Government and Industry Leaders Examine Shakespearean Lessons for Succeeding In Business

4/25/2014

An evening of Shakespeare hosted by Stevens Institute of Technology on April 22, 2014 was not the typical literary affair one would expect about the Bard.

William Shakespeare is known worldwide as perhaps the greatest wordsmith and dramatist of the English language. But Shakespeare as business management guru? Probably less known. So what does Hamlet’s family drama or the tragedy of Julius Caesar have to do with today’s business world? A lot more than meets the eye according to Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Kenneth Adelman, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Ronald Reagan. They were invited to speak at Professor Susan Levin’s undergraduate Shakespeare class to discuss their book, “Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard’s Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage.”

For Augustine, last night marked a return visit to the Stevens campus. The renowned leader in industry, government and academia was the inaugural speaker of Stevens’ President’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which began in 2012.

Adelman has taught Shakespeare at Georgetown and George Washington Universities, and is currently serving as executive producer of a future film, "Reykjavik," starring Michael Douglas about the 1986 superpower summit between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union.

Augustine and Adelman addressed a crowd at the Lawrence T. Babbio, Jr. Center for Technology Management, where Stevens faculty, students, staff and invited guests listened to the coauthors discuss the relevance of Shakespeare’s characters to how leaders navigate the complexities and intricacies of modern corporate life.

The event was very much in keeping with the Stevens tradition of providing students with a humanistic foundation for science and engineering curricula. “From the very start, Stevens has been at the forefront of recognizing the importance of a liberal arts education, evidenced by the Founding Charter of 1870, which called for a “department of Belles-Lettres” that would provide engineering students with a solid grounding in classical studies,” explained Lisa Dolling, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens.

Describing her class as part of the "unique Stevens approach" to traditional literary courses, Professor Levin introduced the two speakers as examples of engineers who not only read, but write and publish about Shakespeare.

In his opening remarks, Augustine expressed his "particular fondness" for Stevens, and his gratitude for the honorary degree he received from the university. In response, Adelman quipped that he has yet to receive such an honor from Stevens.

Throughout the 90-minute lecture, the two displayed an easy rapport and good-natured banter that bespoke of their decades-long friendship and collaboration. What was also evident was their shared passion for Shakespeare. Augustine credited his grandfather for instilling a love of Shakespeare, while Adelman described himself as a late bloomer who became a life-long fan of the Bard's work when he began teaching it to university students. "Shakespeare becomes very addictive, very quickly," Adelman said.

Both agreed that the timelessness of Shakespeare's plays offer insightful lessons for today's CEOs and industry leaders. To prove it, Augustine presented actual scenarios from his own corporate past involving business tactics and ethical dilemmas, and then turned to Adelman to ask what Shakespeare would do in those situations. Adelman was always quick to draw from the many extraordinarily rich and complex characters of the literary master.

The importance of the humanities to science and engineering education was an underlying theme throughout the evening. Augustine, who holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University, said a broad understanding of the liberal arts "served him well" not only in life, but also in his career. During his time at Lockheed Martin, Augustine noted that among the 82,000 engineers who worked for him, the ones who rose in management were often the ones who had the ability to communicate effectively. 

Adelman added that in a field like engineering where multiple teams work on the development and implementation of complex systems and processes, the command of language and the ability to write are critical to the integration of all the various components and carrying out the different phases of a project. And to become a good writer, he said, one needs to “read a lot, especially great literature.”