:   And Harvard?

FAUST:  And Harvard and Harvard.

GHARIB:   Why did you want it?

FAUST:  If someone asks you to be president of Harvard, you say yes.

GHARIB:   Harvard. It is a place brimming in history and tradition.

Over almost four centuries, the university has drawn the best and the brightest to spend time inside its ivied walls.  Eight U.S. presidents have walked to classes here, including John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, as well as 19 Supreme Court justices. When the latest Nobel prizes were announced, seven winners had studied in Harvard`s hallowed halls.  The university recently celebrated its 375th birthday.

President Faust kept a close eye on the festivities. Students, faculty and alumni gathered to commemorate the occasion. Being president of Harvard has myriad responsibilities.

FAUST:  Thank you to our incredible performers.

GHARIB:   On this night, it was master of ceremonies. What is your job, in a nutshell?

FAUST:  My job is to represent Harvard to the world, to set its strategic directions and to build the kind of consensus and engagement around the university that enables us to maintain the very highest standards.

GHARIB:   Harvard is a sprawling enterprise with 12 graduate schools, six museums, 71 libraries, 15 affiliated teaching hospitals, more than 400 science labs, plus research and study centers in 15 foreign countries.  It has more than 15,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $4 billion.

Faust oversees it all from the oldest building on Harvard`s campus. George Washington used it to house his troops during the revolutionary war.

GHARIB:   How much power do you have?

FAUST:  I don`t know how to answer that question.  Power here is often negotiated and not asserted. It is a very political environment in many ways and a lot of power operates through my ability to persuade people to follow me, rather than my ability to order them around.

GHARIB:   The deans of Harvard`s many schools have historically enjoyed a level of independence almost unheard of at other universities.

Add to that the tenure system, which means Faust can`t fire many of her employees and it quickly becomes obvious why her ability to persuade rather than demand is so critical. Her secret, she says, is listening.

FAUST:  Because when you listen to someone, you can understand where they are and then you can figure out how you`re going to move them towards where you want them to be. What are the elements of their perception that you might alter or respond to that might enable you to persuade them or incentivize them or drag them to the place you need them to be?

GHARIB:   One person who`s witnessed her powers of persuasion is Charles Rosenberg. He`s a Harvard professor, who teaches about the history of science and medicine.  He`s also been married to Faust for more than 30 years.

CHARLES ROSENBERG, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY:  I think one of her advantages is she has a kind of inner self confidence. She doesn`t have to walk into a room and say, I`m the smartest boy in the room.  I think some people may have underestimated her. We somehow associate big egos with big brains.  And she`s got a big brain, but she doesn`t have a big ego.

GHARIB:   Faust`s quiet confidence was evident at a young age. She grew up in rural Virginia in the 1950s when the expectations for women were far different.

GHARIB:   What did your mother want you to be?

FAUST:  She officially wanted me to be a wife and mother. But I think she was a person very frustrated by her own life and the limitations that that era put on her life. She was not well-educated.  She never graduated from high school. She never worked for pay in her entire life.

GHARIB:   She gave you some very pragmatic advice about the way the world worked, right?

FAUST:  She said, it`s a man`s world, sweetie. And the sooner you learn that, the happier you`ll be.

GHARIB:   What did you make of that?

FAUST:  I thought, I`m not going to do that. I`m not going to settle.

GHARIB:   Young Drew was told to be ladylike, but she had a hard time complying. You call yourself a rebellious daughter. What were you rebelling against?

FAUST:  Being a lady.  From the time I was very small, I didn`t want to be wearing itchy, pink, organdy dresses. I didn`t like it that my brothers were allowed to do things that I wasn`t allowed to do.  I was a tomboy.  I was very assertive about my rights.

GHARIB:   Faust was the only girl in her family. She has three brothers, including Don Gilpin. He`s a high school English teacher.

DON GILPIN, BROTHER: In a male-dominated society, we outnumbered her in the household, too. And I think she realized that in some sense, the rules were set up against her. My brother, older brother, was always trying to foist games on us or civil war battles where he would win, because he was Robert E. Lee and nobody could ever beat Robert E. Lee. And she would have to be Burnside and I would be some lesser general because I was younger. So, but — and she — she tolerated some of that. But mainly, she went her own way.

