Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 25, 2000
'It helps to be, as our students might put it, way cool'

This is the prepared text of President Emeritus Don Kennedy's speech at the inauguration of John L. Hennessy on Friday, Oct. 20, 2000.

Members of the Stanford family: I am Don Kennedy, and it is my privilege to introduce our friend Isaac Stein, who will shortly invest John Hennessy with the mantle of his new office. This happy duty falls to Isaac because he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees.

A brief digression. To my surprise, during my own term in Building 10, I was often asked by students, in some bewilderment: "What is a trustee?" The short answer is that, as the legal guardians of a public trust, they are responsible for sustaining both the constancy of its purpose and the health of its assets. Thus, they stand not only for Stanford's present but for its future -- for the as-yet-undreamed-of research project, and for the unborn Class of 2050. They also get to pick the president, and that returns us to the moment.

Although newly appointed to the chairman's role, for which we say mazel tov, Isaac is hardly new to the board or to Stanford. He is thus much too well known to require more than the briefest introduction. A joint MBA and J.D. from Stanford, he was a partner at the Heller/Ehrman law firm in San Francisco, later general counsel and CFO of Raychem Corp. He now leads Waverley Associates, a private investment firm. John, you are establishing a precedent here that may be difficult to follow in other inaugurations. You are soon about to be invested by an actual investor.

Neither do I need to introduce Stanford to Isaac, who knows us well. I first met him when he joined the hospital board, to which he contributed an incisive intellect, a deepening knowledge of the arcane content of health policy and experienced leadership of its finance committee. To my delight, he undertook service on the national advisory board of the Haas Center for Public Service. And as a trustee, he has served brilliantly, performing enough good deeds to be punished with the chairmanship.

Indeed, the familiarity and friendship between Isaac and Stanford leave so little need for introduction that I decided to fill my modest time allotment by helping Isaac count his blessings. Here are several; forgive me if, for each one, I mention an obligation that is likely to accompany the blessing.

First, you will soon get to inaugurate a president who has earned the enthusiastic approval of every sector of this community. You will surely enjoy your subsequent service with him -- unless, of course, he tries to make you spend all your time at the Medical Center. The contingent obligation: You may find that he sometimes doesn't really need you and the board very much -- except when something goes wrong, and then he will need you, and their commitment, very much. I was lucky enough to serve with four superb board leaders. At one or more critical points, each of them proved an invaluable source of advice and support.

Second, you have 32 or so excellent colleagues of diverse backgrounds and histories, similar to one another mainly in their dedication to Stanford. You already know the kind of collegiality that has become a hallmark of the board's work, and it will add joy to the tasks of leadership. With that may come some need for morale building: They will, if history of boards the world over tells us anything, complain from time to time about not having enough important decisions to make, or that they are not consulted enough. But their support will be always unfailing, often wise, and occasionally, when things get tough, indispensable.

Third, not one of them -- not a single one! -- was appointed because of some ideology or political debt -- thus immunizing you against the embarrassment and stress that has become endemic in our more politicized public institutions. This blessing allows -- and obliges -- you and the board to bring thoughtful, uncorrupted judgment to the task of supporting and defending a great university -- and its promising new president. As you conduct this task, help your board colleagues to moderate their expectations, perhaps by reminding them of the old saying that trustees look for a degree of perfection in their presidents that the English expect only in their butlers. Empathize warmly with their stress levels when Stanford receives unfair criticism in the newspapers -- for its curriculum, for its reluctance to be the recreational and open space resource for the entire Peninsula, for the band, whatever. Empathize warmly, while reminding them that today's newspaper wraps tomorrow's fish. One of your blessings is a judicious and even temperament; it helps to be, as our students might put it, way cool.

That's it. Multiply blessed, may your tenure, and that of your investee, be long and productive, and rewarding. Members of the Stanford family, please welcome Isaac Stein.