America's Best Leaders: David Baltimore, California Institute of Technology

This Nobel-winning scientist leads with "a little bit of chutzpah"


David Baltimore

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David Baltimore's influence on science has stretched far beyond the Nobel he won at age 37 for his work on retroviruses. An early advocate for federal research on AIDS, he served as president of Rockefeller University and the California Institute of Technology, all while continuing to do research. U.S. News' s Nancy Shute asked him about the challenges of incubating innovation. Excerpts:

One of the fundamental differences between institutional leadership and running a lab is that you have to subjugate your own desires for personal gratification to the needs of the institution. Institutions are where science is done, and the maintenance of first-rate institutions is a contribution to science.

So, when I moved to being the president of larger institutions, I more and more kept my scientific activities in the background. I'd say, look, this is my hobby. I never said, I can't take a meeting because I was in the lab. I love the lab. But I made peace with that.

For all scientific institutions, the biggest challenge turns out to be a very obvious one—raising money. Fundraising ties you into the larger economy in a way I hadn't realized.

If you believe in the institution and you've got a little bit of chutzpah—I've got that—it's not hard. If you're someone who believes in science and technology as I do, it's a lot easier to approach a wealthy person.

I think increasing numbers of people are realizing that the strength of this country is its ability to maintain strength in science and technology.

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