125 Stanford Stories

NO. 57

Transformative leadership: John Hennessy

Stanford’s 10th president carried its founders’ vision into the 21st century

Under the leadership of University President John Hennessy, who took office in 2000, Stanford achieved astonishing growth and global impact. It built or transformed many key facilities while enhancing environmental sustainability.

Most fundamentally, Stanford under Hennessy’s watch trained its massive resources on interdisciplinary research aimed at solving the world’s toughest problems. Its 21st-century programs, mindset and architecture are all shaped by the deep interdisciplinary collaboration that is the hallmark of Hennessy’s tenure.

These innovations have made Stanford better and stronger, writes Stanford Magazine’s Mike Antonucci in a comprehensive look at Hennessy’s achievements over the past 16 years.

Hennessy oversaw the creation and growth of interdisciplinary research hubs including the Woods Institute for the Environment and BioX; the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, popularly known as the d.school; SESI, a campuswide energy system to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions; a renovated Stanford Stadium, new recreational facilities and a new Arts District.

Stanford completed more than 70 building projects during his tenure, including the Science and Engineering Quad, McMurtry Building, Bing Concert Hall and James H. Clark Center, projects that exemplify Hennessy’s commitment to dissolving walls between disciplines, people and ideas.

In his final address to Stanford’s Academic Council, Hennessy called the best moment of his presidency Stanford’s enhanced commitment to student financial aid. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average Stanford student on financial aid pays less than he or she did 16 years ago.

“The root of the success of our institution is providing access for the very best students to attend,” Hennessy told the council in May 2016.

His innovations carry into the 21st century Leland and Jane Stanford’s intent to graduate “cultured and useful citizens” from a university that is as affordable as possible.

Hennessy steps down in August 2016 to make way for incoming University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

In his next role, he becomes founding director of Stanford’s graduate Knight-Hennessy Scholars, the largest fully endowed scholarship program in the world. It furthers Hennessy’s goal to “do good for the world,” as he told Stanford Magazine, by educating potential leaders from around the globe.