MY WASHINGTON — Winter 2004
   

 

The Very Essence of Leadership:
Sam Fox and John McDonnell

Campaign leaders John McDonnell (left) and Sam Fox

"Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning." —Warren G. Bennis

To their roles in the Campaign for Washington University, John F. McDonnell, leadership chair, and Sam Fox, public chair, brought established qualities of good leadership, well tested by their success in business and community affairs.

As members of the Board of Trustees when Washington University decided to undertake a campaign, both McDonnell and Fox displayed what the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, called the "very essence of leadership": a vision. The two men shared the belief articulated by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and echoed by the deans that Washington University could become one of the world's premier universities.

The Campaign's purpose was to secure the resources to enable the University to fulfill its plans for the future, and both McDonnell and Fox, as Warren Bennis, distinguished business professor and founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, said, kept "their eyes on the horizon, not just on the bottom line." Each had a simple, direct message to inspire the University community: McDonnell acknowledged the earlier generations' contributions when he said, "It's our turn." Fox challenged the commitment and generosity of this generation by declaring, "We can do better."

John F. McDonnell, GB67, retired chairman of the board of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, is a director of the Boeing Company and Zoltek Companies, Inc., and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank–St. Louis. As chairman of McDonnell Douglas, he oversaw the merger with Boeing that created the nation's largest aerospace company.

McDonnell has a long history with Washington University. He took graduate business courses here. Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth recruited him for the Board of Trustees a number of years ago. Now a life trustee, he was Board chair from 1999–2004 and is now vice chair. (His father was Board chair from 1963–66.) He co-chaired the Danforth Tribute Fund and is a member of the Arts & Sciences National Council, founding member of the International Advisory Council for Asia, former member of the Capital Resources Committee for the Alliance for Washington University campaign, and served on Arts & Sciences' capital campaign to construct James S. McDonnell Hall. McDonnell received the School of Engineering's Excellence in Engineering Award in 1996. When asked who his role model for community involvement is, he unhesitatingly answers, "Bill Danforth."

McDonnell serves as a board member of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. He also co-chairs the committee on capital formation for the Coalition for Plant and Life Sciences.

"My passions are education and the sciences," he says. "I got involved with the St. Louis Science Center when they were rethinking their mission and vision, and I helped raise funds to build a new structure and to connect it to the planetarium across the highway." (The planetarium in Forest Park is named for his father.)

The late federal Judge George F. Gunn, Jr., got McDonnell involved in the vocational and technical school district set up under the desegregation settlement; he was president of the school board there for several years.

"I've been fortunate to get involved with organizations with good leadership," says McDonnell, who is an officer of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, his family's charitable foundation. "I try to understand the organization's vision and see if it's consistent with what I think would be good."

Sam Fox, BU51, is chairman and chief executive officer of Harbour Group, Ltd., the privately held operating company he founded in 1976. The company and its holdings employ more than 10,000 people worldwide. Fox's business success and extraordinary civic contributions have brought him such awards as an honorary law degree from Washington University, the Marco Polo Award from the People's Republic of China, the Woodrow Wilson Award for corporate citizenship, and the St. Louis Citizen of the Year Award.

Fox came from Desloges, Missouri, in 1947 to attend Washington University. A former Board vice chair and now a life trustee, he, like McDonnell, was part of the Development Committee that reviewed the Schools' Project 21 plans and recommended a major campaign. Among other roles, he has been president of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society and a member of the Olin School of Business National Council. "Washington University," Fox says gratefully, "opened up the world to me."

Among the civic involvements that have meant the most to him, he says, was his stewardship from 1998 to 2002 of the Greater St. Louis Area Council of Boy Scouts, which he served as both president and chairman. "I was a Boy Scout," Fox says, "so I know what it did for me."

About 15 years ago, Fox and his wife, Marilyn, grew concerned about low participation rates in scouting in the inner city. Among the obstacles, he notes, were the high proportion of single-parent households. So the couple made a gift that, among other things, enabled the hiring of professionals as scoutmasters. "Now," Fox says with pride, "scouting in the inner city is flourishing."

Fox acquired his interest in art from Marilyn. From 1997 to 2001 he applied that interest to the benefit of the St. Louis area, serving as president of the board of commissioners of the Saint Louis Art Museum. He led the development of a 10-year strategic plan that has guided the museum's subsequent development, and also spearheaded the recruitment of a new director. In 2003, he chaired the United Way of Greater St. Louis campaign.

Perhaps his strongest motivation for civic work, Fox says, is to keep St. Louis a good place for "my children, my grandchildren, and, I hope, many more generations. This is a great community. Many people in previous generations have made it so. It's up to us to continue building on their work." As role models, he cites his parents, who weren't wealthy but always gave, and a whole generation of past community leaders, including George Capps, Duncan Bauman, and Robert Hyland.

Both McDonnell and Fox believe the Project 21 planning process got many people committed to the success of the Campaign, and they give a lot of credit to others: the administrators; a development staff who helped volunteers use their time effectively; the trustees; and the alumni and friends who stepped forward to take leadership positions, not only in St. Louis, but all around the country and the world.

Under the leadership of Bill Danforth, who started the Project 21 process, and Mark Wrighton, who led it to a successful conclusion, both Fox and McDonnell feel that the University was poised for greatness. At the 1996 Board of Trustees retreat when the decision to embark on the Campaign was made, the goal was set at $750 million. "Then we spent two years in the 'silent' phase of the Campaign," Fox says. "John McDonnell headed that. In two years under his leadership, we raised more than $540 million! John helped set the stage for a larger goal, and he did an unbelievable job. When we assembled the first group of leaders for the public announcement, we announced a $1 billion goal. I ended my part in the program by saying that '$1 billion is a really big challenge, but we're going to blow right through it.' And we did! First, we raised the goal to $1.3 billion, then topped $1.5 billion, the cost of the objectives of the Project 21 plans."

McDonnell says: "Sam has done a great job—just look at the results. When he talked to the Board and at other meetings, he presented the case for the Campaign very forcefully. He's a dedicated and enthusiastic person, whose philosophy is 'Never be satisfied.' I think he was absolutely the right person to lead the public phase of the Campaign."

The two agree that the Campaign achieved many things: endowment for faculty and scholarships, facilities, engaging alumni worldwide, and resources to fuel the University's ascent. The details are presented elsewhere in this issue, but both men agree that the University's vision is being realized because of the Campaign.

—John W. Hansford