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Hampton University Inc.

How Pres. William R. Harvey’s business approach produced an HBCU set for sustainable longevity

On Hampton University's campus (Image: File)

Hampton has forged business relationships and community involvement in enterprising endeavors. What have been key elements of doing that?
In addition to being president of Hampton, I’m 100% owner of a Pepsi-Cola bottling company in Michigan. I know the value of entrepreneurship and we’ve included entrepreneurship as a field of concentration in our school of business.
We’ve also invested in our community. We built four hotels. We don’t still own them, because that’s not our model. Our model is to serve pretty much like a bank where we provide support to build the hotel, and we get, just like a bank, a percent of our money. We have participated in hotels in Newport News, Norfolk, and Blacksburg. That has worked out well for us. It’s been a good investment. When you think about it, you’re getting 7% to 8% for your money from the very first day we provide the loan, and then once it’s built, you’re getting anywhere from a 35% to 40% equity share of the project.
I think entrepreneurship is good for anybody, particularly African Americans, and I have promulgated that, and it’s worked out well for us here at Hampton.

Education administrators are often tasked with balancing the fiscal health of a school with educational demands of students, faculty, and staff. How have you maintained that balance?
I think that a college president is a CEO of an institution. I’ve got to make sure that my colleagues and I can provide the resources to do good work. Part of that is teamwork. Our board of trustees is involved in everything we do on a policy matter. There’s always a robust discussion with the board. I take everything to the board—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Also, we have such a world-class, quality faculty. We would not have been able to do the things we’ve done if we didn’t have quality faculty.
My model for administrative success is made up of 10 principles that I’ve practiced all of my adult life. It starts with vision and includes academic excellence, teamwork, innovation, fairness, courage, fiscal conservatism, and results. Results are important.

How have you promoted teamwork?
Teamwork includes working with faculty, administrative staff, the board, and, indeed, the students. I meet with student leaders once a month, just as I meet with faculty once a month.  Many of the things we’ve done have come from meetings with our students. For example, students said we needed a new cafeteria. I asked them what they’d like to see in it and how they’d like to see it executed. Now, we probably have the nicest cafeteria in the country, on the water. That came about with a lot of student input. Though I am the team leader, it is the team approach that makes Hampton do well … because I listen, get input, we share it, we have collective competence.

Many people focus on the problems confronting HBCUs instead of solutions.
One of the things people, black and white, do is think that all HBCUs are alike. That’s not correct. We are not a monolith. Just like predominantly white institutions, some are very, very good, some are poor, and most are in the middle.

Hampton happens to be one that’s very good but if you look at the body of HBCUs, all but a few are accredited. They exceed the standards of their accrediting bodies. Some have world-class academic and research activities. For example, nearly 25% of all black pharmacists practicing today in the U.S. came from Xavier University. North Carolina A&T is the largest producer of African Americans with bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in engineering. If you think about Tuskegee University, Florida A&M University, Spelman College, Tennessee State, Prairie View A&M, Morgan State, Howard University, Meharry, St. Augustine’s—you name it—all are doing well for our society.

But a number of HBCUs have faced fiscal crises. You’ve served as chair of President Obama’s
advisory board on HBCUs. What is your advice for turning things around?
Fiscal challenges for all institutions—perhaps even more so at HBCUs— are, quite frankly, always going to be there. If you look at some of the current fiscal crises—and they’re there, not only for the least of us, but for the best of us—is that Pell Grants for HBCU students are down, Title III funds are down, PLUS loans are down.

What one needs to do is take a balanced approach and not depend on any one source of support. What we do is look to the federal government, foundations, corporations, individuals, our alumni—all of these segments are important.
These things are not going to go away, so I can’t rest on my laurels. We’re getting ready to start another $150 million campaign because I have to look forward for Hampton another 10, 15, to 20 years from now, when I’m not here. For me, Hampton is not just a job, it’s a way of life. I’ve got to make sure that I make Hampton better than when I came, and look out for its future. That’s what our founder, Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong did, and that’s what I must do.

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