Tom Gerrity believes in balance. Balancing work and family. And balancing work and play.
It is why the former dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania recently stepped down after nine years on the job to spend more time with his family. And why he and his wife, Anna, recently gave MIT $2 million to name the health and fitness center in the soon-to-be-built MIT Sports and Fitness Center.
Without recreation, he says, life is often too lopsided.
“Given the intellectual demands and rigor of MIT’s academic life, it really benefits students and faculty to have outlets for their physical energy. Balance is not a trade-off. It enhances people’s ability to do effective work.
“Sports provides great lessons for life,” adds Gerrity, who chose MIT over CalTech because it had a wrestling team. “I learned tenacity and discipline through sports, but it was the experience of teamwork that provided the greatest lesson of my life.”
Gerrity, now 59, earned a bachelor’s from MIT in electrical engineering in 1963, a master’s in 1964, and a doctorate in management in 1970. A Rhodes scholar, he later taught for four years at the Sloan School.
In 1969, he and a group of MIT friends began the Index Group, where Gerrity was CEO for 20 years; they sold it in 1988 to Computer Sciences Corporation, but he stayed on to head the consulting group, which included Index. They were the company that gave the world “business re-engineering” – the major management innovation of the early ’90s.
Named dean of the Wharton School in 1990, Gerrity led it through a decade of innovation and advancement as one of the best business schools in the world. He made the curriculum more international. He re-engineered the MBA program, increased the faculty, and tripled the endowment.
Gerrity put to use at Wharton his lessons about teamwork – he fostered group work across academic disciplines and got people to collaborate. “While Wharton had many strong individual departments,” a colleague once told a reporter, “it was the teamwork among them that enabled the school to rise to the top.”
Gerrity led by bringing out leadership in others. “The best organization,” he says, “is one with such a breadth of leadership that the head person can be hit by a truck and the organization doesn’t skip a beat.”
So it was, after nine years on the job, that Gerrity decided to step down as dean to spend more time with his family. “Slowing down was a chapter in my life I’d had in mind for some time,” he says. “I made a vow to myself that I wanted to be a good Dad.”
Life with the kids
Gerrity is now on a one-year leave from Wharton where he continues as management professor and director of the school’s e-commerce initiatives. He also is on the boards of six companies and is an investor in 10 start-ups, but he still spends every day with his wife and four children, ages 7 to 13.
So far, his transformation from corporate go-getter to family man has been great. “I’m certainly driving around town a lot more,” he says, laughing. “I drive my kids to soccer and baseball practice, to concerts and camp. We read together, swim, and talk. It’s been wonderful.”
When he made the move to spend more time with his family, it caused some surprise and unease among his colleagues. The women were supportive. The men were less sure, though some told him: “I need to do that myself.”
In fact, Gerrity says, it is now time in society for a rebalancing. “I think we’re entering a period where the work/family balance is going to get a lot more study,” he says. “As people’s lives have become more intense, I think leading organizations are going to be the ones that find healthy ways to encourage and support a better sense of balance. We all have a deep need for family, for community, for strong relationships.”
Besides, he says, effective business is all about relationships. “B-schools often emphasize the logical and analytic skills of strategy and decision-making, but the truth is that the really important, satisfying, and powerful part of business-building is the development of trusting relationships and strong communities and cultures.”
Nurturing those relationships is his priority. Often he and his family now visit their cabin in Montana, where they spend time in the mountains horseback riding, canoeing, and hiking. At night, they play Scrabble and Clue.
Sometimes, it makes Gerrity think about his own Dad, who was a general in the Air Force. “He was a very busy guy,” he says. “We had a great relationship, but I always regretted not having more time with him. I don’t want my kids to have that regret.”
He laughs. “My kids may regret having too much time with me, but at least they won’t regret not having had enough.”