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Bold Leader Spotlight: Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida President

A bunch of students fleeing a college campus

The length of tenure for university leadership in today’s college environment averages about six years. When Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida, retires next year, she will have managed three times this figure. And for good reason. During her time at the helm, Genshaft has shown everyone how to be bold in leadership. From USF’s rise to preeminent status in the state to top national rankings in university education to a leader in patent development Genshaft has delivered. Her impact on USF and throughout the Tampa Bay area will be evident for decades to come.

For Judy Genshaft, bold leadership means turning USF into an esteemed educational institution.
University of South Florida (USF) president Judy Genshaft has helped turn USF into one of the top educational institutions in the state.

For her results-driven style, championing of change, and embracing of humility and diversity, Genshaft deserves this week’s Bold Leader Spotlight.

“I’m very focused and goal-oriented. And if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it big time.” – Judy Genshaft


USF Infographic

Learning Early How to Be Bold Through Humility and Diversity

Genshaft came from very humble beginnings. She grew up in Canton, Ohio, with parents who immigrated from Russia, and life was a struggle. But Genshaft’s father taught her how to be a leader by starting his own meat processing business. He embraced his heritage as well as diversity. Often, her father would host business gatherings that would bring together grocery store executives, suppliers, and even employees. From a very young age, Judy Genshaft could see how diversity – and the humility it often requires – is sometimes required for bold leadership.

These leadership traits would serve Genshaft well. After completing her doctorate degree from Kent State University, she went on to become an assistant professor at Ohio State University. But after hitting advancement obstacles, she realized she would need a different approach to attain her career goals. So Genshaft then took a position as education dean at SUNY-Albany, where she later became provost. From there, she became president of USF in 2000.

In essence, Genshaft leveraged a humble spirit and a diversity of experiences to attain this leadership position. And USF has been better for it.

“I truly believe that as the president of a public university, it’s my responsibility, and actually I enjoy it, to work with the community on making sure we have as talented a workforce as possible and to grow our economy.” – Judy Genshaft

A Results-Focused Bold Leader Constantly Championing Change

Looking at Judy Genshaft’s time at USF, it’s easy to see bold leadership in her achievements. When she began as USF’s president, only 20% of students graduated within four years. Today, that figure is 60%. Over her tenure, USF has become only the third public university in the state to earn a title of preeminence. This status provides USF with $6.5 million annually in state funding. And USF has grown to become the ninth largest public research university in the nation.

In pursuing the results she wanted for USF, Genshaft took a foundational approach. She championed change at every level of the university, including its academic standards for admission and its financial aid policies. She hired professional academic advisers, and she hired exceptional talent to lead the change. Through her collaborative leadership style, Genshaft showed others how to be bold and evoke transformation. As a result, she has taught everyone to never be satisfied with the status quo. The pursuit of excellence is ingrained within the university culture.

Judy Genshaft Shows Bold Leadership Beyond the Educational Sector

Without question, Judy Genshaft has shown bold educational leadership. But her ability to be inclusive and make an even larger impact on society is also evident. She has been integral in building business partnerships in the Tampa community. Previously, she helped bring Bristol-Myers Squibb to the Tampa area. Likewise, she served as chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and many other civic organizations and businesses. Throughout Tampa, Genshaft is recognized as a bold leader with a broad vision for positive change. And as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn points out, “Any major pitch where I am, she’s there, too.”

Of course, one of her most impressive accomplishments has been a partnership with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. As part of the $3 billion Water Street development project, USF has been awarded property where a $156 million medical school will be constructed. The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will put USF even more in the heart of Tampa’s community (pun intended). And it will facilitate a richer community culture and broader economic development for the area in the process.

A Bold Leader Shows Confident Leadership

Being USF president has not been without challenges. In the aftermath of 9/11, Genshaft had to deal with a computer engineering professor charged with terrorist activities. In addition, she has repeatedly faced leadership issues at satellite campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee. But in each case, she has shown bold leadership by being confident and value-directed. At the end of the day, values drive bold leadership.

While Genshaft will be stepping down as President of USF next summer, her bold leadership will persist. Though she is planning to thoroughly enjoy her retirement with her family, she remains dedicated to the Tampa area. She will continue to serve on the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation as vice chair.

Without question, her impact on USF and Tampa Bay will be felt for a long time to come.

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