This is the third installment in a series of profiles of the North Bay’s Most Influential Leaders. Nominations are welcome at www.northbaybusinessjournal.com.
Previously profiled: James A. Andersen, Dante Benedetti, Russell A. Colombo, David I. Freed, James B. Keegan, Brian Kelly, Thomas B. Klein, Gary D. Nelson, Steve Page, Lawrence Simons, Matt White, Jim Adams, Rachel M. Dollar, Rob McMillan, Al Coppin, Daniel J. Duckhorn, Mark Idhe, Stan Mead, Dave Siembieda and Iver Skavdal
Joseph R. Fink
Company: Dominican University of California
Company address: 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael 94901
Staff: 355 faculty, 171 full-time staff, 535 total including deans
Professional background: President, Misericordia University, Dallas, Pa., for nine years prior to becoming president at Dominican in 1988
Education: Ph.D., American History, Rutgers University; A.B., History, Rider University; Honorary doctorate degrees from Rider, College Misericordia and Golden Gate University
What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? The role of a leader is to establish a vision, to put together a team of people who support the vision and do it in a collaborative way, and to ensure it is transparent and has a great integrity. I think it’s become more important to be transparent than ever and to be collegial in your decision-making process.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry? In California, independent colleges are becoming better known for their contributions to higher education. And, with the shortfall in the economy in California, state institutions are in a condition of chaos. The master plan of higher education that was established a couple of decades ago no longer pertains because it is simply not being followed or funded. On a national level, there is a greater emphasis on online learning, and for-profit institutions of higher education have expanded dramatically. While online learning is a satisfactory way to learn, it’s not the best way because all learning does not take place in the four walls of a classroom. The social interaction amongst students is as important as any technical interaction. It’s important for students to have a liberal arts core because they are going to change jobs more than once, and they’re probably going to change careers more than once. We’re probably training people today for jobs that don’t even exist right now.
What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? The most important thing is to be bold in your thoughts and in your actions. And admit your mistakes. If you’re not going to be bold, why bother?
What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment? To be true to your mission and to plan for the years that are going to occur once the economic environment comes back. Don’t plan only for tomorrow. Plan for the next several years.
How do you think your business will change in the next five years? In regard to my personal responsibility, Dominican University, we will see much more global interaction, more international students, more faculty/student exchanges, more cooperative agreements now with other universities in different nations of the world. We have cooperative arrangements with schools in France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and other nations, for example. Because of the state’s economic difficulties, enrollment will grow in independent institutions. Students will find the ability to go to state institutions more difficult. I think you can say that’s true for the nation at large as well.
What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it? Over the years we have raised more than $80 million for the university, but once I touted a small capital campaign ($6 million) for a project at Dominican without adequately studying the potential feasibility of its success. What I learned was at times confidence can overcome reason, and while it’s important to be confident in what you do, make sure you do it with adequate preparation.
What is your most memorable business experience? The decision to respond to the demographic changes taking place in California and to find ways to open the institution up to people who normally couldn’t afford to come to a place like this, which meant going out and raising a great deal of money for scholarships and financial aid. But also raising millions of dollars to ensure that the support services were here once those students came to the school.
What is your greatest business success? Changing the institution from a small, quiet college to a vibrant university with quadrupled enrollment, with its budget going from $7 million to $60 million, with its facilities’ square footage almost doubled
What was your toughest business decision? To decide that the first major building that was going to be built on the campus for the first time in over 30 years was going to be a recreation center. Most people wanted it to be an academic building. I wanted it to be a rec center because I wanted to attract more traditional freshmen to the institution. It paid off handsomely at the university.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? While I’m perceived as a pragmatist, I’m also a person who is very spiritual; I was delegate for George McGovern in 1972; in my 20s I was dean of arts and sciences at an all-black college in Chicago.
First job: History professor
Most admired businessperson outside the company: Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Walter O’Malley
Current reading: Re-reading Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim”
Most want to meet: I’d like to have dinner with Franklin Roosevelt, Noel Coward, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kennedy and Eva Peron
Stress relievers: Working out in the university’s gym
Favorite activities outside work: Spending time with my twins, watching them grow and develop, and watching Dominican’s athletic teams as they make the exciting transition into NCAA Division II and the Pacific West Conference competition
Additional comments: I came here in 1998 from the East Coast and thought I’d go home in three or four years, and I fell in love with Dominican and the Bay Area and now this is home. After I retire, I’m still going to be here.
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