When Dr. Michael V. Drake became president of The Ohio State University in 2014, he knew it would take a few years to get settled into the large, complex institution he now headed, which at the time was a $5.4 billion organization with more than 44,000 employees.
Luckily, he’s familiar with that feeling from his first leadership position at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where he’d gone to school.
“I was thrust into it a few years before I should have been,” Drake says. “I was joining a faculty when I was younger than many of the trainees and much younger than the professors.”
He was the youngest person at the table by 10 years and 25 years younger on average.
“I knew that since these had been my professors last week, they weren’t going to all of the sudden come to me now and ask me what to do. That just wasn’t going to happen,” he says.
“I had to do that at the very beginning to get anything to change, and it was extraordinarily good practice at an early age to try to formulate my ideas, make sure they were good ideas and then bring people along to build support,” Drake says.
With no experience and no authority, everything had to be built on good ideas and faith. He has decades more experience now and the track record to say: Here’s how I’ve done this in the past and here’s how successful it was. But as his experience and influence has grown, so have the opportunities.
“It feels pretty similar. I had small weapons to go small distances in the past,” he says. “Now I have a little more influence, but that just means the distances we have before us that look like they are achievable are even greater. So, I feel about the same, but I think we’re taking bigger steps.”
Elevate for a brighter future
As Drake finished his second year and headed into the third, things were going well. Ohio State was firing on all cylinders — hitting all-time highs for its graduation rates, philanthropy and faculty awards, with more impactful research and more patients with better outcomes at the Wexner Medical Center.
“We felt very good about the way things were going, but it also led me and others to say, ‘What next?’” Drake says. “We’re doing a really good job of being a good example of ourselves. What could we do, or what should we aspire to do next?”
In August, Ohio State rolled out a new strategic plan that highlights its aspirations for the future. It has five areas of broad focus: teaching and learning; access, affordability and excellence; research and creative expression; academic health care; and operational excellence and resource stewardship.
Over the course of many months, Drake and university leadership broke into groups and worked with consultants to define the parameters of success and how to measure that.