“The Signature Programs are the skill areas that are particularly potent for students in the 21st century. That’s where that vision comes from. It’s driven by common business sense,” York says.
First and foremost, she says, is leadership, and it’s clear this is an area about which she is passionate. “Leadership is a choice, not a title,” York says. “Whatever major our students graduate with, those are important skill sets that will help them get their first job. But regardless of major, the one thing they need to carry with them is a sense of leadership, that is, the sense of obligation to make a positive difference and the confidence to try.”
She pauses. “There’s a way to do that respectfully within a hierarchy. But you don’t have to have the title to be a leader, just the courage and heart to make a difference where you are.”
York’s own leadership style is one that insists on collaboration and trust. Those two things, she believes, lead to innovation. “When you have an environment in which there’s a sense that the rules are fair and everyone has equal access,” she says, “you create more trust, and when you create more trust, you enable people to cooperate and be more innovative.”
Most people, she believes, “just want to be in an environment that gives them the chance to work and succeed. They find out that if everybody works together, the whole boat will rise.” It’s an approach she took at Stanford and the reason she felt comfortable leaving: “I built a very strong team that knew how to work collaboratively.”
She’s seeing the dividends of that approach at Clemson: “We have department chairs and faculty and staff gathered around a new vision. They are finding ways they can support that, and they are reaping the rewards of the generous alumni support of those programs.”
Leaving Stanford wasn’t in York’s immediate plans. But the opportunity at Clemson was intriguing and inviting, and it keyed into something very basic to her personality: the chance to make a difference. “I was convinced by the provost that I could run my college and by the president that I could make a difference for this whole University by leading this one particular college — the College of Business is on the ascent.”
The gift from Billy and Ann Powers is transformative for the college and speeds that ascent. “This gift will ensure that long after the building is opened and I’m no longer dean, there’ll be a legacy of investment that will continue to make that curriculum cutting edge,” says York. “The gift and the building are really paving the way for the next 100 years of the University.
“I am honored to get us kicked off with a vision based on servant leadership and the courage to be constantly innovating. I feel blessed to be at this place right now.”