Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Association News
Fall 2008

Holtzman Alumni Center

Virginia Tech's legendary leadership team

by CHARLES LATTIMER, president
Cooperative Leadership Institute

Coach Frank Beamer runs a huge multi-million dollar organization with all of the complexities and challenges of a big business -- except that his business is football and the product is on the field. Beamer has led the Hokies to 15 consecutive bowl games and won five conference championships, successes that depended completely on leadership and performance.

Management Professor Chris Neck is among the university's most popular instructors -- each semester, his Management and Leadership Theory class is filled to capacity. Having authored five leadership and management books, won numerous teaching awards, and been named BusinessWeek's 2007 Favorite Professor, Neck is at the top of his game.

Together, Frank Beamer and Chris Neck are part of Virginia Tech's "Legendary Teams" leadership development program. To learn more about how these leaders consistently achieve superior results, the Cooperative Leadership Institute (CLI) interviewed Beamer and Neck.


Beamer: My mom and dad were two people who had great values. We lived on a small farm. My dad worked at the highway department and my mom was a schoolteacher, and we learned early to work hard. I thought it was pretty smart the way we started out -- we would milk the cows and sell the milk. So early on it was about hard work and making the money that you're going to spend.

If you could sit down with Coach Beamer and Professor Neck, what questions would you ask?

Starting this fall, alumni and fans will have an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about these and other leadership lessons during a full day, in-person program, "Legendary Teams."

By combining Beamer's knowledge of winning through teamwork with Neck's business expertise, the program will give organizations a game plan that guarantees championship business results.

Every attendee will take away a personal success playbook and access to an online course that will highlight action, energy management, communication, conflict management, and coaching.

For more information on future programs and to register, visit

CLI: Why are values throughout an organization important?

Beamer: You have to talk about trust, you talk about respect, and you talk about caring, and those are the things that have to be in the organization. In my business, there will always be a crisis -- we may lose a Thursday night game to Boston College on national television, for example. I think in most businesses, there are things that come up that are critical, serious situations. I tell my coaches that this will happen, and you work everyday to prepare yourself for that crisis.

CLI: Who would you consider a great leader? And why?

Neck: When I think of a world leader, I think of someone who influences people, and we all have the ability to influence. Why is Muhammad Ali a leader to me? Because he's influenced millions of people and because he really stood for what he believed in and sacrificed for. When I think of another leader, I think of the Dali Lama. He is someone who, instead of building walls to enclose people, builds bridges. He encourages people to believe in whatever they want to believe, whatever they have a passion for. Thinking of another leader, I go back to sports: Lance Armstrong. Here's someone who was at the top of his game and was faced with the incredible obstacle of cancer. Many people would run from it. What did Lance Armstrong do? He totally redefined his athleticism and how he rode his bike. His physical structure became even better after such a catastrophe. Leaders take all forms, shapes, and sizes. We all have the capacity to be a leader. We all have the capacity to influence others.

CLI : Talk to us a little about how you build a culture of winning at Virginia Tech.

Beamer: I have a saying, "Take care of the little things and the big things will come." Winning is the big thing, but there's a lot of little things involved here. I try to concentrate on those things. I think if you do, then the winning takes care of itself. If you've got a caring football team, if you've got a team that's playing hard every week and giving great effort, if you have trust in the organization, and if you've got respect for each other, if you take care of those little things, then the winning takes care of itself.

CLI: How do you recognize success on the field?

Beamer: It is important for an organization to recognize people who have excelled. We do it after the game if we win. Our captains will name our outstanding offensive player, our outstanding defensive player, and our outstanding special teams player for that game. It's a little ceremony in the dressing room with whooping and hollering and congratulations and fun.

CLI : How about success in business? Is it much different?

Neck: The research bears it out -- if you enjoy what you do, if you find a sense of flow, then you're going to work harder, you're going to persist longer, and you're actually going to perform at a higher level. Instead of spending a lot of time on improving your weaknesses, you should find out what your strengths are and spend your time perfecting those.

also in this issue ...

. Tribute to a giant among Hokies: William E. Skelton '40 (1919-2008)

. Summer Around the Drillfield

. 2008 university and Alumni Association awards

. VTAA events

. Virginia Tech Alumni Association chapter awards

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