BOZEMAN (AP) — As Waded Cruzado came to Bozeman four years ago to become Montana State University's president, she sent out copies of a business management book she found inspiring.
Entitled "Good to Great," the book could describe what Cruzado is trying to achieve at MSU.
MSU's first woman and first minority president has racked up a list of record-breaking accomplishments and fans. After this month's Equal Pay Summit at MSU, national activist Lilly Ledbetter called Cruzado "this fireball." Montana Gov. Steve Bullock had similar praise.
"President Cruzado is a rock star," Bullock said in a statement. "Her vision for MSU is matched only by her willingness to work hard to get there."
"I'm very happy about the progress we're making," Cruzado, 54, said in an interview in her Montana Hall office, speaking in the Spanish accent of her native Puerto Rico.
"I think we already had a great university — we can always aspire to be better," Cruzado said. She spoke of looking for ways "to reach higher and farther, for the sake of the people of Montana."
When an organization gets people on the same page, working together toward clear goals, she said, it achieves what "Good to Great" author Jim Collins calls the "flywheel" effect — the opposite of a downward spiral.
"It's cranking up, gaining speed," Cruzado said and smiled. "I'm feeling that at Montana State."
Her success at fundraising has certainly been cranking up.
Cruzado had been in office a short time when she launched an unprecedented campaign that raised $6 million in a few months to expand the Bobcat Stadium end zone. The project gave the whole football arena a big-time feel and impressed Bobcat Club boosters like John Smith — who credited Cruzado's "energy and drive."
In 2011 she announced that MSU alumnus and furniture business owner Jake Jabs was donating $25 million — the largest gift in state history — to build a new College of Business building.
Last month she topped herself by announcing that Norm Asbjornson, another successful business owner and alumnus, was giving $50 million — a new state record — to build a new College of Engineering building.
Along with smashing fundraising records, Cruzado has shattered the glass ceiling for women at MSU. She hired the first women to hold permanently two top jobs — Martha Potvin as provost in charge of academics and Renee Reijo Pera as vice president for research and economic development. Five of MSU's 12 deans now are women.
MSU had long chafed at playing second fiddle to its cross-state rival, the University of Montana. On Cruzado's watch, MSU's student enrollment surpassed UM's headcount in 2013, making MSU the biggest university in the state for the first time.
While the Missoula campus struggles with shrinking enrollment, budget cuts and a rape scandal, MSU is struggling with growing pains, attracting record numbers of students, thanks partly to a recession that made families seek out job-oriented majors in science and engineering.
Cruzado has won major improvements for MSU from sometimes skeptical power brokers. She persuaded the Board of Regents to elevate Gallatin College from a program to a full-fledged two-year college. She helped persuade the Montana Legislature to approve expanding the WWAMI medical doctor training program for the first time in 38 years and funding a new veterinarian training program.
Cruzado won regents' approval to elevate its honors program to an Honors College. She created a new Veterans Center for returning soldiers. And she has better integrated the smaller sister campuses in Havre, Great Falls and Billings into "One MSU," something the regents stressed when they hired her.
Cruzado said she's also proud that MSU has invested tens of millions of dollars to modernize student dorms and dining halls, to build new 70-bed and 400-bed dormitories, and to renovate Cooley Lab.
While MSU has more students and faculty than ever, she added, "We have now less administration." MSU's website listed 55 administrators - president, vice presidents, deans and directors - in 2013, the lowest number this century.
Asked about her accomplishments, Cruzado is quick to give credit to others — MSU's "extraordinary faculty," dedicated staff, generous alumni and bright students.
"We have a record number of students obtaining incredible recognition," she said, citing Rhodes, Gales, Marshal and Goldwater scholarship winners. MSU won the national Peter Macgrath community engagement award - beating much larger universities like Penn State and Michigan State - because of the work by MSU's Engineers Without Borders students to bringing clean water wells to rural Kenya.
"I'm very proud of the fact," she said, "we have empowered the faculty, students, staff and alumni to be at their best at Montana State University."
Cruzado wore a red blazer on the day of her interview, to show solidarity with underpaid working women on Equal Pay Day, though she herself is one of Montana's highest paid state employees.
When the regents hired Cruzado away from the No. 2 job at New Mexico State University, they offered her a state record salary of $280,000, plus a $500,000 incentive if she'd stay at least five years - a payment from the MSU Alumni Foundation of $50,000 a year for 10 years.