GHARIB:   Early on, Faust had to learn to fend for herself in a man`s world.  But according to Gilpin, the women in the family were strong and assertive.

GILPIN:  The men in the family were in control, theoretically.  But — and not just Drew, but, other women in the family were the ones that held things together and they were the ones who were the most competent. I mean, apologies to all you men in my family, but they really were.

GHARIB:   Faust also came of age at a time that was unkind and unfair to African Americans. Even as a young girl, she decided to make her thoughts on the matter known. You wrote a letter to President Eisenhower:

Dear Mr. Eisenhower, I am nine years old and I am white. But I have many feelings about segregation.

Why did you write that letter?

FAUST:  I wrote that letter because I was in a community that was segregated, in which blacks and whites were kept apart. And I looked around and I thought, hey, everyone in my school is white.  If I were a black person, I couldn`t come to my school.  And I thought, this isn`t fair.

GHARIB:   Many years later, Faust was able to dig up that letter at the Eisenhower library. It was meaningful for her and not just as a historian.

FAUST:   I was proud. I felt, wow, I was more of a person at nine than I am now.  And am I – how can I be worthy of that nine-year-old who took this very dramatic stand and saw so clearly. And I — I worried, do I see as clearly now?   Do I speak out in the ways that are important?  And have I lived up to that nine-year-old?

GHARIB:   Four years later, Faust headed north to attend Concord Academy, at the time an all-girls school.

FAUST:   It was wonderful.  It was really wonderful. I arrived at Concord Academy a week before my 13th birthday.  And I felt, here was a world in which young women were taken really seriously. This ideology of what a woman was supposed to be, or a lady was supposed to be just seemed so much less present.

GHARIB:   At Concord, Faust was elected student body president. Then it was on to college. Many men in her family attended Princeton, but it wasn`t an option for Drew. Princeton didn`t admit women until 1969.

Instead, she went to Bryn Mawr, a prestigious women`s college outside Philadelphia, where she was again elected president of the student body and was active in the civil rights movement. You marched in Selma, right?

FAUST:   In the spring of my freshman year, the Selma campaign was gaining momentum, and my then boyfriend and I said, we have to go to Selma. We just can`t stand here and not speak out and not say, we care and this matters.

GHARIB:   It was a very violent time. Weren`t you scared?

FAUST:   I was scared. I was very scared. But somehow, when you`re that age, you think you`re immortal, slightly anyway. And I just felt, this is defining of who I am, and I — I have to do this.

GHARIB:   After graduating from Bryn Mawr, Faust received her Ph.D in American civilization and became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she won two major teaching awards. She was also gaining a reputation as a historian`s historian, writing highly regarded books that took a fresh look at central questions about the civil war.  At Penn, she was offered a variety of high-level administrative jobs, but she turned them all down.

FAUST:  I did not want to be a university administrator. I wanted to be a scholar and a teacher.  And when I was asked to consider jobs that took me out of the classroom and away from my scholarship, I said, no, I don`t want to do that.

GHARIB:   But in 2001, Harvard President Neil Rudenstine (ph) came calling. The university had been co-ed for years and its famous sister school, Radcliffe College, was being transformed into a think tank partly focused on women and gender. The new Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study needed a dean. This time, Faust said yes.

FAUST:   The Radcliffe job seemed so attractive, because it seemed one that mattered a lot for the place of women at Harvard. And I`d also — my daughter was about to graduate from high school. I had had a second bout of cancer the year before. I`d had breast cancer in 1988. And then I had thyroid cancer in 1999. And I — I think it just makes you think, risk?

What the heck?

GHARIB:   The same year Faust arrived in Cambridge, Harvard got a new president:   former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

ELIAS GROLL, FORMER MANAGING EDITOR, THE HARVARD CRIMSON:  Larry Summers was absolutely beloved by the student body.

GHARIB:   Elias Groll was, until recently, managing editor of the “Harvard Crimson” — the university`s student newspaper.

GROLL:  Larry was someone who came into Harvard with a very clear vision for what he wanted to do as president and then tried to execute on that vision, you know, by any means necessary.

