MASTER OF THE PLAN: Ultra-prepared president has Purdue primed for ‘pre-eminence’

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It’s half-past eight on a Monday morning and Martin Jischke is at his desk, poring over notes. This is how Purdue University’s president spends his days and most of his nights-preparing to be prepared.

At any time, Jischke could be interacting with students, alumni, faculty, legislators or business leaders. He wants to be ready for their questions with clear, articulate answers, no matter the subject.

His responses seem off-thecuff, but make no mistake: Jischke has studied and considered his position on almost everything. He usually knows the answer to your question before you’ve finished asking it.

Long hours and lengthy homework are the realities of a job Jischke started five years ago, when Purdue’s trustees hired him to make a top-tier school internationally “pre-eminent.”

He has made substantial strides since then-using his growing influence to add faculty, improve fund raising and boost Purdue’s profile as an economic development powerhouse.

On this day, like many others, Jischke began his routine at dawn with a half-hour of cross training on an elliptical machine, followed by a light breakfast and a cup of coffee. He’s had time to glance at the local newspapers, but he won’t read The Wall Street Journal or New York Times until later in the day.

Just a few family photos personalize his wood-paneled office on the second floor of Hovde Hall, which is decorated with Purdue flags, framed Purdue posters and commemorative silver shovels. A battered leather satchel, bursting with papers, sits at his side.

The phone rings. Jischke indulges in a few minutes of friendly banter with one of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ key lieutenants before they get down to busi- ness. He flips through a bound paper calendar, searching for a meeting time. There’s not much flexibility. Appointments are stacked one after another six months in advance. The two finally settle on an early breakfast in Indianapolis in a few weeks.

“Super, super,” Jischke concludes, before hanging up the receiver.

It’s the first of many similar calls. There are plenty of duties Jischke will readily delegate. But he’s always managed his own calendar.

“The most precious thing I have is my time,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s focused on what I want to accomplish.”

Half-decade of highlights

When trustees hired Jischke in August 2000, they hoped he could help lift Purdue to the mythical “next level.” After nine years as Iowa State University president, Jischke was known as an energetic fund-raiser who could create and implement a long-term strategy.

“We were committed to do whatever it took to achieve that next level,” said Indianapolis businessman Tim McGinley, chairman of Purdue’s board of trustees.

They got what they wanted, and then some.

Under Jischke, Purdue is well on its way to raising $1.5 billion in the largest capital campaign in school history, an ambitious goal eclipsed by only one other Big Ten school, according to Chronicle of Higher Education data. The university is adding faculty and facilities, including Jischke’s centerpiece: the $100 million Discovery Park research center.

But the changes aren’t just academic. These days, the Boilermakers are also business makers. Jischke has turned the university’s focus outward and in the process has emerged as one of the most visible players in Indiana economic development.

Purdue’s mission today is more than molding young minds. It’s also conceiving new technologies and nurturing startups.

“Purdue was a good place before, but it’s a better place today,” McGinley said.

Not by accident. Jischke and his colleagues refer to the university’s planned strategy with something like the reverence of Talmudic scholars. Since it was adopted in 2001, it’s become Purdue’s touchstone, the frame of reference for all progress.

That’s saying something, considering university shelves nationwide are littered with dusty plans that never amounted to much. What sets Jischke’s apart is the course of its development.

He began working on the plan his first day at Purdue. From the start, he aimed for an “utterly transparent” process of open forums, public committees and plenty of draft copies to hand around.

Jischke’s key rule of management is to always persuade, never dictate. People didn’t have to be told to get on board. They bought into Jischke’s strategy because it was also their own.

“Universities are inherently argumentative places. We try to attract students who ask hard questions and faculty who break new research,” Jischke said. “But on the larger question: ‘Do we want to have a bigger impact on the world?’ That’s not the stuff of disagreement.”

Swaying the skeptics

Converts aren’t confined to campus. Central Indiana Corporate Partnership President David Goodrich is lavish with his praise.

“I wish we had many, many more like him. He’s always looking forward, looking upward and looking for ways to more fully engage Purdue with the state of Indiana,” Goodrich said. “I would find it hard to name someone who has been a better partner.”

Still, Jischke isn’t working alone. He’s had plenty of opportunities to surround himself with faculty and administrators who share his mind-set.

Since fall 2000, Purdue has added 133 faculty members-nearly half the goal of 300-and Jischke has replaced another 366 professors who retired or resigned. In all, he has influenced the hiring of more than 28 percent of Purdue’s 1,767 tenured or tenure-tracked faculty.

At the highest managerial ranks, his impact has been even more profound. Under Jischke’s watch, 34 of Purdue’s 55 department heads have been replaced. So have 10 of 12 academic deans.

There are still skeptics, noted Peter Kissinger, a part-time chemistry professor and CEO of Lafayette-based BioAnalytical Systems Inc., one of the promising firms in Purdue’s Research Park. But the “tweed coat” mentality to teach, publish and go home is getting harder to find every day.

“A lot of people are set in their ways. Engaging is uncomfortable,” Kissinger said. “There are negative thinkers. But he has a base of support from the strategic hires.”

Indeed, finding Jischke detractors is a challenge. IBJ spent two days with him and contacted dozens of current and former colleagues, lawmakers and observers. Everyone described the same meticulous planner with singular focus.

If there’s a bone of contention, it’s tuition. Revenue from student fees has jumped 86.5 percent from 2000 to 2004, due in large part to essentially flat state appropriations for higher education. Purdue tried to mitigate that by increasing student aid 67 percent in the same period.

Some students also grumble that the increased focus on research and economic development means full professors are rarely in the classroom. Graduate Student Body President Jennie Blankert said she hears the complaint most often from undergraduates.

“A lot of the faculty are very researchdriven, and the classes end up being taught by graduate teaching assistants,” she said.

Still, students understand the upside. Blankert pointed out that investments in Purdue enhance its reputation and boost the salaries of graduates. Also, Jischke’s focus on business outreach creates countless internship opportunities.

“I think the value of our degree goes up with every year that he’s here,” she said.

Purdue student trustee Rachel Cumberbatch said Jischke is always willing to show students how his vision will improve their university.

“I’ve seen him explain it a few times,” Cumberbatch said. “And after he’s done explaining it, they don’t have questions anymore.”

The meaning of work

Born in Chicago, Jischke was the son of a grocer. The eldest of six children, he worked his way through school in grocery stores. His first boss-at age 12-was his father.

“I learned what it meant to get up early in the morning, work late at night, and be really tired,” he said.

As a boy, he wanted to be a lawyer. As a teen-ager, he thought he’d be a businessman. Looking back, Jischke said, he probably could have done either “reasonably well.”

But Jischke saw the hard sciences as his door to a career. With a bachelor’s degree in physics and a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics, he fielded job offers from Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Bell Laboratories and the University of Oklahoma.

The lure of academia won out. Jischke took the teaching position, reasoning it would be easier to move from a university to industry than to try the reverse.

He was a young faculty member at OU when he met his wife, then Patty Fowler, the daughter of a physics professor. Their first date was a hike in a nearby wildlife refuge. Their second was to a formal engineering banquet.

Even then, Patty Jischke remembers, her husband was ambitious. He wanted to become the dean of the School of Engineering.

“I thought that was a great life goal,” she said. “Then he attained it in 10 years of marriage.”

The mid-1970s were a turning point for Jischke. Already a professor, he took a year’s sabbatical to serve as a White House fellow in the U.S. Department of Transportation. He returned in 1976 at age 35 with an even loftier goal: to become a university president.

“When he came back from that, I think he had changed somewhat,” said Davis Egle, a retired University of Oklahoma engineering professor. “He had developed a lot of people skills and tact. He was sensitive to others and developed a lot of other leadership skills.”

With his newfound political experience, Jischke began his rapid climb through the ranks of university management. By 1985, he was OU’s interim president.

His bid for the permanent job ultimately fell short, but he was on his way nonetheless.

C. Peter Magrath, now president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges, remembers hiring Jischke to be chancellor at the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1986.

The former Missouri president said he recognized Jischke’s capabilities right away, even though he wasn’t the odds-on favorite.

But Jischke amazed the selection committee by knowing far more about the state and the school than his opponent-who already worked in the Mizzou system. Once again, he was the best-prepared man in the room.

