Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

An Interview with Edward J. Kurtz President and Chief Executive Officer Baker College (Special Reprint from Vol. 5, No. 1)

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

An Interview with Edward J. Kurtz President and Chief Executive Officer Baker College (Special Reprint from Vol. 5, No. 1)

Article excerpt

Leadership is a skill that is needed by managers in all organizations, public and private alike. In this interview, conducted by Richard Hodgetts (RI-I), editor of the Journal, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Baker College, Edward J. Kurtz (EK), discusses his philosophy and style of leadership.

Richard Hodgetts: Let me start by asking you a couple of questions about Baker College. What's been the key to the college's success?

Edward Kurtz: Interesting question. We have a lot of folks who come around and want to know if there's some secret we know that no one else does. Actually, there is no secret. It's just hard work. I have always said that if the competition works one day, we will work two. If they work 40 hours, we will work 50. If they work five days, we will work six. And if there is any other thing that has contributed, it would be the willingness to accept and embrace change. A lack of being willing to change makes you go backwards and kills your chances for success.

RH: When you first came to Baker, how many students were in the system?

EK: Less than 200 students. That would have been in 1968. Today, as a matter of fact, we just went over 15,000. Everybody is really tickled with having met that milestone.

RH: Did you see where education was going back in 1968? Were you aware of something no one else saw?

EK: No, I don't think it had to do with forward thinking as much as it did with being an applied educator. At Baker from the beginning, we were really intent on training for careers and training in a hands-on environment. Our mission was basically to train people for jobs in the shortest amount of time possible and to make sure they all got jobs at the end of the training. If there is anything we saw as a vision, it was a growing need for trained, technically competent people. People with specific skills versus broad-based skills. So it was that mission of being a career college or training for high demand job areas that contributed to our success as much as anything.

RH: Where do you see that going, say, within the next 10 years?

EK: I don't see any change at all. In fact, the only difference when comparing today against 20 years ago, is that today people have to be more well-grounded in mathematics and science than they had to be in the past.

RH: In running an organization as large as Baker, you've got a number of people you appoint to various positions, is there something that you look for in leaders that you feel makes them successful?

EK: Yes, high energy. I look for people who first have talent, but secondly, who have a very, very high energy level. When folks come to work for Baker College, or when we hire people, we basically make them one promise. We will give them the opportunity to work harder here than anywhere else they could go; then we set about making that come true. And if I have any leadership skill at all, it's not being willing to accept anything less than a person's best.

RH: Besides hard work, what else do you find successful people have in common?

EK: Confidence. Folks who are successful are people that will say to me, "Here's what needs to be done. Here's what I want to do. And I am willing to pay the price for being able to make those decisions." In other words, it is folks who are committed and believe in what they are about.

In all of the years in this role, when a person sits down across from me and I'm interviewing them, I can tell very quickly whether or not they have leadership abilities. However, I can't tell them how to get it. I can't say to someone, you don't have a vision for future and here's how you can get one. You either have a vision or you don't have a vision. You either have confidence in your abilities or you don't have confidence in your abilities. Leaders are those folks who are willing to make decisions and are willing to be held accountable for those decisions. …

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