“Tough decisions are always growth opportunities,” said John L. Hennessy, chairman of the board of Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google, and President Emeritus of Stanford University, who spoke to Mount Saint Mary’s business students as part of the Virtual Vantage Point Speaker Series.
During the hour-long conversation, Hennessy discussed his career in business as an entrepreneur, senior executive and board director and touched on some of the lessons he learned from challenges along the way.
Hennessy called himself a reluctant entrepreneur, who “didn’t know much about business” when he co-founded his first technology company. At the time, one of the hardest decisions he made was laying off a third of his 120 employees because the company was running out of money. Some 20 years later, when Stanford University had lost $5 billion of its endowment during the financial crisis of 2008, then-President Hennessey also had to make the tough decision to lay off staff in order to realign the university’s budget.
“I had learned from that earlier process that the best way to deal with a crisis is to take the tough medicine and move forward,” he said. “And I learned how to inspire people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It was important for students to hear that when he started his first company, he didn’t know a lot about business management,” said Dennis Signorovitch, adjunct professor of business and founder of the Vantage Point Speaker Series. “Students tend to think they need to know everything about a business or a job before they send in a resume. That’s simply not the case. As Dr. Hennessy shared, he figured it out along the way.”
The conversation also included a discussion on the importance of listening to the people in your organization. Notably, when he took the reins at Stanford, Hennessy met with every member of the school’s faculty to solicit their views. It was a remarkable display of inclusive leadership.
“Business is actually a very human endeavor,” says Signorovitch. “Speakers like Dr. Hennessy show students that business is not simply a balance sheet and an income statement. His insights underscore the importance of business students having a liberal arts education.”
“Dr. Hennessy was thoughtful and engaging,” says Michelle French-Holloway, professor and chair of the business administration department. “He continued the long-standing tradition of the department bringing in outstanding speakers to provide enriching programming to business students as well as the entire Mount community.”