Duke Greatness Required Patience!

Duke UniversityLast night, with Duke’s 68-63 win over Wisconsin for the men’s NCAA basketball championship, many applauded Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s accomplishments, including: a) reaching the Final Four for the 12th time (tying the all-time record of UCLA coach John Wooden) b) reaching the NCAA finals for the 9th time and c) winning his 5th NCAA men’s basketball national championship (2nd all-time only to John Wooden’s 10 championships). However, during this praise few were aware that coach Krzyzewski was almost fired early on in his Duke career!

I joined Duke’s MBA program in 1980 at the same time that coach Mike Krzyzewski was hired as Duke’s men’s basketball coach. He was hired after coach Bill Foster had left to become coach of South Carolina. Coach Foster had a very successful career at Duke, including: a) guiding them the previous year to a 24-9 record, an ACC championship and NCAA regional final and b) taking them to the national championship game, before loosing to Kentucky 94-88, two years earlier. As a result, many questioned coach K’s hiring from the start. As proof of this, I was one of only a handful of people that attended one of his early lectures. This afforded me the opportunity to personally share with the coach my knowledge of one of his former players at Army, Gary Winton.

Unfortunately, this doubt grew into a major outcry for his firing as coach K’s first three teams only went 17-13, 10-17 and 11-17. However, the man who hired him, athletic director Tom Butters was steadfast. He did his homework to uncover and hire a disciple of Bobby Knight. Then he was patient with him during the tough times. That homework and patience has paid off big time for Duke’s basketball program, including being valued as the 9th most valuable men’s basketball program at $181,700,000 by a recent formula listed in the Wall Street Journal!

Unfortunately, most organizations in general and R&D, scientific, engineering, technical, IT and manufacturing companies, that we work with as an executive recruiter, in specific are not as patient as Tom Butters was with coach Mike Krzyzewski. For example, as I wrote in a previous article https://strategicsearch.com/technical-recruiting-blog/rd-yields-many-ancillary-societal-benefits/ R&D is the lifeblood of revenues and jobs creation for most companies. Unfortunately, few exhibit the patience of Tom Butters with those technical projects. For example, at the first sign of a hiccup, the executive recruitment team of a company usually retains a technical recruiter to replace the head of a faltering R&D project. This is done instead of (as Tom Butters would have done) been patient. As a result, few are allowed to flourish under many company’s short-sided quarterly results constraints. Instead, more need to adopt Tom Butter’s patience to achieve Duke-like greatness!

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