When leaders lack the background to…well, lead

October 17, 2011

in ed news and trends, hot topics

The clothing store The Gap is failing. Sales have been drastically down. In fact, the clothing chain recently had “the worst showing of all 23 major retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters.”

The problem could be the products themselves. But experts are blaming the company’s CEO. Why?

He has zero experience in the necessary field.

Check out the quote from this video and article:

The fundamental problem is that the Gap lacks strong fashion sense. [Howard Davidowitz, president of Davidowitz & Associates and a long-time retail industry insider] blames the CEO. Glenn Murphy is a very competent executive, but lacks the experience needed to right the ship. “Fashion people win in fashion companies,” Davidowitz explains in the accompanying clip. “I’ve never seen a numbers guy come in and be successful in a fashion company. I’ve never seen one example of it.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

It was disheartening when Mayor Bloomberg brought in Cathie Black as chancellor of schools in New York City. She’s a nice person and a great business woman, but holds only a bachelor’s degree (despite the fact that teachers in New York are required to have earned a masters) and has no experience in education whatsoever. Cathie Black never spent a day employed in the field of education in any capacity.  It came as no real shock that she quit after just 95 days on the job last year.

This month, my teacher friends in Fort Lauderdale informed me that Broward County Public Schools has just done the same thing: their new superintendent, Robert Runcie, has a degree in economics and worked in finance and computer consulting. Now, his situation is less controversial than that of Cathie Black, as Runcie did go on to work in various capacities at the Chicago Board of Education under the leadership of Arne Duncan.

But he was never a teacher. His first passion was not education. He did not study child development, instructional techniques, curriculum design, or effective assessment and then take that knowledge into the trenches to see what it’s like in a real classroom with real kids.

Hiring a non-educator to oversee education? It’s a proverbial slap in the face of teachers and students. Principals are required to have multiple years of teaching experience, why not superintendents? Shouldn’t the chief of schools also have to be “highly qualified” with a background as both a teacher and school-based administrator? If you’ve never been in the classroom or worked in a school at all, you cannot possibly have the insight needed to be superintendent of the nation’s 6th largest school system. The fact that educational leaders across the country are increasingly failing to recognize this simple principle is frightening.

As Davidowitz says in the video: “They brought in a guy with a great track record…but it was the wrong person for that job.” Let’s hope that things turn out better than that for Runcie and Broward County Schools…and that other school districts learn their lesson from The Gap.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debra Hernanz October 18, 2011 at 4:28 am

It reminds me of when Nike hired a new CEO from Johnson & Johnson. He lasted 6 months. Shoes, bandaids, kids, clothes what’s the difference anyway?

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2 Angela Watson October 18, 2011 at 11:28 am

Hi, Debra. That’s a great parallel. Here’s a quote from an article on that story (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_06/b3970053.htm):

“So why did Knight even hire Perez? Because he wanted someone with strong financial and managerial discipline and a track record overseeing the growth of a profitable consumer-products company…

…’He didn’t have an intuitive sense of Nike as a brand,’ said one of them. ‘He relied more on the spreadsheet, analytical approach as opposed to having a good creative marketing sense.’”

Once again…it’s not enough to be able to manage the budget. There is more to a company (and school system) than numbers.

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3 Tom Johnson May 11, 2012 at 6:58 am

I agree. The realities of financial complexity in a county school system as large as Broward has trumped the benefits of having a former classroom teacher at the helm. I was Associate Superintendent in Broward (Fro HR/PD/Professional Standards) for a decade (after 1o years teaching in two inner city high schools in another state-and another decade as CPO in two school districts).The superintendent who hired me had been a teacher, as was every other administrator in the three district areas and central office at the time. The next two superintendents were former teachers as well. while we all did not get along all the time, the “Reason for Being” was to serve children. Decision-making always included weighing the impact on schools and students.
I wish the new super well. I hope he surrounds himself with styrong educators to guide the way.

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