Constantine Papadakis is a trustee at Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and president of Drexel University, and he brings his business sense to both jobs.

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Straight-talking Constantine N. Papadakis believes in running Drexel University like a business, and he's not shy about it. In February, the Wall Street Journal profiled him, highlighting his success at cutting costs at the university, his use of sophisticated marketing techniques to increase enrollment, and his hard-nosed style in negotiating with his own senior staff.

Dashboard indicators suggest that Papadakis's tenure at Drexel has been successful. In his 10 years as president, key indicators have risen dramatically:

  • Full-time undergraduate enrollment has risen 111 percent, to 9,844 students.
  • Full-time graduate enrollment has risen 263 percent, to 2,672.
  • Freshman applications have risen nearly 200 percent, to 12,157.
  • Total research expenditures have risen 585 percent, to $89 million.
  • Endowment assets have risen 432 percent, to $500 million.

Both Papadakis and his wife, Eliana, were born in Greece. Their 20-year-old daughter, Maria, is a junior at Drexel, but she's working temporarily in Southern California for an independent record label. Her work-study program is a hallmark of Drexel, where all undergraduates (and many graduate students) participate in several six-month work assignments. These required working stints lengthen the undergraduate program to five years but guarantee each graduate some real-world experience before earning a diploma.

Papadakis says that since he's the only Greek-American university president in the United States, he wasn't surprised when Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology asked for him to join the board. The school in Brookline, Massachusetts, includes an undergraduate college and a seminary. He has served as a trustee since 1997.

In 1997, Constantine Papadakis and his daughter, Maria, met with the Dalai Lama while visiting Taiwan. Today Maria is a junior at Drexel University, where her father is president.

You have a rare opportunity to serve as a trustee and as a president.

My job as a member of the board of Hellenic College/Holy Cross is to bring my experience from academia to the board, because the board consists of great businessmen and -women -- and it includes a few academics -- but there is nobody there who has been involved in the major management of a university, which is a big business nowadays.

The president is really like a CEO of a company. The same way you do marketing in the for-profit world, for us [here in academia] it's enrollment management. After we get students, we need to retain them, so you have customer relations. We offer a product, and the product is the courses we offer -- the teaching by our faculty.


Do you think the endowment is equivalent to the profit?

No, a not-for-profit should make profit. Forget about the endowment for a minute. If your operating revenues are $100 million per year and your expenses are $100 million per year, you break even, but you can never keep those numbers accurately, so you better make certain that your revenue is bigger by a few percentage points than your expenses. Now if your revenues are more than your expenses, the difference is profit. But what you do with a profit in a not-for-profit company is to reinvest it in the company. We make money, and we invest that money back into the institution.


What do you look for in a good trustee?

You want to have a cross section of expertise and capabilities. Then you want to have individuals who know how to be trustees. A board should address strategic issues, not run the university. And this is sometimes a big misunderstanding. You cannot micromanage or second-guess the management -- you have to hold them responsible and decide what the criteria for good performance are, and then make certain that the college operates efficiently, operates at a high quality, operates in a fiscally responsible manner.


Board members bring varying levels of expertise and varying levels of preparation. How do you make sure they're prepared for meetings?

Doing a good job of picking trustees should not be the president's job. The board should have a nominating committee that goes out and recruits top-quality trustees. If that committee does a good job, those individuals are professionals. A CEO of a major company that will come to the board will come prepared -- I guarantee it. They will not come in without being prepared.

If they don't, it may be the fault of the president and the institution. A good management team should provide the trustees with all the documents a week before the meeting so they have time to go through them, make a phone call, ask questions, etc.


Can you recall a time at Drexel or at Hellenic College/Holy Cross where the relationship between president and trustees worked especially well?

In both cases, the relationships are excellent. A smart president should have this kind of feeling continuously. And Father Nick [Father Nicholas C. Triantafilou, president of Hellenic College/Holy Cross] is a great president -- he's very smart and he knows how to direct the board, and it's a great operation. Also, the chairman of the board is Archbishop Demetrios himself. So you have a chairman who is a very impressive personality and a very thoughtful individual, and a great thinker.

If the board feels that the president is not doing a good job, the board should have the guts to dismiss the president. Most boards do. That's why the average life of a university president in the United States is six years, because so many get fired in the first or second year of the presidency.


What kind of effort is being made to recruit priests?

What we promote is that being a priest in a Greek Orthodox church is a great job, a great job! Because you are a leader in the community. You are a spiritual leader, but also you are more or less the leader of the community too.

Let's face it, in addition to all the public celebrations, the priest is also a great healer of the spirits, and that's why you find our priests every day in hospitals, visiting members of the parish, and helping families that are in trouble. It's a profession that touches the life of everyone in the community.

I think that for individuals who want to pursue a profession that not only has significant personal satisfaction, but also has service as its objective, and civic duty, it's a great career. We are successful now in bringing more and more youth to the seminary, and we are pleased with the growth we have.


Where is the seminary going?

The seminary has a brilliant future, because the combination of Holy Cross and Hellenic College gives it an incredible uniqueness and a market differentiation. Think about this for a minute: Seminaries are by definition difficult to support financially, because tuition has to be low, etc. But a liberal arts college that has several hundred students will subsidize the seminary. That's the opportunity that Hellenic College/Holy Cross has for the future.


Did you like My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

My daughter has seen it three times. The first time she saw it, she said, "Dad, you are exactly like the father in the movie."

It was real. If you ask us, we know that our families are like that. We will try to feed you even if you are not hungry. If you eat, our women love it, because they spend so much effort and time to cook. But if you don't eat, they get offended.

We fight all the time, and our homes are always full of a lot of noise, a lot of people, a lot of relatives. Everybody's involved with everybody else's business, which is good and bad. So sometimes we're overwhelming.

During the late 1990s, Papadakis met with Pope John Paul II to promote the canonization of Blessed Katharine Drexel, a niece of the university's founder who established an order of missionary nuns. The pope declared Drexel a saint in 2000.


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