Rucci: Intangibles matter in life and in a career

With 25 years of experience as a corporate officer at companies such as Cardinal Health, Baxter and Sears, Tony Rucci knows first-hand what it takes to be a successful senior executive.

Now as an academic, he brings his unique perspective on management education to the classroom teaching MBA candidates, honors undergraduates and in executive education programs. He is not solely focused on functional management expertise. He often finds himself emphasizing to students the importance of self-awareness, passion and even failure in their pursuit of career goals.

“Intangibles matter,” Rucci said. “I have never seen a leader fail because of their functional, technical expertise,” he said. “Every time a leader has failed, it has been because of a lack of interpersonal effectiveness or lack of leadership effectiveness.”

The importance of dignity and respectful treatment in the workplace, meaningful work and personal accountability were cornerstones of the presentation Rucci delivered at the Academy of Management annual conference in August.

“I talked about these three P’s—passion, performance and principle. These are the three things I have seen that successful people have in common,” he told Academy of Management members gathered in Anaheim, California.

Rucci’s success theory has been validated by his peers and the members of the Academy’s Human Resources Division, who gave him the 2008 Distinguished Human Resource Executive Award. The award, co-sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management, is given to executives who have distinguished themselves throughout their careers in the field of human resources management.

As an executive, Rucci has had a broad range of leadership experience, including roles on board of directors and governance and international responsibilities. He has been centrally involved and responsible for major merger and acquisition activities and large scale organizational transformation efforts. Currently, he is popular on the speaker’s circuit, addressing boards and business executives at corporations several times a year as well as students on the Fisher campus.

With a PhD in organizational psychology and widely published in professional, academic and general business publications such as Harvard Business Review and Fortune, Rucci has blended his scholarship and corporate experiences to help Fisher students more closely examine their career goals. He challenges them to think beyond the superficial characterizations of success — titles and salary.

“The traditional definition of success is too limiting,” Rucci said. “When you talk to people who are at the end of their career, they don’t want to talk about their accomplishments. Instead, they want to talk about the impact they have had on other people during their careers. I make a huge distinction between success and significance. You can do both in life, but they are not the same thing.”

Passion, performance and principle are drivers that can lead graduates to management success, he said. Successful executives get results because they are passionate about what they do and are focused on achievement and standards.

“They have a sense of purpose about their lives,” he said. “People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves both professionally and in life.”

He believes business schools focus too exclusively on the functional disciplines such as accounting, finance and marketing. “As important as those skills are, often we don’t balance that off with students’ ability to work well with other people, command respect and to step up to leadership,” he said. “We need to identify curricula and approaches that enable people to develop on these intangible dimensions, not just quantitative and technical skills.”