GHARIB:   A key part of Summers` vision was a grand plan to significantly increase the university`s footprint with a new campus in neighboring Allston, including a billion-dollar state-of-the-art science center. The university was able to afford the expansion thanks to a rising endowment. Summers was seen as a change agent and quickly made his presence felt across campus. But his opinionated and brash style eventually landed him in hot water. In 2005, Summers created a furor when he gave a speech and raised the issue of women`s aptitude for the hard sciences.  Soon after, Harvard`s faculty of arts and sciences passed a vote of no confidence in him.  Within a year, Summers was gone and Harvard was searching for a new president.  In February, 2007, the news was out:   Drew Faust had been chosen.

SHEILA WELLINGTON, NYU PROFESSOR, WOMEN`S LEADERSHIP:  Everyone recognizes the name Harvard. To have a woman leading this extraordinary, complex multimillion dollar institution recognized throughout the globe is a major statement about the advancement of women in leadership.

GHARIB:   Sheila Wellington is an expert on women`s leadership and has written many books on women in business.

WELLINGTON:  Drew Faust had leadership, she had smarts, but she also has dignity and operational capacity. That`s an unusual combination. She`s got it.

GHARIB:   Bill Lee identified those same qualities in Faust. He`s a Harvard graduate and co- managing partner in the Boston-based law firm Wilmer-Hale. He also served on the presidential search committee.

BILL LEE, CO-MANAGING PARTNER, WILMERHALE:  What she had was strength of character, an integrity and an ability to communicate and engage with a broad cross-section of people that we were confident that would make her a great president.  The other thing she had was a personality and a persona that would be good for Harvard at that time in its history.

JOHN LAUERMAN, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  One of the main reasons that the Harvard Corporation must have found Faust so appealing is that in many ways she`s the anti-Summers. Larry Summers was a controversy-seeking missile and there was controversy about him almost throughout his tenure at Harvard.

LEE:  When she came in, one of her jobs was to calm everybody down and get them focused on the task of moving Harvard forward.  And one of the marvelous things she did is, in her very first year, she literally imposed her personality on the campus, someone who was intellectually dominant but calm and collected and a great communicator. And the campus calmed down and got focused on the task of moving Harvard forward.

GHARIB:   But a little over a year into her presidency, Faust was dealt an even bigger challenge when the global financial crisis hit with a vengeance.

FAUST:  I think, for me, as for many people, it was almost unreal. I remember September of 2008 and we would watch the stock market. We would hear these firms that we thought were immortal were disappearing. It was unclear what was going to happen one day to the next.

GHARIB:   Harvard`s investing prowess had long been the envy of the financial world. At its peak, the university`s endowment, totaled almost $37 billion, but when global markets plummeted, so did Harvard`s riches.

FAUST:  A lot of people at Harvard thought that Harvard was so financially strong that it would be immune and that was a problem, because we knew it wasn`t immune.

GHARIB:   $11 billion of the endowment were wiped out. Short on cash, Harvard went to the bond markets to raise money. The civil war historian learned quickly about interest rate swaps, leverage, and liquidity. Robert Rubin was one of her mentors. He is a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. Treasury secretary.  Today, he sits on Harvard`s governing board, known as the Harvard Corporation.

ROBERT RUBIN, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY:  She picked up the financial dimensions of what she faced with remarkable speed.  And it wasn`t that she — only that she understood it intellectually, though she did, but she also internalized it. She knew what it meant. And she was able to make decisions and they were very tough decisions. She was able to make them expeditiously as they needed to be made. And then she was able to work with others. And this was the absolutely critical part, I think, work with others in the institution to actually get done what needed to get done.

GHARIB:   Other universities chose to hold off on making painful budget cuts, hoping the market would soon recover. But Faust decided that Harvard needed to dramatically cut its expenses and fast.  The crisis though worked in Faust`s favor, at least according to Michael Porter, Harvard business school professor and one of the world`s leading experts on corporate strategy.

MICHAEL PORTER, PROF., HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL:  First of all, she`d had a past — a predecessor who had been very divisive. And the institution was in turmoil. And the crisis was a way, “A” first of bringing the university together, around survival and then secondly, allowing her to make some tough decisions without actually getting branded with, you know, oh, that`s just another Larry Summers   It was very helpful to her. And in universities, it`s particularly hard to make change in any case. And so the crisis was unusually helpful to her and I think she took good advantage of it.

