In the late 1970s, I arrived at George Mason University, a somewhat ambivalent philosophy major. No longer do I remember how work-study in the Economics Department came my way but I found myself working in the Department for several semesters.
The Economics Department at the end of the 1970s was not yet the world-renowned home of Nobel laureates in a shining building on the Fairfax campus. Rather it was located in an old ranch house on a residential street a short drive away. Distance from Campus was not a burden. This odd bit of office space was filled with men and women of vision and hope lead by a man who had plenty of both, William P. Snavley.
Snavley, Bill to his friends and colleagues, was the head of the Economics Department. He led the department from a few classes in the School of Business in a community college to a separate department within the then-College of Arts & Sciences. Snavley was responsible for laying the foundation of the current Economics Department, which began to attract world-renowned economists both as visitors at first and as staff later. He was a consensus builder. He built consensus within the Board of Visitors and the department to expand offerings, first to offer a master’s program and later a doctoral program. The understanding and acceptance that these programs were not only desirable, but vital to the development of the University was by no means universal at the time.
Snavley made a difference in my life because he was unflappable, optimistic and patient. His physical presence and demeanor were that of a carefully groomed and bespeckled economist thoughtful in all deeds and actions. He was happy to demonstrate riding a bicycle backwards while sitting on the handle bars when someone rode to the Department on a sunny October afternoon.
As a student, I was no world-class scholar; as a philosophy major, I was dreadful, I became an economics major. Snavley never came out and said anything, but he seemed to recognize potential and encourage effort, both of which I needed. After much effort on the part of Snavley and the other members of the Economics Department, I managed to graduate with a degree in Economics.
While working in the department, I learned that the tools of an economist are analytical thinking, cost benefit analysis, and even price theory, all of which have been immensely helpful. Yet, the most universally applicable skills have been those I observed in Snavley as a department head: establishing goals, consensus building, and delegation. The tools I gathered in the Economics Department under Snavley as he led the transition of the department to a world-class economics program, have allowed me to survive and prosper as an entrepreneur over the last three decades.
First Published in the “Mason Spirit” Fall 2011 Issue, a publication of the George Mason University.