David Novak’s credo is to lead by taking others with him. “You’ll never accomplish anything big if you try to do it alone,” he wrote in his 2012 book on the approach.
Now, that message will undergird a leadership institute at MU built on strategic communication.
On Friday, Chancellor Alexander Cartwright announced a $21.6 million gift from the Novak family to endow the Novak Leadership Institute. It is the fourth-largest academic gift in MU’s history made public so far; including athletics, it’s the sixth-largest.
Cartwright said the institute joins a collection of “signature institutes” at MU. The collection includes the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.
A co-founder and former CEO of the Fortune 500 fast-food company Yum Brands, Novak believes “a tremendous leadership gap” exists in the U.S. That’s where the institute can make a difference, he said.
“We can teach people how to enter the workforce with heart,” he said at the announcement ceremony in Reynolds Alumni Center.
Novak, who retired last year as Yum Brands chairman, said he wants to see leaders who are empathetic, respectful and caring toward others.
“We can also teach people the hard skills that you need to have, how you have to put process and discipline around what really matters,” he said.
The two largest academic endowments in MU history were a $31 million gift in 2004 and a $25 million gift in 2012 from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for the Reynolds Journalism Institute. The third-largest was $25 million given in 2015 from the Kinder Foundation for the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy. The amount of another gift and its ranking in the top five academic gifts is confidential.
Novak and his wife, Wendy, both graduated from MU in 1974. Novak admitted he was not the best of students until he discovered his passion for marketing. Amid high unemployment rates, he said, finding a job was a challenge for him when he first graduated. But eventually, he found his stride. Though he never earned a master’s degree in business administration, he said his experience as an advertising and marketing executive gave him the equivalent of one.
Yum Brands has nearly 44,000 fast-food restaurants in more than 135 countries and territories, according to its website. Its brands include KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. The company’s revenues were $6.4 billion in 2016, with $1.6 billion in profits, according to fortune.com.
Throughout his career, Novak said, he came to believe every person in a company counts — no matter their role.
“If you’ve got a job, it counts,” Novak said. “You matter. You’re needed.”
The institute that bears his name is moving into new offices in Lee Hills Hall in the Missouri School of Journalism. Margaret Duffy, a professor of strategic communication at MU, serves as its executive director. It will offer programs emphasizing research, strategy, creativity and collaboration, according to an official flyer. Founded in 2016, it currently offers two courses within the strategic communication department.
Duffy said she hopes students will emerge from the program as strong, empathetic, effective and ethical leaders in their workplaces and their communities. In turn, she believes this will raise the profile of MU as an educational and economic force in Missouri.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make a great institution even greater,” Duffy said in an interview. “I think we can be real standard-bearers.”
Starting in spring 2018, journalism students can apply to join the institute. Duffy said the vision is to expand into an interdisciplinary program open to all MU students.
Brandon Butcher, an adjunct professor in strategic communication, began his role as the institute’s associate director in July 2016. The development of the institute was funded by a grant over the past year.
Butcher said there are plans to connect students with a range of opportunities, including mentorships, apprenticeships and custom industry partnerships.
“We want students to get as much exposure as they can to industry and real-world environments,” Butcher said.
Journalism Dean David Kurpius said the gift is solely for the institute and will not go toward a building. He said the endowment allows the quick expansion of the program into other parts of the journalism school. It is the first leadership institute of its kind in the world, he said.
“There is no other leadership institute in the world that starts with communication,” Kurpius said. “That’s really the core of how David built his leadership style, and it’s been wildly successful. We want to follow that model and build upon it.”
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey: brixeye@ missouri.edu, 882-2632.