Dean L. Bresciani, North Dakota State University's 14th president, for all his public appearances and maximum exposure, is a pretty low key guy. He's something of a workaholic, deft with a smart phone, so you'll usually see him working away no matter where he is. He also is a genuinely nice guy, a softie with students, a hunter and a hiker, at one time a reasonably fast marathon runner, and a pretty good cook. Here he talks about his life's work, working in the kitchen, and his lessons in leadership.
There are so few things I'm able to just experiment with in my life and career and just try just for the heck of it and so what if it doesn't work out. Cooking's very rewarding because most of the time I'm on a pretty good path and so my experiments work out.
Everything else I do in my life, before I can imagine what the benefits would be of it working out I have to imagine the consequences of it not working out. That's a complicated analysis because it has consequences for me, for the institution, for the department of x for the employees of y, endless constituents. If I burn dinner, I burn dinner.
I've got a fairly unique background because of the role and visibility of the vice presidency at Texas A and M, which was the second most visible position there. The president and vice president live on campus, and have involvement in a broad range of activities. Bob Gates once said to me: you're the only one with a worse schedule than me. Because I was at the events he was plus going to a lot more student events.
There isn't much about the role I didn't anticipate. The added advantage I bring is having a finance background, not having to develop a grasp of business operations at a research university.
The president is perceived to be the institutional final word. You have to be aware of that and conscious of that.
I have developed over the years the capacity to be very extroverted for long periods of time. The truth is I've learned that to do the job well and do it effectively those are skills you need to develop and portray. But the reality is I'm an extremely introverted person.
The farthest I get in a grocery store in Fargo without being stopped is the second aisle. Usually somewhere around the cart area is where I get stopped.
I love college athletic events and I love being around people who are sharing that experience.
In some senses you get numb to crisis, and fewer and fewer things truly are a crisis. What you learn, there are two things - one is that there are very few things that are truly a crisis. The second is the old saying never let 'em see you sweat. People look to institutional leaders to be calm under duress.
One of the greatest lines I ever heard was when I worked at Texas A and M was at a big awards dinner where the speaker was a three star general and the person getting the award started to run up to get the award and he said, "Don't run. It makes the troops nervous." Not by great wisdom and forethought - you could call it dumb luck - but very early in life I decided what type of role I wanted. It rang clear as bell to me what I wanted to do. To get out of working with my dad's firm another summer I got a job as an orientation peer group counselor and saw the impact I had on freshmen who when they walked into a room were scared to death that they'd never be successful and walked out high fiving each other. I never felt like I'd done something important, something that had an impact on other people, something that had true value before that. I was raised in a very conservative blue collar working environment where digging a ditch faster than the guy next to you would have been a great accomplishment.
I see so much potential for NDSU. From day one learning about this opportunity, I saw this place as having massive, massive untapped potential.
It's already become easy for people to forget that within the last decade we were a small regional master's institution. We've accelerated at an incline that I'd be hard pressed, as a student of higher education, to come up with many, if any, parallels to, at a time when the state has a unique economic advantage over literally any place else in the nation and a time when our civic and legislative leaders have perhaps a first ever but certainly emerging and maturing sense of the value of research universities.
Nobody in my family had gone to college. There was nobody telling me how important it was to take classes to study and graduate. The only motivation to graduate was so my dad wouldn't be mad at me. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, the light came on through the career path that was suddenly illuminated for me and required me to dive into my academics.
The smart person surrounds himself with and creates an environment where people feel at liberty to tell him things he doesn't want to hear. They're my go-to people who will always tell me "no you can't do that."
Talk less and listen more. Study people in environments that aren't good. Analyze environments and people's interactions. Whether it went well or not, analyze, analyze, analyze. There isn't a speech I make that I don't run through my head how I could have done it better.