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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Initial perception of the CCL

Ulmer discusses his initial perception of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) when he became the president of the organization in 1985. After briefly describing what it was like to transfer into the private sector after more than thirty years of military service, Ulmer addresses the current state of CCL and some of the changes he envisioned.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. 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

I'm curious, too, to know about how you might have summed up what you found at the Center on arrival, what sort of measure you took of the place in terms of for example how well it was meeting its mission, what you began to explore in your mind as to what the Center might want to try to do to change or grow and those sorts of issues.
WALT ULMER:
Yeah, those of course were very fundamental kinds of issues. I was attracted to the place in the first place when I came up there by what I thought was an energetic, intellectually capable group of people who wanted to do well and who were working in one of my favorite areas, which is leadership. And so obviously, had I not initially felt pretty good about the whole thing, I would have gone somewhere else. The Center at that time was sort of coming out of its very early stage and starting to sort of coalesce and get organized and expand. And very early on, there was the beginning of the debate that continues to this day, and that is whether we should be very small, familial, casual, individually-oriented or whether we should be a little bit larger, perhaps to have more impact on the world with all the attending downsize that large organizations have. And so early on you've got this kind of thing. I found something also that sort of continues until this day and it will go on forever and that is the understandable tug between the teaching part of the Center and the research part. And I'm sure you have heard this time and time again, but it's a logical thing for that kind of organization. And the trick is to keep working at it, because there will never be a perfect solution. So early on, we were confronted with that as part of the larger issue of what did the Center want to be when it grows up. There were then a number of different opinions. But now there are a number of different opinions. There were folks who were fearful of change in their culture that would be brought on by a larger, more vigorous outreach. My personal feeling was that the Center had enormously fine things to offer the world and that we really had to grow, but carefully, if we were really to reach all the people and make the influence on society that I thought we could make. Also early on something lingering was the business of how to get organized so it stimulated reasonable innovation and individual creativity and academics, working for the things academics liked to work on. And then on the other hand, forming some sort of team and some sort of an organization so that you could run even an academic institution. Which is of course, a lot like herding cats, and I understand that almost as much now as I used to. So we made a couple of—not instantly, but a few decisions with some individual personalities that we, I guess me and Clark and David DeVries, who was my right hand man on many of these things, as to whether or not we were going to let individuals do entirely as they wanted or whether if they wanted to pursue an independent career, that they needed to go to some other institution that wasn't quite as dependent on teamwork and so forth as ours was. We had to make a couple of changes. And then it sort of settled in pretty well.