FORTUNE -- Karen Peetz occupies a unique perch to learn lessons from crises. She is president of Bank of New York Mellon (BK), a Fortune 500 company that weathered the financial crisis well but had its reputation tarred along with the rest of the industry. Peetz is also on the board of trustees at Penn State University, where, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, she raised her hand to become chairman and helped her alma mater recover from the havoc and shame wrought by the former assistant football coach who was convicted of molesting young boys. Last week, PSU named a new president, Florida State University president Eric Barron, and coincidentally, the U.S. government released transcripts from the 2008 financial crisis -- prompting the world to reexamine lessons from both crises. No leader is better equipped to reflect on lessons learned from these two crises than Peetz. This is an edited version of remarks that she's given to audiences around the U. S.
I did my undergrad work at Penn State. I played lacrosse and field hockey as a student athlete. During my freshman year, Joe Paterno led our team to an undefeated season and a victory at the Orange Bowl. To me and so many others, Joe Paterno walked on water. He wasn't just a good coach -- he was a man who espoused high ideals about how to live one's life. Which, fairly or not, made the whole sequence of events that much more shocking. When the Sandusky crisis hit, Penn State, the administration and the board were in crisis. The presiding chairman of the board decided not to run for election. Somebody had to step up and say we accept responsibility to make changes. So when the position was offered, I accepted.
The lessons I learned were invaluable. And I realized that they applied to both educational and commercial institutions. Here are three of the most critical lessons:
Face reality. It's during a crisis that organizations develop a greater willingness to challenge tradition, to question sacred cows. Leaders have to seize on those moments. In the case of Penn State, we needed an early-warning system and governance that allowed us to identify and resolve problems. That meant including students and faculty members on our trustee committees. That meant accepting an array of sanctions imposed by the NCAA -- sanctions which, frankly, were not easy to swallow. Accepting them was a vital part of the moving-forward process. We also had to retool the leadership of the university. Yes, we want to bring in the best talent available. But no matter their pedigree, we want leaders who recognize the critical need to manage risk.
Rethink the definition of "good teamwork." Organizations need to learn ways to foster healthy dissent. If we're all harmonious and aligned in our thinking -- which feels good in the moment -- what are we missing? What is the price we will pay? Diversity is no longer about being cosmopolitan or altruistic. It's a necessity. I think we've undersold a central argument for greater diversity -- that ensuring that teams have people who think differently and challenge convention is critical to identifying contrary facts. They help save us from ourselves. Lehman Brothers (BCS) could have used more of those voices. Penn State is an incredibly strong institution, financially and culturally, but we could have used those voices too.
Accept responsibility. It took our industry a long time -- too long -- to accept that the game had changed. Many of our actions, collectively, precipitated the financial crisis. We have to move past denial and put the client at the center of our decision-making process. We have to show we understand that the world in which we operate has changed and that we embrace new ways of thinking and operating. In other words, we have to prove ourselves -- prove ourselves worthy of trust.
From Jacqueline Bisset to Bono to Jennifer Lawrence, the Golden Globe winners delivered flubs, flaws and performances that business executives can learn from.
Guest Post by Mary Civiello
FORTUNE -- The Golden Globe Awards showed us that co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are not just one-hit wonders, that 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are best bets for Oscars, and that too many star performers cannot, for the life of MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 13, 2014 3:48 PM ET
While we think we're doing enough by giving to philanthropic causes, we might do more by attending to the people in need right before our eyes.
FORTUNE -- Jesse Cool, the owner-chef of Menlo Park's Flea Street restaurant, has fed just about everybody who is anybody in Silicon Valley. At Table 61, Larry Page and Sergey Brin schemed to create Google (GOOG). At Table 31, Mark Zuckerberg convened with Sheryl Sandberg when she MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 23, 2013 9:49 AM ET
A Coke exec went homeless for a night to learn how struggling young people live--and left with new perspective on talent and opportunity.
As SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola (KO), Wendy Clark spends plenty of time studying young people. Understanding how young people live and what they aspire to is key to the success of this rising-star executive who oversees brand strategy and integrated marketing communications, including global MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 18, 2013 11:16 AM ET
A teenage "YouTube disciple" dissects television, VidCon, and fangirls.
On a panel about TV's future at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in July, NBC Universal (CMCSA) exec Lauren Zalaznick said that she was planning to take her teenage daughter, Ada, to VidCon, the world's largest video convention. Guessing that Ada Dolan-Zalaznick could be as brainy and culturally aware as her mom, I asked Ada if she would want to write about her takeaways MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 14, 2013 9:15 AM ET
Bond investor Mohamed El-Erian learns firsthand how to handle gender stereotypes.
FORTUNE -- Ever since Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO and co-CIO of bond giant PIMCO, told me that he read sections of Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In to his 10-year-old daughter, I pegged him as an evolved guy. El-Erian wrote a terrific piece for Fortune.com about why executives should read Sandberg's best-seller. Since then, he has peppered my in-box MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 8, 2013 8:35 AM ET
What the Cannes Film Festival is to Hollywood, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has long been to Madison Avenue—and now to Silicon Valley too. Executives from Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) are here on the French Riviera, soaking up sun and connections with the marketing chiefs of Coca-Cola (KO), IBM (IBM), and lots of other Fortune 500 giants that have millions of dollars to spend.
A MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 19, 2013 12:00 PM ET
Guest Post by Mary Civiello
College commencement speech season may be the best time to learn how to communicate powerfully. This season is off to a good start with President Obama at Morehouse College, Arianna Huffington at Smith, Steven Colbert at the University of Virginia and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at the University of Michigan. From their talks, we can derive a few takeaways:
There's no excuse for not knowing your audience. Arianna MOREPatricia Sellers - May 24, 2013 12:03 PM ET
Jacki Kelley, who is the CEO of North America and president of global clients for IPG Mediabrands, is one of 36 women participating in the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Launched in 2006, the program pairs rising-star women from developing countries with American execs who participate in Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit. For the next two weeks, the international stars will shadow Fortune MPW at U.S.-based MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 29, 2013 3:09 PM ET
Mindy Grossman was a rising-star retail executive, heading Ralph Lauren's (RL) Polo Jeans business and Nike's (NKE) global apparel, before she switched to TV and transformed HSN. By adding celebrity spark and digital dazzle to the once-dreary home-shopping channel, Grossman built a high-growth media-retail hybrid and multiplied HSN's stock price 10-fold from the dark days of 2008. For her unlikely success, she was honored this week at the Matrix Awards MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 25, 2013 8:31 AM ET
|2 million students missing out on college aid|
|GM raising Corvette prices|
|China to fight pollution with drones|
|Boeing reports wing cracks on Dreamliners|
|Get ready for 'over-the-top' TV|