Solve Problems, Think Global
Dean Henry's life lessons and advice for the future
Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:05
If you haven't met Dean Henry, please say hello the next time you see him. He wants to hear what you have to say. I had the pleasure of meeting with Dean Henry recently to discuss his first year as Dean and his vision for Stern. We also talked about his work with the Obama transition team, his childhood and the lessons he learned on the football field.
Alex Ruthizer: Dean Henry, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me. Let's start off with an easy one – How has your first year at Stern been?
Peter Henry: It's been great, even better now that I'm not commuting between New York and California! My kids couldn't move to New York until the school year was over, so I was going back and forth quite a bit. It was challenging, but we're settled now. The energy at Stern is just incredible and the collaborative community is something that really stands out for me. It's funny because everyone talks about this, but as an outsider and an empirical economist I didn't quite know what to make of it until I got here.
AR: What is your long-term vision for Stern?
PH: A university exists to improve the human condition and that's why I love to do what I do - and I am lucky to do it at such an exceptional place! It's really about solving the problems of business. Whether it's allocating capital and resources more efficiently or reaching consumers in emerging markets, I want our students to be problem solvers. The experience of going to business school should be transformational, not transactional. I want our graduates to broadly apply the skills they learn and become great thinkers with global mindsets. And of course when they leave here, they'll be great on the transactional side too!
AR: What changes are you working on?
PH: I have three strategic priorities for Stern: the deepening and diversification of excellence, greater alumni engagement and a greater leveraging of NYU. We are an outstanding school in finance and I want to get even better! Having said that, it's important that people understand that we are excellent in many things. One area of opportunity I am very excited for is the emerging economies, which now account for more than half of global economic growth. To understand global business, you have to understand emerging markets and I am very focused on deepening our strength in international economics. In fact, Mike Spence joined us last year from Stanford and brings with him a deep and unique expertise in emerging economies. I also want to broaden and engage our alumni network globally and our President, John Sexton is very committed to this as well. We have NYU Abu Dhabi and by 2013 we will have NYU Shanghai. NYU is the first foreign university ever invited by Chinese officials to grant degrees in the country. Just think about that – in 5-10 years, NYU and Stern graduates will be part of a truly international alumni network, with a connection to China that no other university can offer.
AR: Can you tell us about your upbringing? What drove you at a young age?
PH: I was born in Kingston Jamaica, but grew up in a very rural parish called St. Mary. My Mom did research on plant pathology and my Dad had a really cool job – he was a chemist, developing new chocolate products for Cadbury's. We had 20 acres, 4 dogs and could see the Caribbean Sea from our veranda. We had goats, rabbits and cows, but no telephone, just an Encyclopedia Britannica. It was amazing.
AR: No iPhone?
PH: Nope, just a few television stations. We left when I was nine and moved to suburban Chicago. One of the things I noticed, and became curious about in Chicago was the huge difference in living standards between the U.S. and Jamaica. That curiosity drove my early interest in school and when I got to college I chose to study economics. I love math and science, and I love problem solving. Economics was a way for me to pull those subjects together and answer the questions I had as a kid about differences across nations. The opportunity to do that is all I ever wanted, which maybe explains why I didn't have a lot of friends growing up!
AR: Is that what led you to teaching?
PH: Yes. I love teaching because there is nothing like the power of ideas.
AR: What is your leadership style – any specific experiences that shaped it?
PH: I'm slow to anger, quick to forgive. I know I sound like a Sunday school teacher, but this job is actually similar to being a clergyman. I listen to a lot of constituencies, each with ideas and passion for moving the School forward, and though all ideas are not equal, everyone gets a fair hearing. The experiences that have shaped my leadership style more than anything else were growing up in a family of four kids and then having four kids of my own. As number three of four, I learned to observe and take in information, like watching what my older siblings did with my parents to figure out what works and what doesn't. I'm a collaborative person, I'm analytical and I take in a lot of information before making a decision. I tell people I like to cook in a crock pot, not a frying pan. I don't make (flash-fry) decisions too quickly. I like to let things simmer, add a few ingredients, see how it tastes and examine how the process is working. I am intensely competitive when it comes to wanting the best for Stern students, but on a personal level I am not very competitive. That comes from playing team sports, where I learned that being the best player on the team wasn't important. I just wanted to give my best effort to be part of a winning team. My job calls on me to be the face of the School, and I'm happy to be Stern's ambassador to the world, but I'm not intrinsically interested in the limelight. It's about winning, which is getting the best people and placing them where they can make the Stern experience even more transformational.