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
AR: I hear you were a big man on campus at UNC – what was your undergrad experience like?
PH: I wouldn't say I was a big man on campus, but it was a great experience for me. I went to school as a student athlete who wanted to get great grades and play football, but I left as a budding scholar. UNC recaptured my imagination and woke up the slumbering scholar in me. While the NFL wasn't in my career path, I learned some valuable lessons getting beat up on the field. I'm resilient and not afraid of getting knocked down – I get right back up and that is critically important in business when you are trying to break through – or find your way around – closed doors and brick walls.
AR: So, you went from Jamaica to Chicago and Stanford to NYU – do you have something against nice weather?
PH: It's funny - I never fully recovered from the shock of moving from Jamaica to the Midwest in the middle of winter. When I got to Stanford, I thought I would never leave, the weather is beautiful! But as an economist, you understand there are trade-offs and the opportunity for an immigrant kid from Jamaica to be part of a business school in New York City within a global network university at a pivotal point in history was too good to pass up. Cold weather or not!
AR: The first time I heard you speak you said that there was only one Dean position you would have accepted, and the rest is history…what was it about Stern that made it your first and only choice?
PH: Well first of all I wasn't looking to be the Dean of anything. I was content as a professor, I had my autonomy, but the opportunity was very compelling. NYU is a forward looking institution and our best days are ahead of us. Ultimately, there were two main selling points: NYU was fully embracing the global growth story and there are things you can do at NYU that you can't do at any other university, mainly because of its entrepreneurial spirit. Before accepting I asked myself, "If I want to help make the world a better place, where do I have the best chance of doing that?" The answer was NYU Stern.
AR: Moving on to your work with the Obama Administration's transition team, can you tell us about it?
PH: I had two jobs with the Obama campaign. The first was leading the economics and globalization team of external advisors. After the campaign, I was asked by the Presidential Transition Team to lead the agency review process of the international lending agencies, such as the IMF and World Bank. November 2008 was a critical time. Just 10 months earlier some people were suggesting winding down the IMF for lack of borrowers, and now we were in danger of running out of money to provide liquidity to emerging markets. The administration, along with the G20, followed our recommendation, which was to give the IMF more liquidity, not necessarily to use, but as a show of force.
AR: At that point the economy was in shambles – looking back are you surprised by where we are today?
PH: I don't think the administration gets enough credit for taking this crisis by the horns and preventing a much deeper recession than the one we had, but it's hard to get people to give you credit for a counter-factual.
AR: During this time did it seem plausible that within two years the IMF would be making emergency loans to three Eurozone countries?
PH: A lot of people were taken by surprise because there was so much focus on the U.S. and the emerging markets at the time. But the events were not entirely surprising. Even in 2008, we knew Ireland and Iceland had problems.
AR: Any hobbies or interests you want to share with us?
PH: Well, right now my greatest source of fun is playing with my four boys.
AR: Cubs or White Sox?
PH: Now you're getting to the serious questions. Definitely Cubs. [answered with an optimism that can only exist among Cubs fans two-weeks into the season].
AR: New York or Chicago pizza?
PH: Both – I'm a diplomat.
AR: DC or Marvel comics?
PH: DC. Superman was a favorite. Though my cousin works for Marvel, he may not be happy about that.
AR: Favorite Authors?
PH: I like Hemingway, Naguib Mahfouz and Langston Hughes.
AR: Favorite Place you've traveled to?
PH: The Caribbean.
AR: Do you get a free parking spot?
PH: Yes, one comes with my apartment.
AR: Can I use it when you're out of town?
AR: As this is the last Oppy issue for our graduating MBAs, can you give us some wisdom for the road?
PH: To participate in the global growth story you need to understand the consumer in the emerging world and the impact the expanding middle class in those countries will have on future business decisions. For instance, CPG is now a lot more than just selling cereal and detergent to families in the U.S.; it's figuring out what consumers in Brazil, China, and India want and more important, how they want it. This differs greatly from market to market - take Ghana for example. A trip to the market for the average consumer isn't to pick up food for the week. It's to pick up food for the day!
Don't be afraid to take risks and don't be afraid of failure. When you fall, get up. It is a big world out there, full of problems that need solving. Be open! In fact, problems are just opportunities thought about in an incorrect way. To seize these opportunities, you will need to be comfortable with complexity, ambiguity and a changing world that doesn't live in a finance, economics, operations or marketing silo. CEOs want to hire talent that can think across all those disciplines in collaboration with others. Problems don't show up in your inbox titled "Marketing Case 137!" Don't think of yourself as a finance or marketing person, you are an educated graduate of NYU Stern with the ability to frame and solve complex problems of many different stripes.
AR: Thanks for your time and words of wisdom.
PH: My pleasure. Good luck.