on the boards
rebounding to corporate governance, James Cash '69 has always had the
drive for a challenge -- and the wisdom to enjoy the journey.
Rick Waters '95
comes easily to James Ireland Cash Jr. '69. It's knowing people, their
life situations and their dreams. Then it's connecting the dots.
has relationships nearly unmatched in American business. As a recently
retired faculty member at Harvard Business School, a former dean of the
MBA program and the school's first tenured black professor, there are
a lot of dots in his life. He has served on more than a dozen major corporate
boards and nonprofit institutions, and two of the biggest companies in
the world -- Microsoft and General Electric -- currently seek his advice.
An electronic address book stashed inside his jacket contains almost 4,000
names, from undergraduates to CEOs.
For all his
connections, the 6-foot-6 former Horned Frog basketball star shuns the
limelight. "My definition of power and influence is the ability to make
things happen without people knowing that you are responsible," he says
as if it's a part of a personal motto.
But a public
profile has proven unavoidable. Late in 2002, he was asked to chair the
committee created by federal court to ensure that Microsoft complies with
antitrust rules after the historic litigation between the company, nine
states and the U.S. Justice Department. And last year he became a part-owner
of the NBA's Boston Celtics, a decision, he says, that took half a second
in life is all the more intriguing because of his beginnings -- at segregated
I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth. The son of a railroad mechanic
and a teacher, young James developed an interest in computers during a
summer internship with the National Weather Service while in high school.
"I fell in
love with computers that summer," he recalls. "It was my second love,
skills earned him a TCU scholarship in 1965, making him the first black
player in the Southwest Conference. It would be an early introduction
to a lifelong practice of crossing racial barriers. Although his white
teammates accepted Cash, he sometimes needed a police escort to enter
and leave hostile arenas in some parts of the South.
his three-year varsity career as TCU's sixth all-time scorer. Now he's
down to 24th on the list, but he remains the Frogs' fourth-leading rebounder
in history, averaging 11.6 boards a game. His senior year he was named
also was a standout in the classroom, earning Academic All-America honors
in 1968 and 1969.
"I knew there
was more to life than basketball," he says.
from TCU, Cash worked in data processing, starting a few small, not particularly
noteworthy software companies. Eventually, he returned to school and earned
a doctorate in management information systems at Purdue.
he was recruited to join the Harvard faculty, and he quickly made an impact
by introducing computer-based systems and technology into the curriculum.
By 1985, he was a full professor and settled in suburban Boston with wife
Clemmie and their two children.
way, he developed a reputation as a thorough, process-oriented manager
and administrator, eventually chairing the school's MBA program during
a period when it was completely redesigned.
co-inventor of the first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc,
worked with Cash as a Harvard student in the late
1970s, when he was hatching the concept. "I described
my idea to a few of my professors, and Jim was the
only one who encouraged me," Bricklin told The
Boston Globe. "He recognized that it was
an improvement in human interface."
As he rose
through the ranks at Harvard, Cash spent more time on corporate boards.
Besides Microsoft and GE, he serves or has served on the boards of Knight
Ridder, Tandy, Alcon Laboratories, Scientific-Atlanta, Winstar Communications,
Chubb Group and State Street Bank and Trust.
that some corporate board recruiters regard him as a demographic bonus:
an information technologist who can also bring diversity to the traditionally
white world of corporate governance. But Cash makes an effort to assure
that his appointment will work for the right reasons.
I join a board, I always make sure that I will make a contribution separate
from just the diversity issue. The diversity issue is very important to
me, it's not that I'm running away from that. But I find that the best
way for me to help a company with its diversity issue is to make a substantial
contribution in another category, and that's usually information technology
or corporate governance.
I get a hint that the only contribution I'm making is on the diversity
dimension, then it's time for me to move on. In some cases it's pure tokenism,
and I have no room for that."
Cash served as a tireless recruiter and adviser to minority students and
faculty. By 2000, his commitment to diversity broadened to include the
status of young African-American males in the United States, something
he eventually decided would be his "next mountain to climb."
a big problem. Our system really starts with some sort of aspiration,
the belief that our country gives young people a better chance of achieving
their dreams than any other place they could be. But I think we're looking
at a generation of people who have grown up without the ability to be
Cash made a major career shift, retiring from Harvard at age 55 to climb
that mountain and devote himself to "the plight of young African-American
males." He set his focus on contributing to the board of the Harlem Children's
Zone Project, a New York-area truancy-prevention program that has grown
into a wide-ranging social service net for children. The group sponsors
workshops for parents, holds pre-kindergarten classes, runs an employment
and technology center and provides a dropout prevention program.
very conscious of how much he's been able to do because he's connected
to good people," says David Thomas, a professor at Harvard Business School
who studies the forces that contribute to the rise of minority executives.
"His relationships range across the status spectrum, across race, across
institutions, across technologies."
continues personal speaking engagements. One recent trip brought him back
to TCU to discuss corporate governance and the importance of serving on
It was the
largest crowd of the year at the Charles Tandy Executive Speaker Series
and included several members of his family and his former high school
coach, Robert Hughes.
help but share a few stories of his hometown and college days. "For me,
achieving my dreams began here, in this town and at this university,"
he said. "It holds a special place in my heart. My mother earned her master's
degree in education here. I earned my first degree here. It's a place
that helped shape and change my life."
if determined to spend as little time as possible in front of the room,
he left the podium to thunderous applause and soon was back in his element
-- shaking hands, introducing himself, making connections, networking.
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