Dr. Michael V. Drake drives future success at The Ohio State University

Building consensus is about coming up with good ideas and then pretending you’re on the other side of the table, Drake says. When you say something, you want to figure out what it sounds like to others and make sure you communicate your points effectively, given who the listener is.

In all of his prior jobs, whether it was chancellor, president, vice president, professor or director, Drake has had the privilege of following people who had been very successful. He says that always meant he had a high bar at the beginning, which was satisfying to clear.

By working with others and using his good ideas, he’s helped implement a new strategic plan for the future, as well as other changes, such as more need-based aid to Ohioans of many different incomes to close the tuition gap; launching the University Institute for Teaching and Learning; and working with private industry to better manage Ohio State’s energy resources.

A new collaboration with Apple will establish an iOS design laboratory serving faculty, staff, students and members of the broader community. Plus, starting in fall 2018, new first-year students at all campuses will be provided iPads.

Apple, which is as innovative as any company in the world, chose to partner with Ohio State, Drake says.

“That’s terrific, and we want to be that university,” he says. “We’re very excited about the direction that we’re moving in.”



  • Good ideas will generate support even in the face of inexperience.
  • Strategy needs to be interpreted for those mentioned and those that aren’t.
  • Put yourself on the other side of the table to build consensus.


The Drake File:

Name: Dr. Michael V. Drake
Title: President
Company: The Ohio State University

Born: New York City
Education: Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies, Stanford University; Doctor of Medicine in Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco; Advanced Management Program, Harvard Business School

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I went to a high school of about 3,000 kids. I don’t know why, but I was asked by one of the teachers to work in the sports-related lunchroom. There was a regular cafeteria and then there was the Lion’s Den — our high school mascot was the lions — near the athletic part of the campus, with hot dogs, Cokes and soda fountain-type things. About half a dozen students worked there.

As a junior, I got a Social Security number and sold hot dogs at lunch time. It took me as a relatively anonymous one of 3,000 students and gave me a position where I met a lot of people. That job helped me get to know people, helped my confidence and helped me distinguish myself from the crowd. I didn’t apply for it. I didn’t know you could. I just got tapped on the shoulder one day.

My first job out in the world was working at Tower Records a couple of years later, selling records.

What I learned in both cases was that it was enjoyable to deal with people in short, earnest conversations and you could make connections over these transactions. Interfacing with the public was great fun.

In the Tower Records job, I learned a lot about music, which is still a hobby today. My course, Civil Rights, the Supreme Court and the Music of the Civil Rights Era, depends on music and uses much of what I learned when working at the record store.

What’s the hardest thing for you to do, from a management standpoint? The hardest thing is to make institutional decisions that are costly personnel decisions for good people. I’ve had circumstances where extraordinarily high-quality people were working hard to help us move forward, but were not as successful as they needed to be. It’s always difficult to move them aside or change what they’re doing when it’s necessary for the good of the organization. I’m a medical doctor, and I always want to fix things. I want to make things better.

The other thing that’s hard to do, I speak to parents when we’ve lost a student. We’re such a large institution that that happens several times a year. Time and time again, it breaks my heart. I’ve done it dozens of times and every time it feels like the first time.