Making a Difference: A Family Legacy
A Message From President Michael Bassis
All too often though, such patrons become just names on a building; their human identity--their dreams, their aspirations, their ideas--are lost in
Here at Westminster we are fortunate to have many friends and supporters, but one family, the Gores, have become "patrons." And in that context, they have helped shape some of our thinking about the way we organize and manage the institution.
Since I am relatively new to Westminster, I asked our Acting Provost, Cid Seidelman, to share his memories of the early relationship between the
In many ways Bill and Vieve Gore inspired the college to become a strong institution in the last quarter of the 20th century. In the same way, and in the same sense, Ginger Giovale has provided us with both the support and the leadership to make us a leading institution of higher learning in the 21st century. Westminster is
Business Principles and Educational Innovation
James E. "Cid" Seidelman, Ph.D.
I met Bill and Vieve Gore for the very first time in about 1983, several years after their daughter Virginia (Ginger) joined the Westminster Board of Trustees. But long before I met any members of the family, there was a rich relationship between the Gores and the college. For several generations Westminster had been the place where members of the Gore family met the loves of their lives. It began with Bill and Vieve in the 1930s. Westminster had a May celebration which involved a traditional May Pole. Vieve claims that Bill saw her dancing, was so smitten with her that he started doing somersaults to attract her attention, and remained head- over-heels in love with her ever after. Even without a May Pole, Ginger met her husband John at Westminster in the 1960s, and their son Danny met his wife at the college in the 1990s.
I didn't know those stories when I first met Bill and Vieve Gore. In fact, I didn't even know much about W. L. Gore & Associates since it had not yet achieved the national prominence it enjoys today. Bill and Vieve were sponsoring the college's Distinguished Residence program, and as part of the program Bill came to campus to speak about his business philosophy. At the time I was a young economist: cynical, in some ways idealistic, and kind of anti-business--but I went to see him and I had a fascinating, and as it turned out, inspiring conversation with him.
We started out talking about why and how he and Vieve started W. L. Gore & Associates. While perhaps not as charming as the May Pole/somersault tale, it gave me a sense of what kind of people they were. Bill had been at a very large corporation, DuPont, where his work focused on a polymer, PTFE, best known as Teflon. Bill was an extremely creative man and he thought there might be a variety of product applications for PTFE--but at DuPont there was no interest or support for doing anything other then producing PTFE. Bill was frustrated by that kind of large corporate culture. Seeking a way to take advantage of his entrepreneurial interests and creative spirit, Bill and Vieve talked seriously about starting their own company. They had the courage to throw away a safe future in exchange for a dream: that they could do the things they wanted to do, the way they wanted to do them, and make money at the same time.
Those early days were very difficult: every payday was a challenge, every stage of product development required creative solutions, and every sale was a cause for celebration. But they wanted to create a company and a culture which would be creative and innovative. And they did.
From the very beginning, W. L. Gore and Associates has been a very principle-centered organization. For example, at Gore there were no employees, no managers with titles, and no vice presidents. Everyone was an associate. Bill envisioned a nontraditional, nonhierarchical organizational structure he called the "lattice" where associates were free to talk with each other without seeking permission from managers up the hierarchy. As a flat, title-free organization, Gore created a work environment that relied on direct person-to-person communication rather than chains of command. To facilitate the kind of camaraderie and personal contact described in Michael Pacanowsky's "Communication in the Empowering Organization," all of the original Gore plants were designed to have no more than 150 associates on site. In fact, W. L. Gore & Associates, from its start in Bill and Vieve's basement to its now world-wide presence, has been governed by a straightforward mission and four core principles which guide the way the company operates and the kinds of things it does.
The mission of W. L. Gore & Associates is simply, "make money and have fun." And the principles in Bill Gore's words are as follows:
As you think about the principles you begin to see an interaction between them and you begin to sense that they can be used to create a culture that fosters innovation and creativity while still being very focused on the company's success. In fact, Bill and Vieve thought these concepts were so important that every new associate, as part of their orientation, was introduced to the prin-ciples and what they meant in the context of the business. And, of course, the longer people worked in that environment, the more they came to appreciate those principles in a sophisticated and subtle way. So, for example, on the most basic level, the theory of Gore is that there are no bosses, there is no hierarchy, and everyone is free to do whatever they want. In reality, of course, there is a hierarchy. The difference between Gore and other corporate cultures is how and why certain people move up the hierarchy and become leaders: at Gore, people become leaders by gaining the respect of their colleagues and peers rather than the support of a boss.
Gore's principles were very innovative. They worked then and they work now. Gore remains a very principled, centered company. There are people in Gore, third or fourth generation associates, who are still expounding these principles and are energized by them.
