University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Frances Hesselbein

'36 Alumna has Distinguished Career as ‘America’s Greatest Leader'

One of the Junior College of Johnstown’s most distinguished students, Frances Hesselbein, has been referred to as “America’s Greatest Leader,” by the man known as the father of modern management, Peter Drucker.

Many great honors have been bestowed upon the alumna (class of ’36), including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The University of Pittsburgh established The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) this past year. She is a distinguished alumna and a Pitt Legacy Laureate.

“Ms. Hesselbein is one of the most highly respected experts in the field of contemporary leadership development. From her Pennsylvania beginnings as a volunteer Girl Scout troop leader to her rise as the CEO of the largest organization serving girls and women in the world — the Girl Scouts of the USA — Frances Hesselbein has always been mission-focused, values based and demographics driven,” said Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar.

Frances Hesselbein, who turns 102 in 2017, is a native of Johnstown and the recipient of 23 honorary doctoral degrees.

The esteemed Ms. Hesselbein spoke from New York City via Skype to the Pitt-Johnstown 90th anniversary luncheon that welcomed alumni and featured remarks from President Spectar and Donald Zucco, PhD, (’59) as well.

“I believe that to serve is to live, and that belief began at my beloved Pitt in Johnstown,” she said, echoing her Twitter handle @ToServeIsToLive ‏.

She offered words of wisdom that included two keys to success:

“First, listening,” she said. “It's called respect; it's called appreciation; it's called anticipation; and it's called leadership.

“Second, be on time. I grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, where 5:30 means 5:30.”

She rose from volunteer troop leader to CEO of the Girls Scouts of America. During her 14 years, the Girl Scouts attained a membership of 2.25 million girls with a workforce of 780,000, mainly volunteers. Hesselbein is credited with leading a turnaround for the Girl Scouts, increasing their minority membership and establishing the Daisy Scout program for the youngest girls accepted into the Girl Scouts.

“We never refer to ourselves as ‘female, or women leaders.’ We are not a category. We are leaders who are women,” she said.

Her 70-year career in public service inspired the creation of the University of Pittsburgh’s Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement in 2009, and, in 2015, the University Library System became home to the Frances Hesselbein Archives.

Since 1990, Hesselbein has been at the helm of a leadership institute founded as the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management. She is the author of 27 books, Editor-in-Chief of the award winning Leader to Leader magazine.

In 2012, the organization was renamed to honor Hesselbein and her ongoing contributions. It continued its work and mission as The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute by providing social sector leaders with essential leadership wisdom, inspiration and resources to lead for innovation and to build vibrant social sector organizations. The institute has chosen to transfer many of its assets to the University of Pittsburgh to establish The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum.

Follow her on Twitter @ToServeIsToLive