The Divine Leadership Attributes of One of Silicon Valley's Best CEOs

Father Paul L. Locatelli, former President of Santa Clara University, a Jesuit university, entered eternal life at the age of 71 this week after a two-month battle with pancreatic cancer. My wife and I attended a funeral Mass honoring Father Locatelli this past Friday evening, July 16. We weren't alone; some 2,500 people were in attendance including 3 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and several mayors.

I had to tell my wife she heard no hyperbole that evening, and the praise was unrelenting. In reflecting on what Father Locatelli meant to me and countless others, I concluded Fast Company readers need to know about this incredible leader.

Father Locatelli was the President of Santa Clara University for 20 years. Prior to ascending to the position of university president, I had the great pleasure of taking an accounting class with him during my MBA program shortly after he started teaching at the university. He was a standout, pragmatic, charismatic professor. How many professors can you say that about? It was no surprise that he would eventually become university president.

Father Locatelli may be one of the top chief executives Silicon Valley has ever enjoyed. He was President of one of Silicon Valley's oldest businesses: Santa Clara University was founded in 1851. Yet, despite its age, Santa Clara University enjoys a vitality that many companies could only dream about. Here are just a few of Father Locatelli's achievements--the full list is available here:

  • Applications for admission increased by 300% over the past 20 years.
  • The university has a graduation rate of 85%, second highest out of 574 masters level universities in the U.S. (according to U.S. News and World Report).
  • In 1977, the university had one endowed chair; today it has 40.
  • When Father Locatelli was appointed president in 1988 the SCU endowment was $77 million. Ten years later it had grown to $346 million. At the end of the 2007 fiscal year, the endowment was approximately $700 million, putting SCU among the top 15 % of endowed universities in the nation.

After listening to the eulogy and tributes and reading the thoughts expressed by former students, faculty, fellow Jesuits and friends, here are some attributes of this terrific leader:

  • Fully committed to Santa Clara University--he had not only a great vision but superb strategy and execution
  • Made commitments, not expressions of intent, and made those commitments happen
  • Very focused--unrelenting in the pursuit of his goals
  • Didn't like idle time or long-winded speeches--driven to move to the next thing
  • Loved checklists--everyone who worked for him worked to checklists he created; he even created a checklist for his own funeral Mass undoubtedly to help those who would have to execute a complex program during a period of profound sorrow
  • Had great physical, mental, and spiritual energy--used to run 4 miles many times each week
  • Highly engaged with people, his family, his Jesuit brothers, his church, and God
  • Great listener--when you spoke with him, it was as if nothing was more important to him than that moment with you
  • Put people first--he always had time for people
  • If you asked him for help, you received his assistance without question or hesitation
  • Loved everyone and everyone loved him
  • Driven by service to others and to God
  • Never saw obstacles--only saw opportunities to make a huge difference
  • Critical value: social justice for all

If you are an entrepreneur, you would do well to ponder this list and apply these leadership attributes in your life. If you do, I can assure you people will say unbelievable things about you when your life comes to an end. And, you will have built a legacy for yourself that will be envy of many. Thank you, Father Locatelli, for teaching us so many things and for being such an exemplar to us all. Rest in peace, Father--you've earned it.

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. Dave is a member of Dell's Customer Advisory Panel. He can be reached through his Web site at www.gardnerandassoc.com or on Twitter @Gardner_Dave.

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