Cliff Stanley

Penn's new chief operating officer is glad to be here. He wants you to be too.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Have you met our new executive vice president, Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley, yet? If you haven’t, be patient—you will.

He has missed few opportunities to press the flesh in his six months on the job, starting with a big welcome party on College Green last November. As he works on his portion of Penn’s next strategic plan, he is also working his way through all the offices that report to him and many that don’t, meeting and learning about the people who make them work.

And he makes it a point of speaking to every Penn employee he encounters, from janitor to vice president.

Penn’s chief operating officer is clearly a people person. His warmth and outgoing manner run counter to the popular image of the United States Marine Corps, with its reputation for toughness and determination. But, he said, the Marines and the University have more in common than either think they do, and he has been able to put the principles he learned rising through the ranks to become head of the Marine Corps’ training programs to work at Penn.

Q. Now that you’ve been here half a year, how do you feel about the job and the place?
A.
I still feel great. I’m pretty pumped up, to be honest with you. I remember when I first met you, and everything in front of me was like—everybody was new, and who are all these people? What’s the Almanac? Things make sense [now]. Everybody’s been so good, so nice about just helping, ’cause there’s not a whole lot of stuff written. So you have to either ask questions or somebody tells you, and they’ve been very patient as I try to learn, to get up to speed.

I’ve [also] been engaged with the community in West Philadelphia, Center City, Philadelphia in general; that’s helped a lot, because I’m now meeting the people and putting faces with names that I’ve heard about. And then being on boards, for example, the Schuylkill River Development Council, being on the Philadephia Industrial Development [Corporation board] and things like that have helped me immensely in terms of understanding how Penn fits into the big scheme of things.

[And] historical context is sometimes very subtle, the relationships between the academic and support or administrative centers. Understanding those subtleties has helped me significantly in shaping our strategic planning for the future.

Q. Can you give me an example?
A.
Resource allocation. I have to stay focused on the bottom line. I have to be more efficient, and I have to communicate that efficiency to a constituency that, for the right reasons—I would be a little suspect too, when you look at how things have been in the past [with] cost overruns.

And then [there’s] how we maintain our buildings, providing customer service. That focuses on the relationship we have with our academics. For me, it’s important to have a very close working relationship with the main reason for this school. The school’s here to teach, to do research, developing our future citizens and leaders of America and the world.

Q. What are the differences between academia and the military?
A.
There’s more similarities than differences. I will say [that in] how decisions are made, there is a lot more collaboration here than in the military. Not only that, finding who is accountable for something has been tough in a lot of cases.

But most things are very similar. …I’m not from an environment where you just give orders to people and they obey things. And I know a lot of people who have not served, haven’t been in the military [or] knew someone who had, and think it’s all about giving orders. Au contraire. Really, this is about working with people, understanding people, listening to people, the same skills that you have to do in the military.

Q. What one thing about Penn has surprised or pleased you most?
A.
I haven’t really been surprised, because I think I was kind of prepared for most of what I’ve seen. I’m most pleased by being in an environment where I like the people across the board.

I have to tell you that it takes some getting used to when I see how deliberative some processes are, in terms of how they do it. I’m used to, OK, give me the facts. OK, I see it. Here’s the decision. [laughs] I see something different here. In a lot of cases, it’s OK, you listen to this. You tell me what you think. Well, I think so and so. Tell me more about what you think. This academic approach, even though it works, it’s been a little different, but I kind of like it.

The biggest surprise—it still wasn’t a surprise, because I expected it, but it’s the stereotype. It’s people who would say, Well, that’s the way Marines are. And most of them haven’t been in the Marine Corps. They would expect you to be—

Q. A drill sergeant?
A.
A drill sergeant, people lined up on Walnut Street, marching and running formations, that kind of stuff, and that’s not the way it is.

… I’m in a pretty significant position here. But my attitude is that I am very much down to earth and I am no different from anyone else here, from a student to the person sweeping those streets down there. Period.

That person who cleans this building has every right to be treated with respect in terms of how I deliver, how I talk to them. And when I talk about respect, I’m actually thinking of the simple act of speaking. I’m talking about just saying “Good morning!” I don’t think it’s appropriate for people in the most senior positions to not see the people that work for them and who make a difference and who do the work every day. I’m in a position now where I can do something about that, and I work on that by personal example as well as talking about it.

Q. The feedback I’ve gotten from others on campus who’ve encountered you is that you are very much a people person.
A.
Okay, I feel that way. That’s just who I am. And I’ll be honest with you. I got real focused on my job, so I’m beating myself up reading and doing things, and all of a sudden I might become imbalanced at home. And my wife would say, Hello? [laughs] I’m still here.

So what I’m trying to say is that I try to balance it and also be a good husband, a good father, a good worker or whatever, not have a peptic ulcer over it, but at the same time try to balance it.

When people know you genuinely care about what you’re doing and care about them, they tend not to beat you up quite as bad. They’ll slap you, maybe, but they won’t abuse you. [laughs] I think it’s a good recipe for helping organizations and institutions rise to their highest level of potential, particularly when senior leadership sets things right and sets the right tone. And I’m very fortunate that Dr. Rodin gave me this opportunity.

Above: Stanley greets volunteers at a recent Penn’s Way breakfast reception.

Originally published on May 1, 2003