The Research Triangle Park

Leading North Carolina: Richard Brodhead

By Apr 17, 2015

Leading North Carolina is series highlighting the Research Triangle Foundation’s Board of Directors.  Bridgette A. Lacy is interviewing each member of the board, and we will be posting the profiles in an effort to give readers an insider’s perspective into the people helping to guide the future of RTP – and North Carolina. Each board member has a unique background that effects their perspective on how we should redevelop RTP in order to be better positioned for tomorrow’s workers. We are thankful for their time, their wisdom and their willingness to continue working with our team on this journey.

Richard H. Brodhead, who became the ninth president of Duke University in 2004, is an education innovator and community collaborator.  Having begun his career as a respected scholar of nineteenth-century American literature, Dick has developed into a compelling speaker and a national leader in higher education.

Dick has focused on enriching the undergraduate experience of Duke University students and expanding the university’s financial aid endowment to ensure that a Duke education is accessible to qualified students regardless of their family’s financial circumstances.

He has reinforced the relationship between Duke University and the City of Durham. Under his leadership, Duke’s investments have strengthened K-12 public education, funded several new community health clinics, and spurred downtown renewal and neighborhood revitalization through the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.

His philosophy is “Education is the great empowerer. It brings you together with other smart people. Smart people make each other smarter when they work together.”

Prior to coming to Duke, Dick had a 32-year career at Yale University. The Dayton, Ohio native graduated from Yale in 1968 and received his Ph.D. there in 1972.  He then joined the Yale faculty, where he served as the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English and American Studies.

He has written or edited more than a dozen books on American literature, analyzing the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Richard Wright, Charles Chestnut and Eudora Welty.

Peter Lange, Duke’s longest serving provost who recently stepped down, describes Dick as a learner, teacher, and collaborator.

For the past decade, the two men have met for at least 90 minutes a week to discuss university issues. They have also become friends who exchange books and talk about some of their favorite television shows.

“The only part of the stereotypical English professor that sticks with Dick is his love of teaching, which means he likes explaining things, giving them intellectual content, not just putting out a phrase,” Mr. Lange says.

“He loves to read. He loves history. He reads very fast. We used to exchange book titles and he could exchange three for everyone I read,” Mr. Lange says. “Here’s something no one would expect, he loves good TV like the good cable shows: “House of Cards,” “Rome,” “Justified,” and “Big Love.”

“He likes the better shows with novelistic characters, complexity and depth,” Mr. Lange explains with a hearty laugh about his former boss.

On a more serious note, the two made quite a team.  “The president and I were collaborators. We understood each other. I knew who the boss was…we really talk openly and had fresh and content-filled conversations. It was very productive. He’s a good listener. Everything is not about his ego but about reaching good decisions.”

Dick brings that sensibility to the RTF board as the president of one of the three universities that anchors the Park.  Duke’s president has always had a seat on the board.

While Dick knew about the Park before moving to the region, he learned a lot about the Triangle through his participation on the board. It also helped him with his rapport with N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The three institutions get along very well,” Dick says. “But the fact that I could see them both in an academic context and RTP really accelerated the growth rate of our relationship.”

Dick sees the bond strengthening as the Park continues to grow. “There’s a pretty bright future for RTP in a knowledge and innovation economy. The universities will likely play a deeper and deeper role in the growth of a regional knowledge economy. So of course we will be more involved in the Park.”

The next phase of the Park’s growth will be in startups instead of mature companies. “Now we are looking for RTP to be associated with the whole cycle – from early innovation all the way through successful corporations.”

He continues, “The successful research parks of the future will be more and more about collaborations across industries, between startups and mature industries and between businesses and universities partners. This is why RTP is fortunate; it has all the parties near each other.”