Texas Exes CEO Reflects on First Year at the Helm

One year ago this week, on July 1, 2011, Leslie Cedar took over as CEO and executive director of the Texas Exes. Just the sixth executive director in the Association’s 126-year history, Cedar was also the first woman. Her charge from the Texas Exes Board of Directors was clear: preserve the great work of the Texas Exes—and also build on it.

After a frantic year of chapter events, awards ceremonies, strategy meetings, Longhorn games, and countless other goings-on, the new CEO is finally getting to do some things for the second time around. In between a surprise party Friday hosted by UT president Bill Powers and a trip to Santa Fe, Cedar took a few minutes to reflect on year one.

How would you characterize your first year?

Fast-paced. Very exciting. Troublesome.

What was troublesome?

The trouble is that at times it has been unclear whether our governing board (at the UT System) is on the same page with the UT administration, faculty, and supporters that the mission of The University of Texas is to be the best public research and teaching university in the country.

How can the Texas Exes address that?

We can be bridge-builders. We can help with the relationships and also educate people on the contribution the University makes to the community, state, and nation. We can generally bring people together in welcoming environments to talk openly about these things.

Does the University have room to improve?

Every organization on the planet has room to improve.

Do you think University leaders would say that?

Of course. Every leadership group, if it has any hope for long-term success, recognizes that there’s always room to improve. People can always get better at what they do. And when you take into account all of the external forces affecting us—the economy, the competitiveness around the globe for students, for the workforce—we all should have an eye on improvement at all times.

If you were still in your previous job and not the executive director of the alumni association, do you think you would know anything about this ‘trouble’?

Yes. I live in Austin and it’s been front and center on the Austin news headlines. But the Texas Exes has also done a really good job of communicating through our various channels. People around the country may not know all the details, but they say, ‘What’s up with the fight over higher ed in the state of Texas?’ There’s general awareness, and we should be proud of what we’ve done to drive that.

As you’ve traveled and met chapter leaders and volunteers, what is your feeling about how the Texas Exes is seen?

It is known as a brand to rally around. If there’s a Texas Exes event going on, people will show up. Do we have the opportunity to drive more of that and find different reasons to bring people together? Absolutely. But the brand is definitely strong, and I think that is 100 percent attributable to the volunteers in every single city and town where Texas Exes work.

What’s been the biggest surprise?

The sheer volume of things that we do. So much of what we do is because we did it on behalf of the University when it really had a void. But things change over time, and the University has new needs, and we have new ways to contribute. I know we can update that catalog of programs and services on behalf of alumni and supporters everywhere, and, very importantly, on behalf of championing the University.

When you look ahead at your next year, what are you most excited about?

True work happiness will come from a sense of measurable accomplishment. The past year was about discovery and planning and also managing the business. Now we can pick a few things that are in our plan and really get to hit on those cylinders and execute. And we’ll be able to measure it and say whether we’re successful or not.

Where do you think Texas Exes has made real gains?

We’ve made very big strides in developing deeper relationships with people around campus, from student groups to administration to faculty members. The Texas Exes is all about the University, our alumni, and supporters. If it’s not furthering the mission of the University of Texas or engaging alumni and supporters, we shouldn’t be doing it.

You often say that it has never been more important that people recognize themselves as Texas Exes. Why?

Because while we have a very large number of people involved in the formal organization, our ability to move the needle when it comes to championing the University or advocating on its behalf, and communicating the value of UT or recruiting students, gets exponentially better with every incremental number that we add. If we could call 400,000 people official Texas Exes, that would mean a lot when it comes to getting the attention of people who could harm us or help us.

What’s been the most fun?

The events I’ve been able to go to around the country have been a blast. One of the most fulfilling things I got to attend was the LGBT Network graduation party. That was totally special because it was the first one—it was an underserved group in the past. But every opportunity to be a part of an alumni gathering is that way because of how people come together around their shared experiences and their desire to further UT. We have the coolest jobs in the world. We get to spend all of our time on behalf of the University. That’s pretty cool.

Read Cedar’s first interview from one year ago here. Photo by Matt Wright-Steel.


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