The next vice-president joining the presidential cabinet of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) will bring a skill-set rare in the leadership of academic institutions: decades of success as a business leader and owner.
Jim Smucker, president and major shareholder of the Bird-in-Hand Corporation in Pennsylvania, will be the first full-time graduate dean of EMU, announced Provost Fred Kniss, on Feb. 26, 2013.
“Jim brings a wealth of leadership and entrepreneurial experience to the role, as well as appropriate academic training and experience,” said Kniss.
“Our graduate programs are entering a period of growth and organizational development,” he added. “They will be well served by Jim’s leadership experience and organizational expertise.”
Smucker is succeeding David Glanzer, who filled the grad dean role on a part-time basis while maintaining his teaching role in EMU’s graduate counseling program.
Businesses began on family’s Amish farmland
Though Smucker holds degrees from Goshen College (a sister Mennonite institution) and two other universities, his exceptional qualities are linked to his business leadership. He and his brother John have expanded what began in 1968 as a motel built by their Amish-born father on family farmland.
The Smucker brothers now run one of the leading hospitality businesses in Pennsylvania-Dutch country. They are the ultimate managers of 450 employees who run the Bird-in-Hand Family Inn, Restaurant and Bakery, as well as other places of lodging in the area, including Amish Country Motel, Mill Stream Country Inn, Travelers Rest Motel, Bird-in-Hand Village Inn and Suites, and Country Acres Campground.
As the business grew, Jim Smucker felt called to explain to fellow Christians, especially those affiliated with his Mennonite Church USA, how being an entrepreneur is “missional,” and not just about making money.
“Most people spend more time each week at work than they do in church, or even with their families,” Smucker says. “This means that a work environment that includes developing and empowering employees as part of its mission can have a significant positive impact on their social, emotional, and spiritual development.”
Advanced degrees in management
Smucker’s master’s and doctoral degrees, earned respectively from University of Scranton and Walden University, were both in management, with a focus on effectiveness in leadership and organizational change. He has taught these subjects on an adjunct basis at Walden, Lebanon Valley College and EMU.
In an 2012 article posted by MennoMedia at leaderonline.org, Smucker wrote of surveying 20 leaders – about evenly divided among churches, non-profits, educational institutions and businesses – and asking “What, in your opinion, are the top five or six organizational and/or leadership skills needed to be an efficient and effective leader in your organization?”
Responses were similar across the four organizational types, says Smucker. There was “high consensus” on these leadership characteristics:
- Developing and communicating the vision and mission of the organization.
- Having high expectations and holding people accountable.
- Developing trustworthy relationships.
- Low ego needs among leaders, coupled with a servant-leadership style.
- The ability to build a strong team of people.
- Strong communication and listening skills.
If Smucker brings these qualities to EMU, he will do so with an understanding that the academic world operates differently than for-profit businesses. “Savvy leaders understand that, to be an effective leader, they need to understand the cultural differences inherent in individual organizations,” he says. “Even leaders that move between organizations in the same category, from one church or business to another, can experience extreme cultural differences.
“Not accounting for these differences is one of the main reasons so many corporate mergers fail. It is also the reason there is at times high frustration between church and business leaders.”
First task: Listen, understand, new organizational culture
In his MennoMedia article, Smucker stressed, “Effective organizational leaders understand that their first response should be to listen and understand. Too often the temptation is to overlay on the new organization what worked in a previous organization.”
He also underscored the importance of not getting impatient, of investing the time necessary to build trust when entering a new work environment. “Leaders in all organizations tend to undervalue the power and importance of building trustworthy relationships. In times of systemic change, one of the keys to organizational effectiveness is a high level of trust among stakeholders. It takes time to listen deeply and establish trust. But once trust is established, implementation can be much more effective and more efficient.”
Since graduating from Goshen College in 1984, Smucker has defied the mold of the stereotypical Type-A entrepreneur who is narrowly focused on increasing the profit margin while sacrificing all other personal and social interests to that goal. Smucker coached high school basketball for 14 years, as well as youth and high school baseball for 10 years. He has been congregational chair of his church, Akron Mennonite, and has held countless volunteer leadership positions with regional business and tourist organizations, including chair of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He is devoted to his wife, Anna, of 27 years and their three adult children, 22-year-old Jordon, 20-year-old Rachel, and 18-year-old Kate.
Marathons for fun, funds and “therapy”
Long-distance running is his main hobby – or daily bout of “therapy,” as he jokingly refers to it – with 23 marathons, including three Boston Marathons, and six ultra-marathons completed. He is the organizing force behind the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon, a fundraiser for the local fire department. It attracted 1,250 runners from 38 states and four countries in 2012, the third year it was held.
Jim and Anna Smucker plan to move from Bird-In-Hand, where Jim grew up and helped build the family business, to Harrisonburg, Va., before Jim tackles his latest career challenge of being EMU’s first full-time graduate dean, beginning July 1, 2013. He will be occupying a newly created slot as EMU’s seventh vice president reporting to President Loren Swartzendruber.
As graduate dean, Smucker will be overseeing and coordinating the fastest-growing component of EMU, with master’s degree students accounting for about a third of EMU’s enrollment. EMU offers master’s degrees in biomedicine, business administration, conflict transformation, counseling, education, nursing & leadership, and several through its seminary. The master’s in divinity and other seminary programs will continue to be led by Michael King, vice president and dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary.