Joe Pietrantoni: 'A Rail Car Full of Rocket Fuel'

University Medal winner praised for his energy and innovation

Citation read for former associate vice president for auxilary services Joe Pietrantoni when he was presented with the University Medal.

Joe Pietrantoni worked for just two employers over the course of his career: Duke was the second, and GE Aerospace was the first. GE was a major contractor for the NASA space program. As one of his former colleagues observes, "This ought to help you understand that when Joe arrived at Duke, he hit the campus like a rail car full of rocket fuel. And things were never the same at Duke again."

During his thirty-three years at Duke, Joe Piet - as he is widely and affectionately known -brought skill, energy, and optimism to building an auxiliary infrastructure that has become the envy of many universities. His daring, his vision, and his insistence on quality influenced almost every aspect of the student experience outside the classroom. He was not, of course, a solo Auxiliaries operator. His ability to judge character, to gather the best people around him, and to motivate and inspire others constitutes a model for leadership in higher education or anywhere.

As tangible testimony to his standing as an innovator, Joe invented the ubiquitous Duke Card and made it the key to the university-from residence halls and academic buildings to parking lots and library services. He is the point of origin for "Pizza on Points": Even as he diversified food services, he arranged for local restaurants, feeding into student meal plans, to deliver on campus. He centralized printing services and set up an innovative photocopier management program. He shaped the Duke Transit bus system, designed to move students across campus quickly and efficiently. He conceived the Conference Services group, which gave Duke a summer clientele and made everyone's life easier by offering a single, centralized contact with Duke's labyrinthine departments. Many of those concepts, now so familiar to us in our daily Duke doings, have been copied on campuses across the country.


Joe has had an even more direct impact on hundreds of student employees who worked in the organization and the many who continued to work for Duke in the years after graduation. Through areas like Student Labor and Technical Services, he gave them practical business experience and the opportunity to develop their management skills.

That former colleague recalls, "Joe's greatest legacy is that he took so many of his student employees (and younger managers) under his wing and gave us a priceless education in business and in 'people skills.' " He adds, "I never meet a young person, just beginning his or her career, without thinking about how Joe treated those of us who were his youngest and least experienced employees. He showered us with praise, gave us way more responsibility than we deserved, and took our ideas, no matter how rough and unpolished they were, put the enormous force of his personality behind them, and made them successful."

Joe has not needed focus groups and marketing surveys to sense customer needs and pave the path to innovation. He has said, "My style has always been to ask the customer, 'What do you want? Let's give it a whirl. Let's see if it can happen.' "

Today Duke is proud to honor Joe Pietrantoni as an innovator who has made so many good things happen for Duke and generations of Duke students.