When Steve Cross initially joined Georgia Tech in September 2003 as GTRI director, he said the essence of his job was helping GTRI personnel at all levels, from support staff to research scientists, do their jobs better.
"I'm trying to show by example how a leader in GTRI should operate, through my own research in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, through my communication, and by creating and inspiring a shared vision with GTRI research faculty, staff, and the rest of the university," Cross said during his tenure as director of GTRI.
Employing "Servant Leadership"
Cross brought to GTRI's directorship a management style that reflects his own easygoing, down-to-earth personality. Describing it as "servant leadership," Cross counts himself fortunate to have worked under several of its practitioners during his career.
"Servant leaders are more effective leaders," he elaborates. "They work quietly behind the scenes and don't try to get attention for themselves."
At the same time, Cross' low-key demeanor masks an intense competitive streak. "I'm also driven to achieve great results, and I challenge existing processes," he said. "We can always do things better. It's never acceptable to say, 'This is the way we've always done it.' My personal motto is that progress begins when you deny the present concept."
Whatever one calls it, it worked. When Cross first settled into the director's office, GTRI's activity, as measured by the annual dollar amount of contracts and grants, was $115 million. For fiscal year 2008, the total stood at $185 million.
Finally ... Resolution
While many factors have contributed to the growth in research, one of the most significant, from a historical perspective, involves the relationship between GTRI and Georgia Tech. An ongoing issue has been how to strike a balance that allows Georgia Tech’s applied research organization, GTRI, and its academic researchers to share and benefit from the other's resources, but without interfering with their operational prerogatives. The problem has nagged GTRI directors and Georgia Tech administrators at least as far back as the 1960s.
Working with former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough and former Provost Jean-Lou Chameau, Cross' leadership helped create a productive new path toward resolving this question. Today, to an outside observer and increasingly on campus, the distinction between research coming from academic units at Georgia Tech and research coming from GTRI is not obvious — and in many cases, not even relevant.
"I like to say there's just one Georgia Tech," Cross has said. "It consists of an academic side and a research side, but we operate as one Georgia Tech. The sum is greater than the parts."
Uniting Research from Campus and GTRI
Cross now executes his philosophy of “One Georgia Tech” as part of campus administration. In May 2010, President G. P. “Bud” Peterson named him executive vice president for Research (EVPR), granting him direct oversight of GTRI, the Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Georgia Tech Research Corporation, and Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary research centers.
At EVPR, Cross reported directly to the president and was a new member of the executive leadership team, consisting of the president, the executive vice president for Academic Affairs (provost), and the executive vice president for Administration and Finance. He worked closely with the academic units, affiliated units, and faculty members.
For more, view the Wikipedia article on Stephen E. Cross.