Russel Kaufman’s keys to handling growth

Russel Kaufman

Russel Kaufman, president and CEO, The Wistar Institute

As The Wistar Institute has grown in size and complexity, it has outgrown its old management processes. President and CEO Russel Kaufman was overseeing a loose command structure with overlapping job assignments, which was fine for a smaller organization, but as the biomedical research center grew to $76 million in 2010 revenue, the lack of structure was leading to a lack of direction for its associates.

Kaufman saw that the old management system simply wasn’t going to work anymore, and the problem was only going to get worse as Wistar kept growing. So he and his leadership team set about remaking the organization to not only allow it to adjust to its current growth rate but accommodate future growth, as well.

Smart Business spoke with Kaufman about how to rebuild your company’s management structure.

What were the steps involved?

In this new model, I have one person in charge of science and one person in charge of administration. And having this structure where you put all this management under one person, it can be threatening to a lot of people. All of these people who had managed in the matrix felt like they had a group of loyal people who had reported to them, but now there is a new leader that everyone reports to on the administration side. Those internal loyalties they built up now won’t be as effective.

So it has been managing this process of getting all of our employees to understand that they should be loyal to the organization, not loyal to a leader. It is a very important concept, and one that we’re going to have to continue to work hard on.

That was the administrative side. The other step was to name a cancer center director, who became our scientific leader. I recruited that person, and now I have to transition authority to that person. The challenge was that I worked with many of our scientists for many years, and they’re used to coming to me with their problems. Now, we have a new leader, and it’s defining that person’s authority, defining that person’s responsibility, and making sure everyone knows what those roles are.

How have you ensured that people know their roles?

The approach we’ve taken is what I call clearing out space. In activities I’ve previously led, we still have those meetings, but I no longer participate. The new cancer center director has to take charge, and those meetings are a statement of the person who is in charge. We’re still working on it, but most organizations will go through these kinds of problems when they’ve had a leadership structure that is a loose matrix, and they have to put one person in charge of a new area.

Maybe people have worked with me and are comfortable with me, and I’m still here, but not in that capacity. If I went to the Moon for a year, it would fast track this process, because I wouldn’t be here. The new leader would be forced to make decisions, and everyone would be forced to go to him. As it is, if they come to me, I re-direct them to the leader of that area.

How do you train people to start accepting the new structure?

The way you do it is you look at benchmarks and gaps. You look at internal and external benchmarks, and then you look for gaps where you can improve. What we’re about to do is undertake a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis so that we can find the areas where we can be the most effective to close these gaps and improve our performance. I think that if you can get a group of people and really take a formal approach, do a formal SWOT analysis using formal group processes, and then aligning that with the institutional goals, you can make a lot of progress. You can take this organization that might be ossified, and really disrupt it, in a way, because people then start seeing results in front of them.

If I ask each of my departments to judge themselves, to look at what they’re doing, they’ll give me a list of what they’re doing and how well they do it. But the issue isn’t really how well they’re doing it, or whether those things are valuable or not. To me, the bigger issue is how do they fit into the bigger structure of the organization. Do they advance the organization through collaboration?

How to reach: The Wistar Institute, (215) 898-3700 or