Remembering James Renick

The highest compliment to be paid as a leader is not the accolade of being great, but for laying the foundation for organizational greatness. That’s James Renick’s legacy in the HBCU sector, who died yesterday at the age of 72.

Renick is most highly regarded for his turn as chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University, where over a seven-year period he helped to jumpstart the institution’s growth in enrollment and profile, and research capacity.

The first time NCAT enrolled more than 10,000 students? In 2003 during Renick’s fourth year at the helm. Renick was among the first leaders in the University of North Carolina System to bring public-private partnerships to the campus for residential and academic expansion on the campus.

A&T started a capital campaign just before Renick’s arrival in 1999, a project that before he left drew more than $80 million in philanthropic and grant resources, and laid the foundation for the Aggies successfully raising more than $200 million in the years that followed.

One of Renick’s greatest achievements was in raising a cohort of Aggie students and graduates who regard the campus as student-friendly. Those students entering campus at the turn of a new millennium left the campus knowing a brand new world where their campus was interconnected with culture, technology, and politics in a way that no other student before had ever known.

Those graduates became the new foundation of marketing, achievement, and school pride that helped push A&T from a respected brand to an essential brand within HBCU culture. All of those people, and those achievements, are part of Renick’s work; and in a larger sense, the A&T campus community of trustees, alumni, and students who helped to make for a lasting era of leadership through support and accountability.

While Ed Fort, James Renick, and Harold Martin are very different leaders, they all capably contributed to the unprecedented growth of one of the nation’s great universities, historically Black or otherwise. Renick built on Fort’s work, and now Martin has built upon Renick’s work. Martin will likely end his career as the greatest campus CEO in A&T history because of a vision and political savvy that matched the times and the wisdom to leave the work of previous leaders as a strong foundation.

Renick’s greatest work was making the path easier for the one who would exceed even his strong contributions. That’s no small task, and it is a big reason why he will be fondly remembered for years to come.