Washington: Change Agent

Alum, faculty, students connect through history
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It started with a conversation between friends.

Paul Salvatore ’81, Law ’84 and Samuel Bacharach, ILR’s McKelvey-Grant Professor, were talking about leadership years ago in the context of Bacharach’s book, “Get Them On Your Side.”

Salvatore recommended “His Excellency, George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis.

After Bacharach read it, he agreed with Salvatore -- the book engagingly distills leadership lessons, and invited the alum to share Washington insights with students.

A tradition was born.

For about eight years, the Proskauer partner has met with students in Bacharach’s “Politics of Organizational Change” course, offered to undergraduates in semester-long internships in New York City.

“Paul has been a genuine teaching and intellectual partner,” Bacharach said. “The dialogue between alums and faculty is the essence of the ILR community.”

“Reaching into the past,” Salvatore tells students, “can bring forth lessons about the present and the future that you can apply to your own conduct and behavior in the workplace. You, too, can be a leader.”

Many of the students are already in the vanguard of Cornell groups and other organizations, said Salvatore, a Cornell trustee.

The presentation on Washington, though, “gives them a chance to reflect on leadership in a different way,” one rooted in history.

Among the lessons relayed through Washington’s life, Salvatore said, is that “you don’t have to be the best to be really good.”

“Washington had major failures and he rarely won a battle.”

But, he persevered, in part by surrounding himself with the diverse perspectives of his cabinet members, Salvatore said.

More than two centuries later, Washington is still considered by many to be an example of sterling leadership.

Salvatore, who argued and won before the U.S. Supreme Court in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, is considered a litigation leader in the labor-management world.

When he meets with Bacharach’s class on April 11 and April 18 in an elegant Proskauer boardroom in a Times Square skyscraper, Salvatore expects to see high interest in the content at hand.

Today’s students “see leadership as a skill set integral to career success,” he said.
 
Bacharach said he is delighted to see history take its rightful place in the course’s curriculum and in Salvatore’s presentations.

“If you want to learn about leadership, don’t forget history. No matter your current professional ambitions, the mastery of history is essential.”