“What’s pretty obvious about Martin Jischke is he’s extremely smart,” Magrath said. “Now there’s a lot of smart people. But he has leadership presence. Not everybody does. … I have no idea whether leaders are born or made. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.”

Jischke stayed at Missouri-Rolla until 1991, when he took the top spot at Iowa State.

A smooth hand

Barking out marching orders isn’t Jischke’s style. When subordinates meet with him in his office, they don’t sit across from his desk like pupils awaiting discipline. Business is conducted as peers, at a small table with four simple chairs. Everyone calls him “Martin.”

While listening to his provost, his chief fund-raiser or the head of Purdue’s research foundation, Jischke occasionally fidgets with a rubber band. Most of the time, he’s scribbling notes. The conversations tend to emphasize delegation. Who would handle this matter best? Who could be trusted with that task? “I was thinking of so-and-so, Martin.” “Super, super.”

“I’ve told many people he’s the toughest boss I’ve ever had, and also the best boss I’ve ever had,” said Joseph Hornett, senior vice president and treasurer of the Purdue Research Foundation. “He leads by example. Nobody works harder on behalf of the university than Martin Jischke.”

Jischke’s team is comfortable working together. Expectations are high, they said, but tasks are clear. And if there’s any con- fusion, the president’s door is always open.

Charles Rutledge, director of Purdue’s Discovery Park, said Jischke had plenty of time to develop such a smooth hand.

“This is his fourth university. Having experience at these other universities, political experience, experience with the trustees and faculty, allowed him to very carefully articulate his vision and message without a lot of false starts,” Rutledge said. “By the time we got him, we had a very, very experienced university president.”

It’s now late on a Friday morning, and Jischke is interviewing a job candidate. He starts casually, asking whether the applicant has ever visited Purdue. Soon Jischke establishes common ground, reflecting on similar experiences and shared challenges securing federal research funding.

The funny thing about the interview is that Jischke does most of the talking. His purpose seems to be to extol Purdue’s virtues, not to delve into the candidate’s qualifications. He enumerates the university’s accomplishments, reviews the strategy, and in the process paints a picture of a bustling hub of cutting-edge research and critical thinking.

The approach was deliberate, Jischke explained later. Job candidates are narrowed from a wide field. By the time the chosen few reach Jischke for a final interview, he already knows whether he wants to make an offer. But the applicant may not be ready to embrace West Lafayette.

“All of my experience is that really, really talented people-the kind of people I hope we’re bringing to Purdue-already have great jobs and opportunities,” Jischke said. “Why do they want to come here? It’s my job to convince them.”

The public president

Wearing a crisp blue suit and a gold tie, Jischke is about to address central Indiana business leaders gathered in an Indianapolis hotel ballroom. In the hall, he greets folks with hearty handshakes, smiles and pats on the back.

He starts his speech with a football joke. But it’s not long before he’s talking about life sciences, nanotechnology and new businesses in the Purdue Research Park.

Jischke leaves plenty of time for questions, and that’s when his homework really pays off. Each answer is as eloquent as his memorized speech.

Later that day, he invites Purdue’s research staff to his home for a formal reception. It’s one of many such events he and Patty hold at their university residence each week.

This group is particularly welcome, since it represents another of Jischke’s areas of emphasis-attracting more outside funding for sponsored research. Already, research backed by government and corporate contributions has grown 60 percent, from $117.5 million in 2000 to $188.4 million in 2004.

But Jischke thinks Purdue could bring in hundreds of millions more.

He and Patty greet their visitors one by one. There are many he’s never met before, so Jischke makes a point to ask every person’s name and job at Purdue.

“Saying thank you to people occasionally is a very good thing and they appreciate it,” Jischke said.

These kinds of appearances on and off campus have made Jischke the public face of Purdue. They’ve also contributed to the general feeling that things are happening in West Lafayette.

And that’s the foundation of the university’s fund-raising success.

Jischke believes alumni are grateful for the experiences they had in school. Turning them into donors is just a matter of convincing them their money will be well-spent.

“You cannot underestimate 135 years of giving a world-class education,” he said. “A lot of people are deeply indebted to the university.”

