Widgets Magazine

Former Board chair talks ‘What Matters to Me’

On Wednesday, Steven Denning MBA ’78, former chair of Stanford’s Board of Trustees and Chairman of General Atlantic LLC, shared his reflections on the importance of teamwork, the value of being with people and his gratitude for the institutions he attended in the latest installment of Stanford’s “What Matters to Me and Why” talk series.  

(ALEX TSAI/The Stanford Daily)

His address was the third talk this year in the series, sponsored by the Office for Religious Life. The talk was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dean for Religious Life Jane Shaw.

Denning cited the formative influences of studying at Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School as giving him the tools necessary for a successful career.

“I work hard because I [owe] a sincere debt of gratitude to the institutions that fundamentally launched [my career],” he said.

He expressed his desire to “give back in a material way to both those institutions,” contributing to both schools he attended through philanthropic efforts and by serving on various boards.

“People and institutions have played an enormous role in shaping me in a way that… more than offsets what I’ve been able to take,” Denning said. “Institutions like Stanford are unique in their mission, unique in their planning horizon, and complex in their nature.”

When asked about how faith and spirituality has affected his success, Denning related the topic to his philanthropic onus. Though Denning was raised as a Mormon in Utah, he was exposed to new faiths when he transitioned to the South to attend Georgia Tech, where he joined a fraternity with a different religious affiliation. Denning’s experience with a more diverse array of beliefs allowed him to view religion on a larger scale, he said. Denning said he sees spirituality as focusing on “the purpose of you being here on the planet, you helping humankind… in terms of what we try and do philanthropically.”

“I think the most important thing is how we relate as human beings across all major religions, ethnic groups, races, genders and so forth,” Denning added.

Denning’s proudest contribution while serving on Stanford’s Board of Trustees , he said,was making strides to transform Stanford into a “more inclusive University from the inside out.” However, Denning hesitated to take credit for such an accomplishment and emphasized the teamwork behind contributions of that nature.

Denning’s responses emphasized collaboration. Asked to describe General Atlantic in one word, Denning replied, “Teamwork. It is about what a group of individuals can do, not what a single individual can do.”

Shaw asked how Denning spent his free time away from working or sitting on boards. Explaining his love of skiing, hiking and the outdoors, Denning said that connecting with nature “offers a real sense of renewal.”

However, Denning said that his favorite pastime is being around people.

“To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than engaging with your friends, your colleagues and others in a way that [creates] robust debate and discussion and dialogue that’s so edifying,” he said.

Audience member Andrew Elkins expressed his admiration for Denning’s social conscience and focus on giving back to the community. Elkins earned his Engineering and Management degree from the Steven A. Denning Technology and Management program., a program at Georgia Tech that Denning endowed in 2007.

“I came here today to see him speak and meet him in person,” Elkins said. “I think it’s pretty amazing how his focus is on giving back so much. After building so much wealth, it’s very admirable.”


Contact Alex Tsai at aotsai ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Alex Tsai

Alex Tsai ’21 is a desk editor for The Daily’s academics beat. She was born and raised in Hong Kong for 13 years and moved to La Jolla, CA for high school. Alex walked onto the varsity lacrosse team this year and is interested in computer science.