Judy Genshaft is Tampa Bay’s undisputed
top female executive. No bull.

By Bob Andelman
Maddux Business Report
May 2008
Cover Story

(NOTE: This is the original, longer, and unedited version of the story that appeared in print.)

Hold that thought a moment.

Judy Genshaft is collecting hers – well, not her thoughts, but her bulls. Dozens of variations on the University of South Florida mascot that she has collected from all over the United States and beyond are accumulating on her desk.

As tchotchkes go, bulls aren’t pigs, but they are available in quite a few variations, such as the cartoon bull she’s winding up to demonstrate its comic potential. All colors, sizes, and materials are represented, from plastic and ceramic to glass and – yes – the bull she found in a china shop.

All this, and the Maddux Business Report’s interview with the president of the University of South Florida hasn’t even started yet.

“It’s fun,” she says. “Spain, Barcelona, Greece… This was from a fellow who was in Vietnam. It’s fun to collect them. I started the first year, collecting them for my desk. I have a certain price point because these are personal purchases. They’re not state purchases.”

The lowest she’s spent on a bull: $10. “And I won’t go over $100.” And no, she doesn’t deduct them as a business expense.

In recent years, the bull has become more apparent as a symbol of the school, because in 2002-03 the athletic and stationery logos changed and the standard bull – “the one that looked more like a goat” – was put out to pasture. “When I was in Ohio and I asked people what that symbol was, they thought it was a goat.”

Branding was extremely important to Genshaft – whose husband, perhaps coincidentally, is a marketing consultant – as USF’s new president in 2000.

“We were at a very important point where we either had to move up in our research, our academics, our athletics,” she says, “or we were going to stay flat, just be a commuter school. It was my intention that we were going to be a part of the business community, a part of the Tampa Bay economic engine – which requires top-notch research and lifting the entire institution and making sure it meets its full potential.”

Genshaft is small in stature but her personality and ambition can fill a room. She is charming, solicitous, and funny. And in eight years as president of USF, she has succeeded in her original goal beyond the wildest dreams of many of the people who decided she was the right person for the job – and generations of previous USF commuter students who never dreamed their school would be mentioned in the same breath as the University of Florida Gators or Florida State University Seminoles. Because from research dollars to gridiron scores, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“My job as president is to make sure that degrees from USF are like stocks that rise in value,” Genshaft says. “I want all of the alums to feel all of the pride of USF.”

Toward that aim, a new ambition of the school’s president is the end of the image of Bulls as commuters. Campus life is a focus of her administration, with 1,100 new dormitory beds being added and a requirement that students live on campus “because you get that connectivity.”

Something else that’s new: USF’s days as a Florida high school senior’s “safety” school are over and done.

“You don’t get into USF any more like you used to,” according to Genshaft. “You have to have very high grades or high SATs or ACTs. The USF degree is becoming more powerful.”

• • •

Genshaft – the second female president in USF’s history, after Betty Castor – survived a truly heated trial by fire as president that started raging shortly after September 11, 2001, and came out smelling fresh as this morning’s Ybor City-baked Cuban rolls in the end. Remember her battles with a tenured USF professor – and alleged terrorism supporter – by the name of Sami Al-Arian?

“I was chairman of the board when that happened,” recalls Richard A. “Dick” Beard, a Tampa-based real estate developer and chair of Tampa Bay’s 2009 Super Bowl Task Force. “I wanted to fire him instantly. She was patient and thoughtful about it. With all the pressure I was putting on her, she still wanted to make sure we worked through the process.”

Beard was astonished by the patience Genshaft exhibited with regard to the Al-Arian situation. And he was hardly the only one exerting pressure on the USF leader. But she resisted one and all. It was a time to establish her backbone, but it couldn’t have been easy.

Universities like process and want it to work. Genshaft knew that the process was set up for the benefit of the tenured professors, which intentionally makes it difficult to fire them. “She always felt like universities shouldn’t be policemen,” Beard says. “If – and when – the FBI arrested him (in 2003) and made their case, she felt that that was the proper time for her to do what she should do.”

Taking a principled stand – even one that was personally distasteful for a Jewish university president in the face of a radical Palestinian militant whose salary checks she was approving – was the only way to operate the school, Genshaft believed.

“In the final analysis she was right,” Beard says, “and willing to stand up to a lot of pressure from me. She handled me well, too.” At the memory, Beard cackles. “I was pretty aggressive about it. That’s a good indication of the character she’s got. I was not an academic coming in as chairman. It was her trying to get me to understand the process and why it was important. The whole board said, ‘Do it.’ I think we had two abstains. We told her to fire him. But we didn’t specify a time. And she didn’t say she wouldn’t; she wanted to do it at the right time.”

Genshaft is just happy to move on.

“It was a chronic crisis that we had to contend with. I’m glad it’s over. I’m sorry it plagued the university,” she says.

• • •

As research dollars at USF have risen in recent years, so have a few key salaries, particularly Genshaft’s and that of the only football coach the school has known in the program’s 11-year history, Jim Leavitt.

Earlier this year, Leavitt agreed to a 6-year contract extension valued at $1.5-million annually.

And in 2007, Genshaft, who is 60, signed a new five-year deal that will pay her $395,000 a year, with an annual bonus clause of another $100,000.

