John Donahoe, MBA ’86, recently stepped back from his career for a year to contemplate his next move. He traveled the world with his wife, Eileen, and they welcomed their first grandchild.
“I followed Van Morrison, my musical idol, on the road, attending multiple concerts and singing along as a 55-year-old groupie,” Donahoe said. “I did a 10-day silent Buddhist retreat, where I learned that at this stage of life, being silent for 10 days is simply heavenly.”
At the end of his year off, Donahoe was named president and CEO of ServiceNow. He is also chairman of the board of PayPal. Previously, he was president and CEO of eBay Inc. and CEO of Bain & Co.
The seed for his year of rejuvenation was planted more than 30 years ago, when Donahoe was a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
On March 7, Donahoe returned to Stanford GSB to accept the 47th Ernest C. Arbuckle Award, which recognizes excellence in management leadership. The Arbuckle Award, named for the late dean whose name it bears, is given to leaders who demonstrate a commitment to both managerial excellence and addressing the changing needs of society.
Donahoe credited Arbuckle — whom he never met in person — with promoting the concept of “repotting”: “The idea is that roughly once every 10 years, you repot yourself as a way to experience new opportunities and stay vibrant,” he said. “Ernie Arbuckle’s concept of repotting made a deep impression on me as a young, idealistic Stanford GSB student. It’s not a coincidence that 30 years later, after a little more than 10 years at eBay, I made the decision to repot. I would not have had the clarity nor the courage to make this decision if weren’t for Ernie Arbuckle.”
In introducing the award, Dean Jonathan Levin said the winners exemplify great leadership, which he defined as the ability to develop and execute on a vision, the ability to listen and communicate in a way that inspires the people around you, and great integrity that sets the tone of an organization.
Levin acknowledged 11 previous Arbuckle awardees in attendance at the award dinner, including former Dean Arjay Miller, who recently celebrated his 101st birthday.
In his introduction of Donahoe, Mark A. Wolfson, consulting professor of accounting, described him as honest, competitive, philanthropic, and loyal. He praised Donahoe’s partnership with his wife, which has allowed both of them to excel in their careers while raising four children. She is a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“This is a power couple, and their kids are well on their way to accomplishing the same magnificent things that their parents have,” Wolfson said. “But you’d never know it from hanging around them. Humility comes naturally to this family.”
In his acceptance speech, Donahoe discussed three recurring themes from his life that were cultivated at Stanford:
“It was at Stanford that I first heard the term ‘servant leader.’ It resonated deeply,” Donahoe said. “As I look out at the world today, it is clear to me that business leaders are being called to not only serve our traditional stakeholders, but also to play a larger role in serving the broader needs of our society.”
Developing a Whole Life, Not Just a Work Life
“My Stanford experience set me off on a course to develop both my head and my heart,” Donahoe said. “It was here that I learned that the best teams are grounded in a deep level of mutual trust and respect, and that you only get that when you embrace and share your humanity with others.”
Leaving a Legacy Based on Who You Are, Not What You Accomplish
“I’ve come to realize that the world around us seizes on and magnifies our short-term successes and failures, and if we’re not careful, our identity can be reduced to our title or our most recent accomplishment,” Donahoe said. “But my experience over the past year has been that the titles and the accomplishments quickly fade into the past, and what endures is people and the impact that people like you have had on me.”
The Arbuckle Award dinner also recognizes the generosity of fellowship donors at Stanford GSB. The 424 attendees at this year’s dinner included 84 Stanford GSB fellowship donors and 72 student recipients.
One of the donors, Anne Casscells, MBA ’85, co-CEO and chief investment officer of Aetos Capital, LLC, has established a fellowship with her partner, Susan Ketcham, “hoping to help those who want to use the leadership and teamwork skills taught at Stanford GSB in nonprofits,” Casscells said.
“We were inspired by some of the great social entrepreneurs we have known who came out of Stanford GSB,” Casscells said. “So far, we are delighted with the results. Our fellowship recipients are impressive young people who have already made their mark in nonprofits and are looking in their careers to find ways to make a positive impact on the world, putting meaning into Stanford GSB’s slogan ‘Change lives, change organizations, change the world.’”
At the dinner, Casscells said, she appreciated Donahoe’s speech about servant leadership. “I admired not only that, but also the model of a two-career household that he and his wife have demonstrated,” she said.
They were at the dinner with one of their fellowship recipients, Kate Kraft, MBA ’17.
“I want to make a difference in global education in the future, and this fellowship has put me on a path to achieve that,” Kraft said. “Anne and Susan’s support has made not only my Stanford GSB experience possible, but also enabled me to stay connected to the exciting work I started and continue on the African continent. They have been business school ‘moms’ for me, and I count myself extremely lucky to have their support and advice.”
— By Margaret Steen