New Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar on the Irrational Passion of School Pride

This interview first ran on the McCombs TODAY blog.

New Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar, BS ’89, MBA ’98, is on a mission to rally the Longhorn faithful.

Cedar became the CEO and executive director of the Texas Exes alumni association July 1. She is the first female executive director in the Texas Exes’ 125-year history. Cedar was most recently senior vice president of strategic alliances for Rearden Commerce, Inc., a leading e-commerce platform company based in Silicon Valley. She has more than 13 years of experience in major revenue-management roles across sales, marketing, business development, account management, and services in consulting and software firms.

How would you characterize your MBA experience?

Worth every penny and every minute invested. I had a positive return on investment within a year.

It’s the right size of school. You get enough variety of students to be around and people to meet that you’re going to want to work with later on in life. I found it to be better for me than going to a much smaller program.

I can look back at those core classes and say I use what I learned on a daily basis. Principles from operations, process, accounting, strategy, marketing, finance. Never will I say, ‘Oh you’ll never use that.’

There’s no question that the quality of recruiters who came to campus because of the prestige of the program led to me getting a great job out of school. But also I made incredible friends that have helped me throughout my career.

How will you apply your business training to leading the Texas Exes, a non-profit alumni relations organization?

In my last role, I developed and executed a ‘network strategy,’ creating incentives for users to join a community, and providing relevant content and interactions on the platform in order to keep them there. My responsibility in a nutshell was to make it easy, meaningful and a sound investment for users to join our business network.

People may say ‘What does high tech have to do with alumni relations?’ Well, technology is an enabler, it’s not a strategy. The business strategy was about connecting a community of users, in a for-profit context of course, but that experience is directly applicable to this situation.

What motivates you?

The DNA answer is that I have a particular interest in performance and achievement. That was also cultivated when I was in business school. So I have that genetically, but the business school really matured that in me. So part of it is being a competitive person, but a lot of it is just an innate desire to do the best that I can in whatever situation I’m dealing with.

What keeps you up worrying at night?

Personally, the welfare of my three children and providing for them. And providing a safe and clean community in which my children and all of their children can live.

Professionally, it’s about protecting the quality of our institution and then from the Texas Exes perspective, protecting and promoting the relevance of the association for the preservation of the university.

Why does protecting and promoting UT matter?

Well, there is the self-interest reason, which is I want the reputation of the school I attended to be intact or better throughout my lifetime. And this is certainly relevant to people who are 20 years into their career, when they’re interviewing for a CEO position, when they’re interviewing for a senior vice president position. Those people evaluating them are going to look at where they earned their degree. They’re going to judge that based on the reputation of the business school today. Not when they went 20 years ago. So the advocacy of the market value of that degree is vitally important throughout your career.

Beyond self, there is the fact that the university contributes significantly economically to the community, state, and nation.

And then there’s that irrational passion for the school called pride.

What are some pieces of wisdom that have guided your career?

Ok, so now are you ready for the corny aphorisms?

Practice winning every day in some form of activity. For me, that’s in the sports that I do. But whatever you’re doing, set a goal for yourself, a stretch goal, but make it achievable. And you go out and you do it every day. And that’s a motivator, but it also keeps your interest level up, and if you can win in small increments in your personal activity, it gives you the mindset and self-confidence to apply that in a business situation.

The next one is, every counterparty that you deal with is a person. And that person has their own aspirations and concerns and they also have a job to do. They’re not there to torture you, in most cases. They’re not there to make your life miserable. If you treat others with total dignity, your chances of being treated fairly increase significantly. Be a likable person and it will help you tremendously.

Photo by Matt Wright-Steel.


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