February 12, 2014

Ohio State interim president shares leadership insights

Accounting students eager for lessons on leadership had the opportunity to listen and learn from someone who has played a vital role in helping to pilot The Ohio State University for more than two decades. Interim President Joseph A. Alutto, who served as the university’s executive vice president and provost for more than five years and dean of Fisher College of Business for 16 years, shared with MAcc students his insights and advice on effective leadership during a recent classroom visit.

“If you’re going to be effective as a leader, you’ve got to spend the time knowing who you are,” he told students gathered in Gerlach Hall. “Reading a book on leadership will not make you a better leader. It will give you a clue as to what you might look for, but in and of itself that’s not what’s going to make you a better leader.”

Participating in the EY MAcc Speaker Series, Alutto highlighted a handful of key leadership qualities, including: identifying personal motivations, recognizing the value of diversity and balancing career planning with the ability to spot opportunities.

“Virtually every opportunity I’ve had, whether it was to become president of this university or to become provost of this university, came about not because I focused on it as a career move, but instead because the opportunity presented itself and I decided to take advantage of it,” he said. “You have to be willing to assess your own opportunities and decide what you want to take advantage of.”

Showing how he tempered professional ambition with the priorities that were most important to him, Alutto spoke of his decision to take a professorship and then a dean’s position at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the 1970s. The desire to remain close to family in New York trumped other opportunities at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago and Purdue University.

“What was driving that decision was not whether I could do the research or whether I could teach, it was the other parts of my life that I thought were very important,” he said. “If you work through who you are early on, it will tell you what opportunities you want to pursue and what opportunities you don’t want to pursue.”

Alutto also emphasized the importance and value of diversity – of thought, culture and experience.

“Think of yourself as working in a multi-cultural group where words have different meanings, where people come from different economic backgrounds. Somehow, you’re going to have to understand all that and bring it all together,” he said. “That’s why leadership is complicated. When I work with senior corporate officials, this is one of the big areas of failure, because they surround themselves with people who are very much like themselves.”

The EY MAcc Speaker Series brings distinguished accounting and business professionals to Fisher to offer career insight and provide students with a richer understanding of the complex world they will confront as professionals.