With her five-year anniversary coming up — and professional headhunters sending out feelers to academic stars "every week," according to one former MSU dean — it's natural to ask if she has started looking for her next job.
"No," Cruzado said. "The job is not done."
Looking ahead to the 2015 Legislature that meets in January, Cruzado said MSU is "having conversations" with lawmakers about the need to strengthen research — a way of saying the University System will ask lawmakers for additional financial support.
She said MSU also plans to ask the Legislature again to approve renovating the historic Romney Gym building to provide more space for students and for tutoring centers that can help them succeed and graduate. Though lawmakers said no two years ago, a $25 million request for renovating Romney is now the University System's No. 1 building priority.
Dreams of a bigger and better MSU are laid out in the Strategic Plan that Cruzado led the campus to create. It calls for the campus do attract more students, graduate more students, do more research and ensure all students have an "engagement" experience to use their knowledge to create a better world.
One of the key ideas in "Good to Great" is that it's crucial to hire bright, hard-working, self-motivated people, without whom an organization can't achieve greatness.
"Getting the right people on the bus," Cruzado called it.
MSU has seen unprecedented turnover at the top since she became president. All four vice presidents have been replaced, something that didn't happen under previous presidents. All but three of the 12 deans are new.
Cruzado said some retired and some were hired by other colleges.
"It used to be that faculty and administrators stayed at a university their entire career," she said. "Those days are gone. Now we see incredible mobility. We see the advent of search firms."
Some faculty members suspect Cruzado wanted to surround herself with "yes men." MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig laughed at the suggestion.
"The president and I have incredibly candid conversations," Ellig said. "I have license to tell her lots of things she may not want to hear. . Her vice presidents and legal counsel . is a group with lots of spirited discussion."
More troubling than turnover to many faculty members is the decline in MSU's research spending, which they fear could undermine its Carnegie Foundation ranking as one of the top 108 "very high research activity" universities in the nation.
MSU's research spending peaked at $112 million in 2012 and last year slipped 17 percent to $94 million.
Cruzado blames federal budget cuts that have hurt research nationwide. Yet critics contend her administration made a big mistake by only allowing hires of newer assistant professors, rather than experienced associate professors who could bring millions of dollars in research grants with them to MSU. They argue the president and provost don't give research the support it needs.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Cruzado said. She pointed to the recent hiring of Reijo Pera, a nationally recognized scientist from Stanford University, to take charge of MSU research. Pera is taking steps to encourage the faculty to apply for more research grants.
It's sparking a new "sense of optimism" for research, Cruzado said. "I'm starting to feel a change in our climate at Montana State."
Cruzado always appears so poised and confident, it's surprising to hear that she was afraid to try for MSU president's job. A job search consultant contacted her three times before she agreed to apply.
"I've never been to Montana," she told the consultant. "I don't look like, sound like anybody in Montana.. I remember lowering my head and asking, 'What do you see in me?' I was only listening to my fear.
"He said they were looking for somebody with a lot of energy," she said and smiled. "That, I have."
Energy — a willingness to work 14-hour days — is one secret to her success, along with her charm and ability to speak in a way that inspires people — from Montana farmers to millionaire donors.
In her standard stump speech, she welcomes people to "your university." She talks about her passion for land-grant universities, created by Congress 150 years ago in the midst of the Civil War, to provide a brighter future to the sons and daughters of working families.
She closes with "Go, 'Cats!"
At this month's Equal Pay Summit, she walked from table to table, greeting people like a gracious wedding hostess, or like a politician seeking votes, touching people on the arm, giving hugs and flashing her winning smile.
She is usually so upbeat, it was a surprise to hear Cruzado, once a literature professor, read the poem "Puerto Rican Obituary" at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Emerson. Poet Pedro Pietri painted vivid pictures of the broken American dreams of immigrants in New York and a society that taunts them as "spics."
Asked if she had ever been called racist names, Cruzado said, "If I have I don't remember. Either it hasn't happened, or I've decided I'm not going to focus on it."
She said she picked the poem because it's very powerful and underlines "the futility of hatred and the power of love." The last word in the poem, she said, is love.
And she loves Montana State, "a wonderful university."
"This is such an exciting place and exciting time," Cruzado said. "I cannot afford to waste any opportunity to help people accomplish their dreams."