GHARIB:   She did so in a big way. Faust pushed through an unprecedented change in Harvard`s governing board. She decided that more members with key expertise would better meet Harvard`s needs in the 21st century.  So she doubled the number of trustees, something none of her 27 predecessors ever dared to try.

LEE:  If you think about the fact that the corporation was organized in 1650, the oldest corporation in America, when the university was about a hundred students in Cambridge. Today, it`s a $3.7 billion organization with literally tens of thousands of students. The idea that the same six-person corporation could manage and fulfill a fiduciary obligation to that larger institution makes no sense.

GHARIB:   Another big change, Larry Summers` billion dollar science Mecca had to stop. Faust decided Harvard could no longer afford it and halted construction.

FAUST:   It was a hard decision because the university had cited Allston as a symbol of the future, of progress and science.  And I ultimately decided that the symbolism of what Allston had become was very important, but the reality of the finances had to carry the day.

GHARIB:   Throughout the crisis, Faust met regularly with Michael Porter. She even attended a workshop he holds for new CEOs of multibillion dollar companies.

PORTER:  She was just fascinated by learning about the role of CEO and she did great. I think our — CEOs that were here from the private sector came away very impressed; I certainly was.

GHARIB:   Just as in corporate board rooms, women at the highest levels of power at Harvard are newcomers. You know, looking at these portraits, you see Harvard presidents, professors, deans — a lot of men, hardly any women on that wall.

FAUST:   Well, Harvard has been here for a very long time, starting in 1636. And it was not seen as suitable to have women educated in the same way as men, or certainly not playing leadership roles in the same way as men. But we had a dramatic departure from that prevailing wisdom with Elizabeth Cary Agassiz here, who was the founder and first president of Radcliffe College, because she believed that women were capable of being educated in just the same way as men. So she`s a kind of pioneer in Harvard history.

GHARIB:   Today, this scholar of the past is taking Harvard into the future keeping the university at the forefront of stem cell research, bioengineering and genomics. You`re focusing a lot on science and technology. Why is that so important?

FAUST:   Well, science and technology are obviously enormously significant to the 21st century, to making a difference in the world, to improving human lives, to building a better, more sustainable planet.

GHARIB:   Harvard has long been known for departments and schools working independently.  Faust has been pushing hard for greater collaboration. She believes Harvard`s future success depends on an idea she calls one university.

FAUST:  Harvard has such widely distributed strengths in its many strong areas of engagement and teaching and research. And if we think about those strengths working together and taking advantage of one another you get, through that synergy, an even greater ability to accomplish what we want to in teaching and in research.

GHARIB:   Students and faculty from across Harvard are now working together in an unprecedented way to solve global health problems, find cures for diseases and advance basic scientific knowledge.

FAUST:   I`m now in a position where I have an extraordinary array of opportunities across this university to try to have an impact on the world.

It`s just such a marvelous outcome for me to have been able to become the person who`s not just a nine-year-old who can write a letter, but someone who can have an impact through all these means across this extraordinary institution.

GHARIB:   Faust is now in her fifth year as president. How is she doing?

LEE:  I think she`s doing wonderfully. I think if you had said to her when she became the president, here`s what you have to do.  You have to calm the campus down.  You have to bring us through the biggest financial crisis the university has ever confronted. You then have to make us competitive and a global platform, I could see someone saying, thanks, but I`m not interested.  She not only was interested, she`s embraced it. She`s gotten us through the worst and to a point where we can move forward. Her goal now is to make sure that 50 years from now Harvard is as preeminent as it is today.

GHARIB:   When the Harvard history book is written, what do you want to be remembered for?

FAUST:  I want to be remembered for making Harvard understand that change is constant, endemic and necessary.

GHARIB:   Your mother was not alive when you were named president of Harvard. What do you think she would say about you becoming the first woman to run the most prestigious and powerful university in the world?

FAUST:  She would have been proud.  She would have been proud.  But she would have been especially proud because I would have been able to tell her it wasn`t a man`s world.  It`s everyone`s world.


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