President Hennessy

Note: The financial section for the 2008 annual report can be accessed through the university's bondholder website.

Leading in Times of Challenge

by President John Hennessy

During reunion homecoming last fall, journalist and Stanford parent Tom Brokaw moderated our Roundtable, "Leadership for the 21st Century." He started the discussion by asking me what I had learned about leadership as president of Stanford.

Time and again I have been guided by the thought of David Starr Jordan, our University's first president, and of all the presidents who succeeded him. Every decision must be made with an eye toward the future. How will what we do today affect future generations? And how can today's competing interests serve tomorrow's needs?

Ours is a time of great change and, more recently, a time of tough economic challenge. Throughout Stanford's history, however, we have recognized challenge as an opportunity to do things differently, to create possibilities where none existed. Reunion Homecoming 2008, for example, coincided with the worldwide financial crisis, so we assembled a group of distinguished economists from among our faculty and alumni to discuss the situation and provide economic guidance. Although the old joke about how you get 100 different answers to an economic question -- the answer: ask 100 economists -- might apply to the present time, our panel delivered clear and insightful opinions about how we arrived at this spot and how we should proceed. It is just one example of the way Stanford provides leadership in addressing global issues.

The impact of the financial crisis has been felt globally, and our endowment has not been immune. Our challenge is to lead the University in making necessary budget reductions, while ensuring that we are steadfast in our long-term goal to contribute to solving global problems of society. With the support of our alumni and friends, we have marshaled resources to advance our University-wide initiatives on human health, the environment and sustainability and international affairs. In the pages that follow, you will see that these tremendously complex challenges have become catalysts for cross-school, multidisciplinary research of extraordinary promise. We remain committed to this vision.

We also have re-examined what it means to prepare students for leadership in this century. Recent technological advances bring other parts of the world into our homes every day, and students arrive on campus with a more global worldview. Today's campus is a microcosm of the world, with all of its demographic, ethnic, racial, cultural and economic diversity. We are determined to offer our students the best possible education for the 21st century and to ensure that even in this financial crisis our commitment to financial aid is unwavering.

During my years at Stanford as well as in Silicon Valley, I have learned that great leadership is as important in the challenging times as in the celebratory and successful times. And it is a lot harder when times are tough. As a university, we have been blessed with great leadership and steadfast support from alumni and friends that saw us through the 1906 earthquake, through the Depression and through the tumultuous times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Our commitment must be to Stanford's long-term core values and to the people who make up the University. With that strong sense of purpose and determination, we will emerge a stronger university in the years ahead.