My Interview with Lew Collens

By Robert A. Pritzker
President and Chief Executive Officer, Colson Associates
Chairman of the Policy Committee, IIT Board of Trustees
University Regent

In 1990, I was chairman of the Board of Trustees and also headed the search committee to hire IIT’s new president.

When I interviewed Lew Collens, an internal candidate for the job, I wanted to quiz him in the same way that I would an outsider, so that there would be a level playing field.

We had lunch together, and during our conversation I said, “You’re dean of Chicago-Kent College of Law. IIT is a school where engineering is very important. Do you have any interest in technical things?”

He said, “Of course, I do.”

“How do you get to IIT in the morning?” I asked.

He answered that he drove.

“How does an automobile work?” I asked. I figured that someone who is really interested in science would know that kind of thing.

Lew had no idea, no clue at all.

We discussed this in the search committee and decided that Lew was still the best person for the job.

When I presented Lew to the Executive Committee, he was obliged to give a thank you.

He said, “I’m surprised I’m here. When Bob interviewed me, he asked me if I knew how a car worked. I said, ‘It’s easy. You get in the car, adjust the mirror, and put the key in the ignition. A puff of smoke comes out the back, and you go.’

“Bob’s response was, ‘You’re a typical lawyer: all smoke and mirrors!’”

That’s such a good line, I wish I really had said it.