As Greg Goff climbed the corporate ranks at ConocoPhillips, something began to worry him.
The many talented young people he encountered, from universities across the country, had tremendous intellect and passion, but weren’t prepared for leadership, Goff realized. Students weren’t taught how to help other people be successful.
Four years ago, Goff began thinking about what he could do to help young people realize their full potential and be prepared to assume roles as impactful and ethical strategic leaders. He found a home for his initiative at the David Eccles School of Business, which on Friday officially celebrated the creation of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center. It includes the Greg Goff Strategic Leadership Fellows Program, which gives up to 20 students a transformative experience in strategic leadership.
“At the heart of what we are trying to do here is help lots of people become more successful,” Goff said at a luncheon in his honor. “We are off to a great start and we’re very committed to continue to be a support.”
The center, which was made possible by Goff’s $6 million gift, serves both students and alumni, offering opportunities to develop leadership skills at every career stage. Alumni also may serve as coaches and mentors to students.
“This center is remarkable in its scope,” said Taylor Randall, dean of the Eccles school. “It provides students with an incredible and transformative leadership experience. It’s hands on. It’s learning by doing. At the same time, it allows faculty and staff to drive research in the area of leadership.”
Goff received a bachelor’s degree from the U in 1978 and an MBA in 1981, also from the U. He went to work for ConocoPhillips in 1981 and filled numerous positions before being named senior vice president in 2008. He joined Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro, as president and chief executive officer in May 2010.
Todd Zenger, the center’s academic director, said Goff’s vision, even more than his funding, drove creation of a center that brings together strategic thinking with leadership development.
The Eccles school has hired Patricia Gorman as Managing Director of the Center to collaborate with Todd Zenger to realize Greg Goff’s vision.
“There has been a very important finding that has emerged in the leadership literature over the last several years and that is there are many paths to being an effective leader,” Zenger said. “However, there is one trait that seems to distinguish those who reach the apex of corporations and those who plateau somewhere short of that and that is their capacity for strategic thinking.”
Zenger said the center’s specific aims are to be a catalyst in developing strategic leadership skills in young, matriculated students; to position the center as a thought leader in strategic leadership, changing the way leadership is taught both in corporations and academia; and to develop strategic leaders through community events and executive education offerings that transform aspiring leaders into strategic ones.
The business school, in partnership with the Andeavor company, has piloted strategic leadership programs for the past two years. In December, the center will host its first formal program — a “Strategic Leadership Showcase.”
Bonita Austin, assistant chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy, said the center recruited the best and brightest students as Goff fellows, who work on five different projects with local companies over the course of the year.
The businesses range from kickstarters to well-established companies and the projects allow the students to hone a wide-ranging skill set.
Spenser Owens, a senior studying finance and one of the inaugural Goff fellows, said projects she worked on included a pricing strategy for a technology start-up and development of an effective and efficient way for an established hospital to evaluate potential tele-health partners.
“The program brings forth the idea that effective leaders must have strong core values as well as vision in order to inspire others to follow them,” Owens said.
Last summer, Owens presented a project to senior leaders in the firm.
“I used the skills I had developed in the Goff program to rigorously prepare,” she said. “And when we presented to management, I was significantly more prepared for their questions. In the future, I know that this will be important to my career growth and impact as an individual.”
Jeff Letsinger, a senior studying finance, was also in the first group of Goff fellows. Last fall, he took on too much — 18 credit hours, 20-hour a week work load, and involvement in club sports — and the fact he had spread himself too thin was reflected in the less than glowing feedback he received from his teammates in the program.
Letsinger said it was a turning point in his academic and pre-professional career, providing the most valuable of lessons.
“I have to take ownership of everything I do if I want to positively impact my colleagues, my classmates and our partner organizations,” Letsinger said. “It was the understanding that in this program, I am working for people with real money on the line and they don’t care if I have a lot of home work or social distractions that are taking up my time. I had committed to provide them a valuable solution.”
The following semester, Letsinger refocused himself as his team engaged in new projects and the outcome validated the commitment he’d made. Ownership is going to be key, Letsinger said, as he finishes his academic studies and begins a professional career.