The premise of the book is that in the first 120 days, a new college or university president determines whether his or her tenure will be highly successful— or less than flourishing. Those first four months are a harbinger of the president’s promise and fate.
The author notes early in the book that he will provide guideposts along the way in the first days that will direct the course of the journey. “My book is nuts and bolts, a working manual.” Panas delivers on that promise.
An important section of The First 120 Days is the chapter on what the new president must do before actually taking office. There are 18 mandatory activities that must be undertaken shortly after the selection is made. “It’s Make Or Break Time,” Panas calls that chapter.
To prepare for the book, Jerold Panas interviewed over 50 college presidents. Twenty-two are quoted extensively throughout the book. In addition, he engages his experience with more than 50 additional presidents he has worked with as a consultant to higher education.
The book is directed to new presidents but is equally helpful for those who have been in office for some time. In order to assess the value of The First 120 Days, Panas had fifteen seasoned, sitting presidents review the book. Some were in their second and third presidency. They all indicated that the book would be indispensable to new presidents, but would be equally helpful to experienced presidents.
The chapters describe how to deal with the faculty, the relationship with trustees, and evaluating the senior staff. And taking action if necessary. There are chapters on leadership, creative listening, feeling comfortable in the role of a change-agent, and helping others reach their highest aspirations.
One of the chapters deals with what happens when the president fails— and the five reasons this is most likely to happen. There is a section that delivers advice on how to handle the relationship with the president’s predecessor. It is called, “Send Him On a Cruise!” There are eight tips to follow.
There are fourteen imperatives to follow in the first week on the job. The most important is to remember: It’s all about the students. There are eight principles to make the early days a joyful journey, and five questions that need to be asked before making an important decision.
Eighty-five tenets comprise the last chapter. These are observations and recommendations that will ensure success. It provides a roadmap of what the new president must follow.
Drawn from the experience of veteran presidents and Panas’ own extensive work as a counsel and confidant to presidents, this book offers aphorisms, pearls of wisdom, and provident care to those newly appointed to our calling. It will have you chuckling and nodding with “aha’s” as well as “oh no’s. It’s the kind of advice a new president can only receive in a book like this. My only real complaint about the book is that it should be titled, The First 120 Days and Then Some, because as a somewhat seasoned president myself, I found it to be full of good reminders and reinforcing sentiments.
- Todd S. Hutton, President, Utica College
Jerry Panas has again proven himself a practical, witty, and insightful mentor . . . offering not only a worthwhile primer for new college presidents but also an important contribution to the literature on executive leadership. Reading The First 120 Days should be on every new college president's short list.
- James H. Mullen, President, Allegheny College
What took Jerry so long? I could have used this valuable resource thirteen years ago when I first became president. It would have saved time, resources, and much needed sleep! I found the book insightful, on target, and tremendously helpful.
- David C. Joyce, President, Ripon College