After a decade on a foundation’s board, Professor Gerald Rosenfeld talks about the hardest parts of philanthropy

As part of the Leadership Series of NYU Law’s Mitchell Jacobson Leadership Program in Law and Business, a conversation on March 29 between Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence Gerald Rosenfeld and Dean Trevor Morrison focused on the intersection of leadership, philanthropy, and the law. The event commemorated the end of Rosenfeld’s decade-long stint as a board member of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, a philanthropic organization that offers grants for endeavors related to urban affairs, Jewish life, biomedical research, and education.

Rosenfeld and Morrison
Gerald Rosenfeld and Trevor Morrison

In an hourlong discussion, Rosenfeld, who is adviser to the CEO and vice chairman of investment banking at Lazard, touched on his career transition from mathematics professor to financial services professional; how he came to be co-director of the Jacobson Program at its inception; different leadership styles; the problem of underrepresentation of women and minorities in the business world; his approach to mentoring; and the unexpected challenges of philanthropy.

Select remarks by Gerald Rosenfeld at the event

“We screen out potentially good, talented people much too early. We have a template, and we match skills against the template. If the skill set doesn’t match the template, that person goes away, and I think it’s a bad idea…. [Emotional intelligence] is one of the most important things, and it’s hard to screen for that. Résumés don’t talk about that. Only human interaction talks about that. My suggestion, at our own firm and other places, is to try to find ways to look beyond the quantitative, the IQ pieces.”

“Financial services is well known for [underrepresenting women] by count, and presumably inhospitable in certain ways. It’s an incredibly vexing problem, and one that many people much smarter than I think about all the time and don’t have fast solutions. We, the men, used to say, ‘Well, it’s a pipeline problem. There aren’t enough women in business schools, and therefore just wait five or 10 years, and the problem will be fixed.’ Guess what? It’s five or 10 years or 15 or 20 years since we’ve been saying that, and it hasn’t been fixed.”

“Many financial service firms have built up the percentages of women that they hire in their entry classes…but look three years later, five years later, the drop-out rate or the lack of retention rate is simply too high. And it’s not that the women get fired. It’s that somehow there is a lack of compatibility around the culture of the place.”

“The most important quality that a young person can display, to me, is reliability. It’s not about the brilliant insight from the first-year associate that allows you to crack a particular problem. It’s being part of the team and delivering your piece of work to the team so that that work can be delivered to the client. Part of the business of being in professional services is learning how to work in that team environment.”

“It’s hard to give away money well. That’s the number one lesson that I learned. People think foundation work is easy. You’ve got a pot of money, and the IRS makes you give it away…. The thoroughness of the evaluation, the ability to see how the money will be leveraged into action and into positive change is the thing that was the most eye-opening.”

“The Milton Friedman/Ayn Rand school of thought, not just social thought but corporate thought, led us into a place in corporate governance where the only thing that mattered was share price. There’s still lots of people who think that. I’ve never been among the people who think that.”

Watch the full video of the event (54 min):

Posted April 6, 2018