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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Joining an organization in flux

DeVries describes the dynamics at the Center for Creative Leadership when he arrived there. It was an organization in flux and was looking to DeVries to provide the kind of good ideas that would justify its existence. He had plenty of help from the psychologist Robin Cook and David Campbell.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Now you've mentioned David Campbell as one of the key players. Were there other key players that you initially interacted with that you have strong memories of?
DAVID DE VRIES:
Interestingly enough, even during the interview and then during my first year when I was in the Center, there were two visiting scholars. The Center had [unclear] the visiting scholars program where they tended to take social scientists that were accomplished, probably in their latter years professionally, and have them live at the Center for a year or two. And there were two folks there. One was Robin Cook who was a great social psychologist. And Robin really helped me understand the potential of the Center. He also challenged me intellectually. That was extremely helpful to me. The other thing that kept me going was that I immediately ran into Morgan McCall. Morgan and I immediately started to collaborate in some ways that really tested me intellectually, really pushed me. And together, we started to do some writing and frame some research projects that very quickly got off the ground. In fact in less than six months of my arrival, David asked us to start a separate research function. When I arrived, there was no such thing as a research function. It was embedded within a larger kind of program. So that created a tremendous momentum early on in my tenure at the Center. It was clear that if you had some interesting ideas, the Center of Creative Leadership was going to provide a way for you to act on those. The other impression I had, a profound impression, was that the place was living day to day and it was perilously close to being in debt, in that its life was about to end. I did not realize that when I accepted the job and moved my family. I had three young children, so my wife and my three young children joined me down here in what felt like was really a foreign country almost. My wife had not been eager to move to the South. And then the moment I got on board, it was clear to me and communicated to me by people beginning with David Campbell, that the board of governors really had to be convinced that we had enough good ideas that it was worth prolonging the existence of the place. And then we even had another visiting fellow who was of "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" mentality. And before every board meeting, he would talk to each of us about how dire the prospects looked. I remember these spikes of anxiety before every single board meeting. And Morgan and I, from the time I arrived, would be called in to present to the Board. We were the group that Bill Friday quickly called the "young turks." The "young turks" that the Board looked to to say, "Do you have any ideas that are really worth keeping this place around?" And that was a very vivid part of my early memories of the Center. And for me, it took about three years before I was convinced that the board wasn't going to pull the plug.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Because of their skepticism as you heard it each time they met?
DAVID DE VRIES:
Yeah, exactly. Fortunately, not only did we then kick off a research program during those years, '75 to '78, but the leadership development program got finally coalesced and really got going as well in those years. So you had a one, two punch. You had LDP which now has evolved into the most visible management development program in the world. And then also simultaneously, a research program.