“I was on the committee to decide on a raise for her,” recalls Debbie Sembler, a member of the school’s board of trustees who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Sembler, who is married to commercial real estate developer Brent Sembler and was the marketing director for Old Hyde Park Village for many years, is a UF grad, not a Bull. “I knew nothing about USF before I got on the board. But I was overwhelmed with what USF has brought to the community. Since taking over the reins, Judy has set a higher standard. She put the school on the map with the decisions she made. I think the football team helped that, too” – she laughs – “but she networks well, she’s friends with all the right people. She has been instrumental in making USF a Top 50 research institute.”

And how did all of that affect her approach to Genshaft’s compensation?

“I asked for the most she could be given,” Sembler says. “I know the competition out there – she could be taken away from us in a second because there is strong competition among universities for the kind of leadership she gives us.”

Guided in part by a study conducted by an independent consultant on executive compensation, the board whole-heartedly endorsed Sembler’s motion.

“We looked outside of Florida and inside Florida at institutions we considered our peers,” Beard confirms. “We wanted to be at an acceptable range so she was fairly compensated. There was never any debate about it – except in the press.”

• • •

Genshaft is an inveterate, energetic networker who thrives on taking on a workload that would make lesser mortals collapse under the weight. In addition to running the university, she is the current chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

“My priorities are this university and the economic development of the area and the state,” Genshaft says. “So when you’re looking at USF, and what I do with the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, to me, it’s all one woven piece of material. Economic development grows as the university grows and the region grows. I think it’s part of our public mission to benefit society.”

Approximately 60 percent of the president’s time is spent on the outside community which includes fundraising at the Florida Legislature, private corporations, or private donors, economic development, friend-raising in the community, board activities, trustees, the board of governors, foundation members, alumni members. She is also the next chair of the American Council on Education. “These are the constituencies that are important to maintain the university’s high visibility and external relationships,” Genshaft says.

You’re probably wondering when she actually tends to USF’s internal business. Everything is compartmentalized; Genshaft has set, weekly times in which she meets with representatives of the students, faculty, staffs, and direct-report vice presidents.

“And nothing is in stone, because if there are any unfortunate crises, they take priority,” she says. “I have a great VP team and set of deans to work with.”

• • •

Judy Genshaft’s life works despite its myriad demands because her husband of the last 19 years, Steve Greenbaum, has accepted a still unusual role for the 21st Century man. He works at home, handles the schedules of their two boys, ages 14 and 11, and frees his wife to respond to the needs of the university and its students, professors, support staff, and the occasional reporter.

“There is no question about it,” Genshaft says. “I start very early in the morning and I’m out five nights a week – or more. He goes to most of the sports things but he’s the stable force at home for the boys – and he loves it. I just couldn’t manage otherwise. It takes a team at home and a team at work. If you look at successful people, that kind of teamwork is important.”

Things need to be juggled “and you figure out how to make them work,” Greenbaum says. “I’m fortunate to be able to have a career where I work out of the house and can be flexible in workload and worklife. It’s very different than previous generations.”

They met in Columbus, Ohio, where she grew up the daughter of a hard-working Russian immigrant who came to this country with nothing and eventually built a successful meat processing company. She was working at the Ohio State University; he was with a pharmaceutical company and was new to her neighborhood. “We met at a mixer at her house. It was a ‘Welcome to the Community Thing’ for me. That mixer was probably in January; we started dating in March or April, got engaged in November, and married in March.”

Greenbaum says the attraction between his wife and himself is simple.

“Judy and I see the world from the same perspective,” he says. “We have similar senses of humor. She can be serious without taking herself too seriously. Even at that time we had the premarital talk about what we wanted to get out of life. Even then she said, ‘Steve, some day I want to be president of a university.’ She was a department chair at that time and realized she had to pay her dues. But even then she had that taste of higher up leadership.”

And when she first entertained that dream, there were far fewer females presidents at the top of major research universities than there are now.

“Judy is the president,” he says. “She’s the one who was chosen and she loves what she does so much. I contribute to the university in the ways I can and we’ve worked it out well.”

And while Greenbaum’s vocation is marketing, he swears that recognizing the need for a modern USF logo and mascot was his wife’s doing, not his.

“That’s something she felt needed to be dressed up,” he says. “She realized the university needed to put on a fresh face.”

• • •

So what about football? The USF Bulls rose – however briefly – to become the No. 1 college football team in the nation last fall, thanks to a combination of gutsy play and the decimation of team after team that was rated ahead of it. The team’s play in the Big East, where it is both the youngest and largest school in the conference, electrified the Tampa Bay community like nothing else the school ever previously accomplished and the entire nation was promptly heard to ask: “The University of Where?”

“Our football season this year was phenomenal,” Genshaft marvels, “especially because no other Florida team ranked No. 2 in the country! I mean, it was thrilling! And it brought the whole region together for USF. Football is similar to the front porch of a house. It gives you entrance and lets me say, ‘Let me tell you all about USF.’ People were surprised to hear we’re 45,000 students, four campuses, and a very high research classification.

“Let me tell you a quick story. Our former dean, Charlie Mahan, of the College of Public Health, is a graduate of the University of West Virginia. When we joined the Big East, and before we played them in football for the first time, he said that one of his friends from WVA said to him, ‘Who is this USF?’ And when we beat them at WVA, the second time, he said, ‘I know where USF is! They’re in that Tampa area!’ People know us now.

“More recently,” she continues, “I was at a conference in San Diego. I had my USF pin on and someone said, ‘Oh, you had a great football season!’ We’re very excited about our success with athletics because it brings attention to the whole Tampa Bay area.”

• • •

The University of South Florida is among the nation’s top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida’s top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

SOURCE: University of South Florida