Getting to Know the New Executive Director of the Texas Exes

When the news broke last November, it was noted that Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member, would be only the seventh person to serve as executive director of the Texas Exes in its 132-year history. That’s a small club. Harris comes to the association from the financial services industry, where he was the president of Netspend, a company that serves the estimated 68 million consumers without access to traditional bank accounts through prepaid debit cards. The business of alumni relations may be new to him, but as the Alcalde found out a day after the announcement was made, he’s been looking for the right way to give back to his alma mater for decades.

You’re walking away from a very successful career at a publicly traded company. Why the Texas Exes? Why now?

Like any move you make in your career, it’s about timing. The timing was great. Texas Exes was looking for a new executive director and I was looking for something with a compelling mission. At Netspend, through our foundation, we did a ton of work around access to education. I really came to appreciate—even beyond what it did for me personally—the way education can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

So, with the mission of the Exes and the university we love so closely aligned to my own passion, the decision was easy.

Do you have a favorite memory from your days at UT?

Memories I can tell you about? [Laughs] I have a lot of memories. When I think back—and this is kind of cliché, but—it was everything. I remember showing up here in my little Toyota Celica with everything I owned packed in the back, pulling up to Dobie, getting out of the car and that feeling—it’s not replicable. It’s like my wedding day and the birth of my twin girls, it’s one of those memories that stands alone. You have everything in front of you and you have come to a place that’s just electric.

And now I get to see my daughters going through the same thing. Unfortunately [Laughs], they’re at SEC schools, not at UT, but it’s happening for them, too. I love hearing their stories of discovery and watching them develop their independence and self-confidence. And that gets back to the mission of the association. We’re not only providing an education that comes through scholarships, we’re helping students develop life and leadership skills. And we get to do that at scale for so many Longhorns; it’s just an unbelievable privilege.

Where did you like to hang out back then?

Ah, that’s one of Austin’s jewels—lots of awesome hangouts. We were on the “informal” meal plan at the Highland Mall Luby’s, we loved the Tavern where you could really stretch a dollar, and of course Sixth Street on the weekend was always a winner … but the best was the old GM Steakhouse, down on the Drag near the Goodie Woo. I hated when it went out of business. Sometime after graduation, they changed ownership and the new guy put in a salad bar. I knew it was over then. It’s still the best burger I’ve had in Austin.

Is there a lesson you learned at UT that helped you in your career?

The view is definitely worth the climb. I put myself through school, working as a law firm runner during session, and in the oil field during summer break. I tell my kids this: I owe everything to The University of Texas. My first job came from a connection with another alumnus.

Shortly after graduation, I moved to Dallas at the height of the financial crisis. The banks were failing; it was mid-80s. It was a terrible time to be out in the world with a finance degree. I was trying to find work and interviewing constantly. I would go on these interviews and there were 30 people who looked just like me in their new blue suits from Dillard’s. But one day this guy I played intramural softball with at UT says, “Hey man, I think I can get you in over here.” And he did. And that job set the direction of my career. So, the lesson for students is: get involved and connect with people and stay connected. There’s so much that happens while you’re here that will ultimately determine the outcome of your life. You have four years and the people, the relationships really are one of the best things you’ll get out of it. I tell my daughters to get involved in everything on campus. Even if it seems unrelated to your degree, I tell them—trust me. When you get out in the world, it will matter. It will matter a lot.

What do you imagine is going to be the most challenging part of your new role?

I haven’t run a nonprofit before. I’ve run for-profit businesses, but many of the skills you develop in business are translatable to non-profits. We have complex networks of constituents, boards and governance, prioritization and resource allocation. There’s a lot of overlap, but I have a steep learning curve. I’m not going to come in thinking I know all the answers, because I don’t. If you asked me what I was going to do on day one, it would be listen and learn.

That was my next question.

If you look at my career, I’ve always taken growth jobs. And I look at this and think, there are 106,000 members of the Texas Exes, but there are more than 500,000 living alumni. We have a growth opportunity here. I like challenges like that. As I start this new journey, I look at it this way: We live in the greatest state in the country—I believe that in my soul. And we are the alumni association for the flagship public university in that state. Every Longhorn should want to be a part of that.

 Speaking of which, why did you join the Texas Exes?

I joined because that’s what you should do. It was about belonging and staying connected to a place and an experience. I’ve lived in Dallas, D.C., and Los Angeles, and it was always great to run into former Longhorns, you could experience a little bit of home while living in totally new surroundings. You know that being a Longhorn is different, it means something special. So I’m Life Member No. 44,977.

One last question—do you like football?

You heard my ringtone, right? [Editor’s Note: His ringtone is the opening song to ESPN’s Monday Night Football.] I like football.

I can answer that with one my fondest football memories. I lived in California in 2005, I ran a company full of USC grads and fans … and they are a proud group. Between them and the local media, they didn’t give us a chance—they were all talking about the legacy, the dynasty, lots of talk. For us local Horns, we kept saying, hey man, you still have to play the game. To compound things, we had the first rainy Rose Parade in decades. The dynasty chanting continued, but we saw it as an omen. We all now know who got rained on in that game—hook ’em.

I look forward to football season all year. We are in the stands for all the home games and we do at least one away game every year. My daughters were volleyball players, so we went to many volleyball games. I’m a huge fan of golf and our legends, Ben and Tom, and our latest, Jordan Spieth. We have an amazing sports franchise here at UT.

It’s also my understanding that part of my job description is to attend as many of these events as possible. Are you kidding me? I can’t wait to get started.

Photograph by Eileen Wu

 
 
 

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