Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian hockey phenom, holds the records for most goals and most assists in National Hockey League history — and, perhaps, the most-cited leadership quote in University of Maryland President Wallace Loh's repertoire.
"Skate to where the puck is going," Gretzky (and Loh) advise, "not where it has been."
It's a quote that Loh said exemplifies his feelings on leadership, applicable not only to hockey, but also to higher education institutions and innovation. And that compliment is something Loh delivered in person to Gretzky Thursday, when he met the hockey player at a memorial service for former Philadelphia Flyers owner and university alumnus Ed Snider.
"At the service, members of the family said, 'We've heard you speak many times, you always quote Wayne Gretzky. Would you like to meet him?'" Loh recalled. "I said, 'What? Yes!'"
Snider, who funded the creation of this university's business school's Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets through his foundation in 2014, died April 11 at age 83 after a two-year battle with cancer. He launched the Flyers franchise in 1967, one of six expansion teams added to the NHL that year.
Gretzky never played for the Flyers, but he paid tribute to Snider at the service along with several NHL figures, including current commissioner Gary Bettman.
Loh isn't a Flyers or a hockey fan in particular — he said he is a fan of all the sports where the Maryland Terrapins are playing and not much else — but he called meeting Gretzky "a thrill" and the highlight of his week.
He shook Gretzky's hand, Loh said, and told him it was an honor to meet him.
"[I] said, 'What we're trying to do with our students at Maryland is to encourage all of them to acquire the mindset and the skills and the passion to skate to where the puck is going to be,'" Loh said.
In an interview Friday, Loh pointed to the university's move to the Big Ten and the recently passed Strategic Partnership Act as instances in which the university looked ahead to the future in the decision-making process, following Gretzky's wisdom.
"Like Wayne Gretzky, if you're willing to take chances … [and] if you have field vision, a sense of where things are going — in my case, understanding the forces, direction and trends of higher education — and then you plan accordingly, more often than not, the puck will be there," he said. "That's what leadership is all about. It's about the future, it's not about the present or the past."