Chemical engineer Stephen Tang, chief executive of the nonprofit University City Science Center, was recruited from the for-profit world, where he led a $1 global billion life sciences for Olympus America Inc. Before that he was a CEO of a company that he shepherded through its initial public offering. In my Leadership Agenda interview, I asked him about the differences in leading a for-profit and a nonprofit.
"Here again, there were misconceptions I had," said Tang, as we sat in his office in the 16-building Science Center complex on Market Street. Tang leads a $22.1 million combined real estate and business incubator organization where rents help fund the mission of encouraging young companies.
"If you are working for a nonprofit company, in general what you worry about is that you can't retain, attract and grow talent. And that's absolutely not true," he said.
"You think you don't have as many compensation drivers for people in the nonprofit environment. But that's not true," he said. "You look for people who are in a particular point in their career who want to contribute passionately to your mission and if you get close enough in terms of competitive compensation, they will join you and will like what they do [better that what they did] when they were earning more money, slaving away in an environment where they didn't know what their contribution was going to be. So the visibility they have in their contribution to your mission as a nonprofit is a real difference maker.
"It was a real eye-opener for me," he said.
"All nonprofits are not created equal," he said. "If you have a nonprofit with for-profit sensibilities about it, then you are managing a real company with real business challenges and not leading a hand-to-mouth existence. So I've been very satisfied that the transition from for-profit to non-profit was a lot better than I thought it was going to be."
As you may have read in the Leadership Agenda, Tang said he had to learn to curb his impatience. For-profit executives may be able to order up results, Tang said.
"In a nonprofit, you have more influence than you do actual control. If you come from a for-profit environment, you can become impatient that things aren't coming together fast enough."