he phrase “rock-star hire” seems tailor-made for Howard Tullman’s arrival at Illinois Tech, where he serves as executive director of the university’s new Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship. Tullman, 73, has the credentials: he’s a veteran entrepreneur, investor, and academic administrator who spent the last five years leading Chicago tech hub 1871, which in February was named the world’s top business incubator. He also brings plenty of rock-star vibe, gliding around campus in a black Mercedes with a “Howie T” vanity plate and casting a bold vision for the Kaplan Institute’s future. We asked him what drew him to Illinois Tech and about his plans for the Kaplan Institute.
Two, this particular learning environment is a lot different than 1871 in terms of the focus and the stakes. At 1871, I felt like, if you were a kid from a northern suburb and your parents didn’t have anything better to do with you, they’d send you down to fool around for a year trying to invent a pet-dating site. At Illinois Tech you’re here to get a real set of skills that will turn into a real job. The idea behind the Kaplan Institute is to bolt entrepreneurship training and innovation-technology skills onto a set of technical skills, to really make you a more complete and valuable employee.
From day one, I said that the Kaplan Institute can’t just be the student union for techies. There are plenty of those. And I think that’s a risk; most universities that have incubators are not sufficiently focused on turning out talented and qualified students who can hit the ground running and immediately help their employers. We don’t do [our students] much long-term good if we give them this wonderful education in a vacuum. If I can’t give you the skills you need for tomorrow and if I can’t get you a serious job upon graduation so that you can support yourself and repay your student debt, then we haven’t prepared you and fully equipped you with the skills you’re going to require not simply for graduation but to go on and build a successful future.
Over time, businesses become the behaviors they tolerate. If we start out at Kaplan and say, “Everybody can do whatever they please and you can have piles of scraps and material spread out everywhere,” then you’ll end up with a mess that sends the wrong message to everyone—students, faculty, supporters and donors, and especially employers. That’s not going to be how it is at KI. Order, organization, control, and discipline are all components of being proud of what you’re doing and paying attention to the details, and it’s absolutely contagious. Our entire team will model the behaviors that drive success and lead by example.