After Bill died, Vieve and her daughter Ginger increased their support of the college; they loved the place and felt that Westminster and its Business School were entrepreneurial and innovative. They believed that the Gore approach to organizational structure and management would have a home here and would enrich our curric-ulum. As a result, I have had the opportunity to visit Gore facilities and to talk with members of the Gore family, especially Ginger and John Giovale. I've also spent time with many associates who have visited Westminster and have shared their knowledge and unique insights with us, especially Shanti Mehta, Jack Hoover, Burt Chase, Jim Buckley, and Heinrich Flik. Those conversations have led me to think about how those principles apply to my job at Westminster.
Here is an example of the way we use Gore principles at the college. Gore says no one can make a commitment for you; you have to make a self-commitment. Well, while people can refuse a request to make a commitment to a certain project, the interaction between the prin-ciples and the nature of the culture means that people don't refuse a task all that often. But the point is, they can; indeed, they are expected to if the request interferes with their ability to accomplish other high priority tasks. That kind of independent judgment is important. So Gore depends on persuasion--convincing someone that making a commitment to a certain task is the right thing for them to do both in terms of their own personal interests and the interests of the company. Here's how that works at the college. We are in the process of creating new kinds of learning communities which involve freshman in interdisciplinary activities in a variety of innovative ways. I can't simply order faculty to participate in developing and implementing those learning communities. They need to be convinced they should help because they have something special to contribute and because, relative to all the other things they could be doing, this one is most important in terms of the goals of the college. In theory, even the President can't tell anyone to work on learning communities; he has to convince them that is where they should spend their time. The benefit of using the principle of self-commitment is that it increases a person's investment in the project: they aren't doing it because they were told to, they are doing it because they believe it is a valuable use of their time. As a result, the quality of the work, and the satisfaction people feel, often increases.
Another example: the concept of how people become leaders at Gore is critical. Leaders are identified by the commitments they make, their track record in meeting those commitments, and the value of those commitments to the company. Everyone knows who the leaders are even though their only title is "Associate." Those are the people you want to work with, the people you want to be around. Something like that happens at Westminster with the faculty: there are some who accept more responsibility, are more accountable, help find solutions to problems, and do innovative things in the classroom. They may not be a program chair or a dean, but they are seen by their peers as leaders; they are highly influential by virtue of the way other faculty members defer to them. As we move toward more cross-disciplinary teaching, more teams, I think you'll see that some faculty members move their programs forward--get to do more of what they want to do--in part because they can "recruit" other faculty and persuade other colleagues to make a commitment to work with them.
Finally, waterline means you don't do anything that would potentially risk the company. You are free, in many ways, to drill above the waterline. But if you want to explore a new product application that would require the company to invest, let's say, $250 million, you'd better check with other associates and get people to say, "Yes, this is something we need to do; it's the best way for the company to focus its resources." In many ways, the whole motivation behind Westminster's very inclusive and extensive strategic planning process was related to this principle and the need to build consensus as we move in new directions.
Over many years, Ginger and John Giovale and Vieve Gore have shown unbelievable kindness and love to the college. Shortly after the Business School became the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, I became the Dean. I felt then, and I feel now, a very personal commitment to do everything I can to make it the best and most successful school possible because it bears their names and I want to honor them and their contribution. On a personal and professional level, I want the school to be as successful as the Gores have been. I have the same hope for Westminster as a whole.
I've spent almost my entire professional life at this college. It is more than a place I work: it's a part of my life; it has, in many ways, shaped who I have become. I've had people come to visit and they look at this campus and they say, "this is incredible, the facilities you have here, the dedication people show, the quality of your students, and the success of your graduates." Well, the ongoing support and involvement of the Gore family has helped make that possible. They are very special people who created a very special company. They are principled people who have been incredibly generous and supportive of this college. And that should be acknowledged by more than a name on a building; it should be acknowledged in the way the institution works. Applying some of the principles they developed and making a self-commitment to Westminster...that just makes sense, it seems fair, and it seems a small thing to do, especially when so much of what I learned from them makes this school a better place and makes my job more satisfying and more rewarding.
On my desk is a coin that is encased in glass and mounted on a wooden pedestal. The coin has a picture of Bill Gore and around the edges it has the four principles; in the glass that surrounds it are carved the words, "Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things." Even when it is buried under the clutter, I know it is there. In the same way, I think the spirit of Bill and Vieve Gore is here at Westminster and it continues to be cultivated and nurtured by Ginger and John Giovale. We may not be able to promise all students that they will meet and marry the love of their life on this campus, but we can give them the kind of learning experience that engenders the same sort of affection and support that we have received from the Gores and the Giovales. That is our goal, and that is part of what we mean when we say that Westminster will be recognized "as an exemplary community of learners."