Murray Blackwelder, Purdue senior vice president for advancement, followed Jischke from Iowa State to direct the school’s fund-raising efforts. Together, the pair engineered a system to maximize contributions. Prospects are cataloged and targeted with specific gifts in mind.

“It’s much more scientific than people realize. It’s not just us sitting around saying, ‘Who has wealth? Let’s ask them for money.’ It’s way past that these days,” Blackwelder said. “If you don’t have a vision, one that can be obtained, it’s tough to get people to give you money.”

For alumnus Bill Bindley, chairman of Indianapolis-based Bindley Capital Partners, the key was showing that his $52.5 million gift would attract other donations.

“When we talked about how my gift would be handled, originally I was going to do it on an anonymous basis. I don’t particularly care for a lot of publicity,” Bindley said. “But when alumni who have the capability step up in major capacities, it sends a message that, hey, things are really great at Purdue, and they’re only going to get better.”

The one that got away

The lesson of Jischke’s life seems to be that years of hard work pay off in the end. But there was a time when his meticulous plans came up short. And despite his ambition, there are clearly lines he won’t cross.

Rewind to 1985, when he had his sights set on taking the “interim” title off his presidency at the University of Oklahoma.

Former colleagues still regret the decision to pass over Jischke.

“He wanted that job but didn’t get it, which was OU’s mistake, I think,” retired professor Egle said. “We would have been better off to have him as president, and he would have served us well.”

OU professor emeritus Tom Love remembers the scene in even more detail. Love hired Jischke straight out of MIT. A decade and a half later, Jischke had a good shot at the Oklahoma presidency, Love said, but didn’t want the job unless the board of regents backed him unanimously.

“He could see the problems in a state institution where your board was fighting among themselves,” Love said. “It was disappointing when he didn’t get to be president here. I think he could have done great things for our university.”

When Jischke tells the story himself, he adds a key detail. Yes, he said, the count was in his favor at one point. But Jischke refused to bend admissions rules so a regent’s son could attend the law school.

Six months later, he took the Missouri-Rolla job.

Tomorrow’s leaders

Every year, Jischke teaches a once-aweek class to a handpicked group of promising freshmen. The subject is leadership.

On this Monday evening, about 30 students arrive by bus at his Westwood residence. Far from intimidated, they chat with Jischke as if he were a beloved uncle. He responds in kind. This is clearly one of Jischke’s favorite jobs.

Once they’ve had their punch and cookies, Jischke arranges the students in a half circle. It’s early in the semester, but they already have something in common. Jischke selected them because they’ve all displayed the inner fire that drives leaders to the front. Now he wants to fan that flame.

He asks them what qualities make a leader. Each student volunteers a concept: service, confidence, organization. The list grows, and Jischke nods in approval.

Later, Jischke explains the concept of “the servant leader,” conceived by management guru Peter Drucker. He might as well have been talking about himself.

A leader is externally driven, he explains, constantly trying to understand the organization he guides and what he can-and should-do with it. A leader has vision, tolerates diversity and encourages strength in others. Perhaps most important, he says, a leader is always confident in the morality of his actions.

It was no accident he became a university president, Jischke tells them. He set a goal, then took the steps necessary to reach it. They’ll all have to make similar choices of their own someday.

Unstated, and probably never crossing the freshmen’s minds, is the fact that Jischke won’t be Purdue’s president forever. Purdue has a mandatory retirement age of 65. At 64, Jischke is fast approaching the cutoff.

Even so, Purdue’s trustees aren’t panicking. Instead, they point to Jischke predecessor Steven Beering, who served until age 67. They hope to create a similar exception for Jischke, whose current contract runs through 2007.

For now, trustee McGinley said, Purdue is simply focused on carrying out its strategy. When the time comes, the university should be in a position to attract a successor the same caliber as Jischke.

“Martin has been a great asset for Purdue. He’s been a great asset for Indiana. He’s exceeded the board’s initial expectations, which were high,” McGinley said. “All of us associated with Purdue right now are very proud. As Martin sometimes says at the end of his speech, it’s a great time to be a Boilermaker.”

It is hard to imagine Jischke outside of university life. Some speculate that he will aim for elected office when he one day retires.

Whatever his plans, Jischke won’t reveal them. But he surely made them long ago.

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