From Villanova Class of ’73 to President of Stanford to Chair of Google

John Hennessy returned to his roots tonight, giving a lecture about what the past 50 years have been like since he first arrived on Villanova’s campus.

John graduated from Villanova in 1973 with a degree in electrical engineering and then went on to Stonybrook University for his Masters and Ph.D.

Hennessy then became a Stanford faculty member in 1977. In 1981, he began the MIPS project to investigate RISC processors, and in 1984, he used his sabbatical year to found MIPS Computer Systems Inc. to commercialize the technology developed by his research. In 1998 he cofounded Atheros Communications a pioneer in WiFi technology and served as Chair of the Board until 2010. He is also the co-author (with David Patterson) of two internationally used textbooks on computer architecture.

Hennessy became chair of Standford’s Department of Computer Science (1994–96) and Dean of the School of Engineering (1996–99). From there, he succeeded Condoleezza Rice as Provost of Stanford University. and then in 2000, the Stanford Board of Trustees named Hennessy to succeed Casper as president.

Hennessy served as President of Stanford for 16 years. In 2016, he co-founded the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program and serves as its inaugural director. The program has a $750 million endowment to fully fund graduate students at Stanford for up to three years.

Finally, in February 2018, Hennessy was announced as the new Chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company.

As a result of his successful career, Hennessy has been the recipient of many honors and awards:

  • In 1997, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
  • In 2007, he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum
  • In 2010, he was presented a khata by the 14th Dalai Lama
  • In 2012, Hennessy was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor.
  • In 2012, Hennessy received an honorary doctor of mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo (Canada)
  • In 2017, he was elected to the International Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK.
  • In 2018, together with David Patterson, he was awarded the 2017 ACM A.M. Turing Award for the development of the reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture in the 1980s.

The Turing Award is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for the field fo computing.

So not too shabby a career, and no surprise that he has been called the Godfather of Silicon Valley.

Which meant there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to hear him speak.

Part of what drew him back to campus was that his book on leadership, Leading Matters: Lessons from My Journey, had been selected as part of the Business School’s Read to Lead program. As part of that program, we often try to get the author of the book to come speak to our students. And tonight, thanks to the efforts of many, it all became real.

After his talk, he entertained questions from the standing room only crowd and answered each question with respect and authority.

I found his presentation inspiring and informative, and I hope my students felt the same way. They can look at Hennessy and say to themselves, if he could do it, then so can I.


4 thoughts on “From Villanova Class of ’73 to President of Stanford to Chair of Google

  1. If Villanova was like many other college campuses, 1969 was probably a very tumultuous year. Hennessey has come a long way since then. Villanova should be looking forward to some (more) large gifts.


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