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Dr. Anthony J. Rucci became dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1998. He returned to academia following a twenty-five year career as a business executive and senior corporate officer with two Chicago-based Fortune 100 companies--Baxter International and Sears, Roebuck & Company. While with Baxter, the health care products company, Tony held a number of positions, including six years as senior vice president for human resources and ended his career as a senior vice president for corporate strategy, business development, and media and investor relations.
Between 1993 and 1998, Tony was executive vice president for administration for Sears, which included responsibility for legal, human resources, ethics, administrative services, strategic sourcing, quality and product testing labs, facilities management, and aviation. In addition, from 1995-1997, he was the chairman of the board of directors for Sears de Mexico, Sears' $450 million publicly traded retail business in Mexico. He also served on the boards of Sears Canada, Western Auto, and Grupo Carso's retail board.
In 1995, Tony was elected as a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources, in 1996 was named to Human Resource Executive Magazine's Executive of the Year Honor Roll, and in 1997 he was named Executive of the Year by the International Association of College and Professional Recruiters. In 1998 he received Workforce magazine's Optimas Award for General Excellence in Human Resources, awarded to Sears for his efforts in the turnaround there.
I was excited to do this interview with Tony Rucci as here is a person who has had experience in industry who was now in an academic role and he might have some insights to share about the differences in managing in the different environments. However, what was even more interesting was here was a person who has thought about what leadership skills students needed to develop as part of their academic preparation. Tony is in the unique position of being involved in academics and in corporate leadership. These insights might provide some food for thought as we work to make academic programs in leadership and organizational behavior more relevant. I hope you agree!
KT: Tony, what is your own leadership philosophy?
TR: It is really easy to state it, because it is something that I've been talking about for years. Every time I've been in a job that had any people management responsibility I've historically talked about three things. And this is my management philosophy. In fact, in my first faculty meeting here at the University of Illinois at Chicago, it is what I talked about. I said, "ultimately we're going to talk about strategy and we're going to talk about where we need to go. But before any of that happens, I think all of you deserve to know what my management philosophy is and how I try to conduct myself and this is it: the three R's: respect, responsiveness and results." I define respect as never compromising the dignity of the individual in anything we do here. It is one of the inviolable values in my leadership philosophy.
Responsiveness, this is pretty straightforward. I don't care where you are, when you're in any kind of an organization you are serving somebody. If you're at Sears it's the customers, if you're at the University of Illinois it's the students. So no matter where you are in life, you have a constituency you serve. A big part of my management philosophy is that any organization in which I am asked to be in a leadership role, we're going to be service oriented. We exist to serve somebody and therefore we ought to do the things it takes to do the job right. Listening, that's part of being responsive to people. One of the things that I think American leaders are poorest at is listening. Somewhere along the line we have left people with the impression that once we put them into a leadership job, they are supposed to have all the answers. That they're supposed to walk into meetings and spend the majority of the time telling everybody else in the room how something's going to get done, because that's their job as a leader. I don't believe that's a leader's job. I think a leader's job primarily is to listen to what's going on and to extract from what they hear what the answer ought to be rather than generating the answer. So this is an important one for me.
The third element in my management philosophy is results. Results are achieved when people are business literate; whatever organization you're in, whether it's a hospital, a company, or a university, know what organization you're in. What is it you do? What is the purpose of the enterprise? How does that enterprise exist? Who gives it the authority to exist? Everybody at every level of an organization ought to understand the purpose of the institution they're in and that they work for every day. That's what I mean by business literacy. The second dimension of results is that performance is necessary. Effort is good, but performance is necessary. Be a true meritocracy. When you say you're going to do something, do it. No matter how big, no matter how small, when you commit to something make sure you follow through and complete what you said.
So, that's my leadership philosophy. I've been talking about it and hopefully, living it for 25 years since I've been in management jobs. I've said to people routinely: hold me accountable for these things because I'm going to hold you accountable for them as well.
KT: Results, do you look at some quantified benchmarks?
TR: Absolutely, and one of the things that I've done routinely throughout my career is 360 degree surveys to get feedback from subordinates and peers. Frankly, long before it was trendy to get feedback from subordinates, I was asking, doing surveys and doing team building around feedback and input. It's all part of the listening thing. How can you get better as a leader unless you get feedback and listen and pay attention to what you're being told?
KT: Is this actually a culture you're trying to create?
KT: How do create this culture? Listening, but then what sorts of things do you to get people engaged in all of this, to believe in it?
TR: I really think there are two things that leaders must do ... good leaders, effective leaders. And the two things I think effective leaders have to do are to help craft and communicate what the vision is and secondly, establish the values that people are expected …