Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Midwestern University: Leadership under Pressure

Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Midwestern University: Leadership under Pressure

Article excerpt

"Not a damn dime! I will never give to Midwestern University again!" That seemed to be the sentiment of alumni who were posting comments to the University Foundation website. In private conversations with potential donors, many wanted to know why the faculty voted to unionize. On top of the economic downturn, the state was also experiencing political upheaval. Protests in the capital fueled the collective bargaining fire. Bill Davidson, Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of the Midwestern University Foundation, was concerned. Because of dwindling state support, Midwestern University increasingly relied on donors for student scholarships.

Bill Davidson

Being the leader of a university foundation was an unintended career path. Originally Bill planned on being a faculty member and looked forward to teaching and conducting research. He achieved his Ph.D. in German. At the time of his graduation there were few faculty openings requiring this skill set. He took a temporary assignment with a private university raising funds for student scholarships. He loved the challenge of identifying prospective donors, establishing rapport, building a relationship, and connecting a donor with a student or university project in need.

A key influence during this time was his boss, Mike. A "type A, extrovert, who was very aggressive", Mike had integrity and credibility both on campus and among shareholders in the university community. He was a thoughtful administrator and recognized strengths in his team. Mike gave Bill responsibilities that stretched his knowledge and Bill accepted the challenge. He surpassed expectations, securing major donations and easily adopted Foundation work as his new career path. Similarly, Bill learned from others how not to do some things. He worked for some administrators whose ego prevented them from admitting they were wrong. There were inherent problems with this level of egotism that created issues for foundations Bill worked for.

Bill's motto in life was to 'be more than you seem'. He worked diligently and felt others should receive credit. He described his 85/15 philosophy as putting in 85% of the effort in receipt of 15% of the credit so that others could receive 85% of the credit.

As one of the three Vice Chancellors at Midwestern University (MU), Bill Davidson directed the Foundation. This was his second term at the Foundation. Earlier, in 1981, he also served as Director. He then worked for a private university for twelve years as their Foundation Director and one year as interim university President From there, Bill worked at a small public university in Minnesota, directing their Foundation, for four years before returning to MU in late 2007 as Vice Chancellor of University Advancement (Foundation Director) and Marketing.

His job responsibilities at MU included: supervision of the marketing function at MU in addition to serving on several committees such as the: Chancellor's Advisory Council, Chancellor's Cabinet, Strategic Planning Group, Memorials and Honors Committee, and Executive Committee to the Foundation Board of Directors. Among all these responsibilities, Bill considered major gift prospecting as the most value added. He liked linking people with money to the interest and needs of campus. "If I can do that, then I've made a difference," Bill had said. He described his leadership style in this way, "treat people with respect and listen to them.. .really it's just common sense things."

When he arrived back at MU in 2007 he inherited a group of 12 employees. Consistent with his philosophy of treating people with respect, he conducted an inventory of this group in order to understand who they were; he identified their talents and wondered how he might further develop their skills. He earmarked professional development for major gift fundraising for staff that needed it most.

Bill led by example, as he said, "putting in the hours and being there". …

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