William W. Helman IV ’80

On his time as a trustee

Notable: Trustee 2009-17 (chair, 2014-17); serves on other boards, including Ford Motor Co.
Career: Partner, Greylock Partners, which he joined during business school
Education: A.B., history and economics; M.B.A., Harvard, 1984
Personal: Single; lives in New York City; father of Beatrice and Wilson ’15

“As a student I knew very little about college governance, but I started my career at Greylock on the very same day as Bob Henderson ’53, Tu’54, then a trustee. He got me turned on to how places such as Dartmouth are run. I got more involved with the College as I got settled in my career. Then Jim Wright, who taught me and just about everyone, reached out to me when he was president.”

“A healthy board has very vocal and active discussions—even respectful arguments. That’s the way a board gets to great decisions.”

“I agree with people who say a college should be run more like a business if they mean operations should be managed efficiently, the endowment should be sensitive to intergenerational equity and outstanding people should be hired to fill faculty, dean and administrative leadership roles.”

“I don’t think it’s critical that a higher ed board be filled with alumni of the institution. I do think it’s critical to have those who understand the academy.”

“It’s very easy to say, ‘When I was here this was done in a certain way,’ but it’s important to understand that the College now is different than when any trustee was here as a student.”

“Moving Dartmouth Forward has been an amazing accomplishment. Phil Hanlon ’77 came in and said, ‘Whoa, we’ve had high-risk behavior for decades: sexual assault, high-risk drinking, lack of inclusion. I’m going to take it on.’ ”

“The net-net of a Dartmouth education with financial aid is pretty approachable, but the gross number of $60,000-plus is appalling.”

“Dartmouth’s location is a feature, not a bug. We’re not trying to recruit everyone, just the people who are attracted to what we’re trying to do in a very special place.”

“All the data indicate that our reputation internationally sucks. We need to take that on. We need to recruit students from different parts of the world who will make our campus more robust. We need our faculty to think more globally also.”

“I hear that we’ve devalued teaching, especially from alumni from the 1990s or early 2000s, people who are really busy with their careers and families. Nothing could be further from the truth. I say to myself, ‘Wow. We’ve missed an opportunity to communicate.’ ”

“When I was named to head the search committee for a new president I thought, ‘I better figure out what one looks like.’ So I met with a lot of them. I thought pattern recognition would be critical.”

“One thing we did when talking to people about our presidential search was to ask their impressions of Dartmouth. The negative impact of our social reputation, as a party school, was so many times more powerful than I realized. I was stunned.”

“Some at the College are resistant to change. They recoil at criticism and get defensive, but I think that’s human nature. I’ve been perhaps more willing than many, to their distress, to say, ‘Hey, we didn’t get this right. We could have done better.’ ”

“What changes do I want to see on campus when I come back for my 50th? I just want to be able to see.”

“I didn’t feel the pressure to get good grades as an undergraduate that most students feel today. I don’t think it was because I was a happy-go-lucky person but because in my era we were encouraged to try different things. I benefited from that.”

“Something we’ve always had a hard time describing is what happens in the four years in Hanover that produces people who are not only good citizens and good thinkers but also great leaders. For our size, we’re overrepresented at the leadership level in almost every field.”

“At the highest level there’s very little difference between a college and a corporate board. Members are supposed to express their opinions, their points of view that come from different backgrounds. You have analysis and data, which you use heavily.”

“A good board is focused on things that are really important to fulfilling a mission, to competing in the world. Like corporations, colleges compete also.”

“I’m a big believer that to be an effective board member you really have to understand what’s going on on the ground. I’ve encouraged all board members to come back to campus, to meet faculty, to hear faculty speak and to represent the board at alumni gatherings instead of me always doing it.”

“I’ve been surprised by the lack of paranoia about what’s going on outside of Dartmouth. In my business we’re starting small companies to compete with the IBMs, Googles and Apples of the world, and we start every day completely paranoid about what other companies are doing.”

“I thought about saving my ‘Top 100’ emails from when I was chair. Everything I received was so well written I couldn’t ignore them. I heard about little things and big things, about affordability or why we aren’t doing more in a particular area. I heard from alumni upset about student protests and parents of students involved in those protests. I’ve received lots of advice for Phil [Hanlon] on just about every topic. We’ve had a few chuckles about some of the crazy emails.”

“If somebody says, ‘The board has given up on liberal arts as the core strength of Dartmouth,’ they could be like Rip Van Winkle, they just woke up. But the more likely set of facts is we’re not doing a good enough job of telling them what’s important to us and why.”

“We need to be known for things other than high-risk transports during Winter Carnival. Our reputation is changing but changing slowly. When I ask people a discovery they associate with Dartmouth, they often say BASIC—and that was in the 1970s. Our faculty does interesting work. We need to get that word out.”

“We need to do better and we will do better.”

“There’s a very interesting difference between how seniors feel and how freshmen feel about Moving Dartmouth Forward. We have one more year before we have a full cohort who came in under it, and that will make a difference.”

“I’m an antsy, anxious, somewhat hyper individual, so my worry is always, ‘Did we do enough? Did we move the needle? Do I have a weakness?’ I almost always think we could have done better, looking backward, on almost any issue. I know this sounds a little bit like a college application, but I think we got a lot done.”

“The thing I’m proudest of as I leave the board is not that we did x, y, or z or are operating in a culture of openness or have named a great new chair in Laurel Ritchie ’81—these are critical and important achievements. It’s that we’re positioned to continue to do amazing things in the future. That doesn’t sound like me, right? It sounds kind of squishy, but I believe it. If we get that culture right and we have the right people thinking about the right issues, then good things will happen.”

Illustration by John Cuneo


Alumni Books
New titles from Dartmouth writers (July/August 2018)
A Better Blade
Engineer’s designs protect marine mammals.
One of the Boys

One of Dartmouth’s early female exchange students pledges a fraternity.

Matt Klentak ’02
The GM of the Philadelphia Phillies takes us around the horn.

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