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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 >>

Leadership turnover, issues of compensation, and consulting work

Ulmer discusses the turnover rate of leadership within the Center for Creative Leadership. After focusing specifically on a handful of particular leaders, Ulmer speaks more broadly about some of the reasons leaders circulated through the Center. Here, Ulmer focuses on issues of compensation and how one of his acts as the president of the Center was to allow workers to engage in outside consulting work in addition to their work at the Center.

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

Any perspective you can offer on right around 1990, '91, '92, the Center bids goodbye to David DeVries, Mike Lombardo, Morgan McCall. McCall left a touch before that, I guess, come to think of it.
WALT ULMER:
McCall left I guess within six months of the time I was there.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Oh, I didn't realize it was as quick as that. Okay. Well, these were obviously—well, DeVries of course had moved away from his original sort of closer focus to research questions into a managerial role. But Lombardo and McCall, these were key members of the research staff. Any perspective of the impact on the Center for the departure of these folks, good, bad?
WALT ULMER:
Oh, obviously there was also Kaplan and other people. And there is a school of thought that says that these folks were disenchanted by the combination of bureaucracy at the Center, the inadequate, relatively inadequate pay compared to what they could get on the consulting world outside, and the stuff that they wanted to do with research. And I've talked to most of these folks and it was a combination of kinds of things. My real feeling is that the Center is going to develop people of these skills and qualifications and attributes and after awhile, they are going to, in a way, they're going to kind of outgrow the Center. And the Center can probably only contain a couple of McCalls or Kaplans at any one time. So I think that you're going to have turnover and I don't think that this type of personality is going to be contented for a long period of time working in any organizational environment. Maybe if you have a perfect leadership environment where they are able to stimulate all of their independent needs and at the same time serve the benefit of the larger organization and they're able to be compensated appropriately for their growing stature in the world, if all of those things pertain, why, maybe they'll stay forever. But I think the Center can expect and should expect a reasonable turnover, and it's not all bad. We have some good guys working outside who I'd like to think say good things about the Center.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
In your sense, as you take the measure of this range of factors you've just described that contribute to this sort of maturation beyond the Center's immediate needs and confines and so forth, how important was the compensation question itself? Would that have...
WALT ULMER:
Well, you know, this is always an interesting issue. I'm currently involved in a study of the culture of the American armed forces and one of the things that's coming up really big is the compensation package that has fallen behind the civilian sector, the way most of these people look at it. And it is the hygiene factor for sure. But the real question is on the other end of the scale, is there any level of compensation that will have people stay in an environment when they think they can do more by themselves? I think compensation was a factor but I'm just not sure but what there might not have been any combination of things that would have the people stay. The other issue is in some of these cases, it might have been just as well for the health of the Center that the folks left. It's a two way proposition.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Right.
WALT ULMER:
Particularly in a couple cases, I sort of think that they were perhaps for good reason they were somewhat alienating in parts of their behaviors in a mild way. Energetic, bright people, but maybe either they or the Center has sort of changed in their minds to the point where they weren't as comfortable as they sometimes were. The Center still has a good group of people who like to look back to the good old days when they would go up there and sit around the fireplace at noon and drink coffee and thought about the world. Those probably were the good old days.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Yeah. Was there any—I understand you took a decision at some point to restrict so-called outside professional activities and it comes to mind in this context.
WALT ULMER:
Yeah, it does. It wasn't the restricting—you see, that's very interesting because the initial thing I did was for the first time in the history of the Center to permit outside professional compensation.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Oh, maybe I have this backwards, then.
WALT ULMER:
No, you don't have it backwards. But we decided to take an experiment and say okay, in trying to fix the business of being out in the world and also adding to your compensation and adding to your satisfaction and your experience, all of these things, we will permit the exempt members of the staff to have some numbers of days a month where they can go out and do their consulting or whatever work. Now they must make sure that they understand, and most college professors don't do this adequately but the law probably won't jump on them, that when they do this, that they are not representing the Center since the Center can't consult. It's an educational institution. Carolina can't consult. And we're going to try this for a little while and see what happens. And there's a couple of possibilities. One is that we'll have teachers at the Center complaining that they don't have the time to go out and consult but some of the researchers and some of the other part-time and other people can go out and do, so it would be a "we they". Secondly, there may be people who are spending so much time getting prepared for their three to four days of consulting a month, or whatever it is, I can't remember what it was, that they're really not going to be doing their jobs at the Center. And another thing is that maybe it will just work absolutely great and everyone will be happy. I had been around long enough then to know that the third possibility was rare. Okay, guys, let's try this. And okay, we're going to try this.