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Grosso Addresses ‘Next Generation of Leaders’

This year’s Tepper School of Business W.L. Mellon Speaker Series closed on a high note with the arrival of Major General Gina M. Grosso, BSIM ’86. General Grosso, director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, returned to her alma mater on March 24, happy to engage with students she described as “the next generation of leaders."

After an intimate round table discussion with the sponsoring Tepper School Military Veterans Association and Tepper School Women in Business Club, Grosso addressed a packed auditorium of Tepper School students.

Air Force veteran Philip Spencer, MBA/MSPPM ’14, introduced Grosso, noting her 28 years with the Air Force and recent promotion to two-star general. Grosso wasted no time in opening the floor to student questions. “Thanks for spending time with me today,” she began. “I prefer not to lecture – hopefully we can have a dialogue.”

That conversation occurred as hands raised nonstop throughout the hour. The varied topics began with Grosso’s career progression.

“I never actually made an overt decision to have a career in the Air Force,” she acknowledged. “I’m a military kid, born at the Air Force Academy. I applied to and got an Air Force scholarship for college. I thought, ‘I can do my four years in the Air Force, get my MBA as soon as I can and be a corporate mogul.’ I never really considered this path.”

Through a self-described “series of opportunities and challenges” that spanned Las Vegas, South Korea, master’s degrees in business administration and security and strategic studies, as well as time working with the Air Force Chief of Staff, she forged an impressive career, largely in human resources.

Working at the Pentagon during the events of 9/11 strongly impacted her perspective.

“I understood that there really are people who want to wipe out our way of living,” she remarked. “I was very thankful that I could give something to protect and defend our nation.”

To questions on utilizing her education and decision-making, Grosso stressed the need to be a “lifelong learner” with a multidisciplinary focus. She’s currently using a mathematical way of thinking to approach a fundamentally social problem.

“My job right now is to eliminate sexual assault in the Air Force,” she noted. “I have to understand the variables that result in that and how to manipulate those variables to get the outcome I want.”

Grosso believes her education has given her a stronger foundation for making better decisions. “As I’ve become more senior, I have less time and information to make bigger decisions,” she explained.

“There’s a disadvantage, however, to being overly analytical,” she cautioned, “because if it’s not timely, you’re also choosing not to make a decision. It’s an art, but you’ll learn more from your failures than from your successes. We all fail. To me, character is what you do afterward. You pick yourself up and keep moving forward.”

Grosso next addressed the role of the military in an increasingly global economy.

“I think the world is a more and more dangerous place and we’re struggling with the role of the military and defense in the U.S.,” she responded. “We’re trying to use 20th century policies and practices in the 21st century world. We need to modernize, to react and evolve, and I think we are.”

When Grosso spontaneously asked the group the most important skill necessary for being a good leader, she was pleasantly surprised when a student quickly nailed it with “listening,” the first time someone answered her question correctly.

“Listen to your boss and your team,” she advised. “If you create space for your team to talk to you, you will never fail.”

She nodded as another student offered “communication.” “To me a leader is someone that people follow,” she added. “To be followed, they have to know where you’re going and you have to communicate that.”

With time running low, Grosso took a final question on leadership evolution while rising through the ranks.

“That ability to convey your message to a large group, one that you can’t necessarily interact with personally, takes all those skills you start learning early on — the communication and the listening,” she observed. “Technology is a great equalizer but I think it takes more. You will never lead humans electronically. You’re never going to be an effective leader if you don’t form a relationship with the people who work for you.”

In closing, Spencer thanked Grosso on behalf of students, faculty and staff, handing the GSIA graduate a T-shirt prominently emblazoned with the current Tepper logo. “I’ll wear it with pride,” smiled Grosso.