Editor’s note: This interview is part one of a series honoring President Joseph M. Stowell as he retires from his position as university president and takes a new position as president emeritus. In this article, Doug Busch (B.A. ’93), a member of the board of trustees of Cornerstone University, reflects on Dr. Stowell’s relationship with the board of trustees as a whole.
CU: Tell me about the first time you met Joe.
DB: Joe was already acquainted with my parents over several years of ministry, and I met him while he was serving as speaker at various Bible conferences where my parents were serving in leadership. I followed his ministry as a young adult through my family and mutual friends in ministry. More recently, I began to get to know him more closely beginning about seven years ago. I’m an alumnus of Cornerstone who’s always been very involved. Several years ago, Joe asked me to join the board of trustees. Both he and Martie made it a point to meet with me and my wife and to get to know us and encourage us to join the work at CU more deeply.
CU: How would you describe a typical interaction with him?
DB: Joe energizes people through his encouragement. He has consistently encouraged me to explore more ways to help CU continue to improve. His words and actions have inspired me to contribute more. He gives me the feeling my time is being used wisely. And that’s what every interaction is like. He’s enthusiastic and encouraging. He creates an environment that’s comfortable and provides direction. He’s also willing to listen to a variety of people and seek a lot of input. He has an attitude of, “Join us on this journey.”
CU: What was Joe’s relationship with the board of trustees?
DB: My experience is that Joe fosters a team culture between the cabinet, faculty and the trustees. While we provide counsel and advice in the strategic priorities of the institution, Joe has been a great contributor to our vision and then driving and executing the vision. He envisions where the institution can be and then helps determine the next steps to move toward that vision. Beyond vision and inspiration, he also puts the right talent in place to deliver on the mission. He was always properly focused on both today’s realities and future opportunities.
CU: How would you describe Joe’s leadership style?
DB: Joe has always been good at building strong relationships. He’s used that skill to build networks of partners and practitioners in higher education and in other industries where innovation is taking place. He’s equally comfortable whether he’s talking to potential partners, government and civic leaders, media or members of the campus community; he’s very versatile in that regard. He is a leader who is also a shepherd and an ambassador. He is a clear advocate for our mission in the public marketplace and in other contexts, whether Christian or secular.
CU: What growth have you seen on campus as a result of Joe’s leadership?
DB: I’ve definitely seen changes at Cornerstone. I’ve seen physical changes in the expansion and creation of outstanding facilities and capabilities in areas like science, music, worship, athletics and dorm life. But more importantly, I’ve seen positive change in the unity and confidence of the institution. He’s made Cornerstone’s vision a reality. He’s raised the profile of Cornerstone in Grand Rapids as well as nationally and, in turn, raised the profile of graduates from the university. He’s attracting a higher level of investment at Cornerstone. I also think he’s made the job of president of Cornerstone more attractive because of how he’s done it. Because of Joe, the mission of Cornerstone is being fulfilled. He’s made it very obvious that Cornerstone’s future is very bright.
CU: Describe how Joe uses his faith to inform his leadership.
DB: He is a living example of an integrated life. Christ governs all of his endeavors, and he’s multidimensional. This enables him to lean into community outreach while also promoting the distinctives of Cornerstone. I’ve referenced this quote from Abraham Lincoln a lot when talking about Joe’s faith and leadership during this presidential transition: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” I think that very much is what Cornerstone has meant to Joe and what Joe has meant to Cornerstone.
CU: What is one word you would use to describe Joe?
DB: One word comes to mind—engaging. He’s a connector and responsive. I watched a video of him giving a talk at Dallas Theological Seminary a few years ago, and we texted back and forth afterward about how it impacted me and what he remembered about that event. He’s personable like that. His responsiveness and boundless energy is inspiring. His engine is always revved for where we’re going next.