David Skorton became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution last July, overseeing 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, the National Zoo and numerous research centers. Educated as a cardiologist, Skorton previously served as president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University, and his interests seem as varied as the Smithsonian's offerings. He has had a longstanding interest in both science and the humanities, and in his spare time he plays the jazz flute and is an amateur beekeeper.
Skorton talked about his efforts to learn all he can about the Smithsonian, as well as his management and decision-making style, during an interview with Tom Fox. Fox is a guest writer for On Leadership and the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. You have been on the job for less than a year. What have you learned about the Smithsonian? And was there anything in particular that came as a surprise?
A. The biggest surprise was how much scholarly activity and research goes on here--from art history and conservation to astrophysics. Some of this research is done quite independently. In other cases, it is done in partnership with very strong institutions elsewhere.
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