Posted by Mary Caraccioli | Filed under Innovators
Larger than life personalities usually have many facets to them. They can be kind to a friend, formidable to a foe, gregarious in public, contemplative in private, intolerant of those who make excuses, empowering to those who make an art out of what others consider mundane, energized by success and unafraid of obstacles. This was Drexel President Constantine Papadakis.
Hearing of his passing Sunday was a sucker punch to the gut. I knew of his battle with cancer, and it struck me that his decision late last week to take of leave of absence was out of character. But somehow I thought Taki would cheat death. Of all the business, community and political leaders I have met in my career, Taki was a stand out. He wasn’t the most famous, or the most successful, but he was an honest-to-god leader in an age where the real deal is hard to find. Three leadership skills quickly come to mind when thinking of Taki.
1) He was fully engaged with whatever he did. I ran into him often, a year-end fashion show for design students, basketball games, alumni events, and business luncheons. He didn’t just show up, like a good politician or figurehead. He was there mind, body and spirit. He rooted for his teams, he commented on the designs, he loved to talk about business and the current struggles facing the economy and, of course, solutions to those problems. He participated and made you want to participate too.
2) He set lofty goals that he knew could be obtained. In academia you can find a naysayer around every corner. This never stopped Taki. He added a law school, a medical school and new majors at Drexel. He turned a good, and somewhat frumpy engineering school into a nationally recognized university. Today students can end up in a Hollywood studio not just as an engineer, but as the filmmaker, or even the head of finance. There is an academic diversity to Drexel now that didn’t exist a dozen years ago.
3) He didn’t go it alone. Dr. Papadakis believed in having the right people in key positions to make those goals happen. From his trustees, to the deans, to the facilities crew, people mattered. I emceed his last President’s Award Ceremony last October. Bob, the facilities honoree, brought the house down. He was the king of the receiving dock. Taki loved to celebrate people, like Bob, who did their job well and did it with passion. He knew that staff, on all levels, mattered. Every honoree walked a little taller after shaking hands with the President that night. He knew how to motivate the team. That was part of the magic that turned those lofty goals into reality.
It is hard to think of Drexel without Taki, but after watching him turn a once dowdy orange brick university, into a cool urban campus complete with an I.M. Pei showpiece, I know heaven is about to get a facelift. –Mary Caraccioli