What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

A lot! I had never heard of TDECU until the day I was asked to meet with the CEO of that organization. Ten weeks later, TDECU made a $15 million gift to name our new 40,000-seat football stadium!

Now, I see TDECU boards all across Houston. And every time I see one, I ask myself, “I must have passed this sign hundreds of time, so how come I missed it before?”

This is called the power of name familiarity.

When I first heard the name, TDECU, I had to tap my curious fingers on the keyboard to learn about the company. Who are they? What do they do? What is their philosophy?

What I learned was impressive to the mind and touching to the heart. I learned that TDECU is…

…the fourth largest credit union in Texas!

…the largest one in Houston!

…a $2 billion operation!

…an employer of 186,000 employees!

…a Cinderella story…In 1955, five employees put in $10 each and offered $35 to a fellow employee to buy a refrigerator!

…is run by Cougar power as many of its employees are UH graduates!

And finally, TDECU believes in being a community-oriented, community-serving institution!

I waited for our first meeting with more than the usual excitement. My excitement doubled when I saw the TDECU team walk in wearing Cougar Red shirts, every single one of them.

Then TDECU CEO and President Stephanie Sherrod put the partnership proposal on the table. The first four items related to supporting our students, the next two concerned supporting our charitable causes and finally came the details about the facility itself. I was thrilled. This sounded like the perfect partnership.

Following the meeting, I asked that we put all other conversations regarding the stadium naming gift on hold. Quickly, both sides started working on hundreds of little details.

After another few weeks, we were all assembled in the UH Alumni Hall to announce that our new facility will be called the TDECU Stadium. On that day, all TDECU employees sported their golf shirts with brand new UH-TDECU logo and learned to fold their ring finger to make the “Go Coogs!” sign.

It was a great day! The TDECU name was on every local and state news source. It was on every national sports news channel. During the week, hundreds of people stopped me in gym, in restaurants, and in shops to say something about TDECU. Overnight, TDECU had become a household name around Houston and Texas.

Since the name, TDECU, begins with TD, we have started calling it “Touch Down Stadium.” Knowing how explosive our offense can be, the name seems totally appropriate.

So, what’s in a name? We can talk some more later, but right now, I have to go open my account with TDECU.

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What can aspiring leaders learn from Baseball?

Having been brought up in India, I followed cricket with all my passion. Baseball was confusing to me–too similar to remind me of cricket and yet too different to comprehend.

However, everything changed this year when our University team, the mighty Houston Cougars, started to show their red color and win some tough games on the road. I started to take an interest and follow the team. As the season progressed, this interest began to turn into an obsession. I started to juggle my calendar to get to Cougar Field for their games.

The only problem was that the game involved too much specialized terminology for me.  To solve that, I found a “Baseball Glossary” online and attached the webpage to my IPhone home screen so I could refer to it any time as I listened to the unusual words and phrases.

Then one day, things changed.

I invited a friend to join me for one of the games without knowing that he had played baseball in college. He realized quickly that my knowledge of the game was elementary at best, so he asked if I would like for him to give me some pointers. I happily consented and that is when baseball became really interesting.

By the time, the season ended, our team, the Houston Cougars, had won an outstanding 48 games along with the conference championship and the NCAA Regionals. They played their hearts out and had the best season ever.

For me, the team not only won the season, but also taught me that baseball is much more than “America’s Past Time.” It provides an important lesson in leadership!

Why?

First and foremost, baseball is a game of teamwork!  The winning team does not win because individual hitters hit home runs; it wins because hitters and runners sacrifice their own time on the field in order to let the team score. In baseball, individual effort means a lot, but team effort means everything. Successful leaders have to do the same—get people to do their best, but also make them believe that the collective outcome of their actions is better than the sum of their individual bests.

Second, baseball requires multidimensionality in thinking and in execution…so many things to consider…so many players …so many moving parts! There are limited resources (pitchers and hitters) and the strategy revolves around knowing which one to deploy when and where to make the most of the ever-changing circumstances. Similarly, leadership is much more than garnering resources; it is about using what you have in the most impactful manner. It is about moving the needle!

Third, baseball is not about beating the clock; it is about finishing the task. One strike at a time…one pitch at a time without ever looking at the time!  Similarly, successful leaders don’t count their success in terms of years served or papers published. Instead, they focus on goals achieved!

Finally, baseball is about cashing in on rare opportunities. I noticed that the bases don’t always get loaded. But when they do, the team has to take a chance and go all the way…there is no reward for simply loading the bases or going half way.  Every person and every organization get rare opportunities. Some are not able to see them, others are not prepared for them, and still others are just too scared to act on them. Successful leaders take chances, they act and, consequently, they win.

To my Cougar baseball team—thank you for giving us all a thrilling season and for me, personally, these insights about leadership.  We’re so eager for the next season to start. As we baseball fans like to say, “Wait till next year!”

Venice with an architectural twist

What do I know about architecture? Practically nothing. What do I know about students? A lot … because they are my passion. Here I am in Venice, Italy, witnessing the extraordinary transformation of five students from the College of Architecture.

Eight months ago, Patricia Oliver, Dean of the College of Architecture, cornered me at a University event to tell me that her students were planning to enter a competition of the highest international prestige – Venice Biennale, the granddaddy of them all!
“It will be the first time in college’s 50-year history that we are dreaming this big,'” she said. I like big dreams so I encouraged her, wished her good luck and told her that if you are successful, I will join you.

Two months ago, I got a message from the dean informing me that they had indeed made it to the Venice Biennale. I congratulated her and told her that I would try my best to be with the team.

Recently, Dean Oliver revealed that the exhibition is so prestigious that the renowned developer Gerald D. Hines, whose name our College of Architecture bears, had decided to attend. Now, I had no choice but to reshuffle my schedule and attend.

I arrived in Venice on June 5, my fifth visit to this dreamy city. During my previous visits, I had seen every tourist site worth seeing – from San Marco Plaza to the Rialto Bridge – many times over. I had taken photos of every church and villa from every angle and had paid ridiculous amounts to take short rides in those storybook gondolas. So, this time my attention in Venice was completely focused on my students and Mr. Hines.

First of all, Mr. Hines didn’t just attend the opening, but he was on hand for every event. I felt 6 inches taller just walking next to him because everyone, including the curator of the exhibition, stopped by to pay him tribute. I did not know these people, but the constant clicking of cameras that surrounded them was more than enough to confirm their importance in the world of architecture.

The exhibition included a Who’s Who of architecture. Twenty three venues were part of the Biennale and displayed the works of the masters. I could not believe that our students were here. Not only were they here, they were given one of the most prominent places on the Grand Canal next to Rialto Bridge to display their ambitious project. Thousands of people visited their exhibit every day…they stayed, asked questions and admired the work of our dedicated architecture students!

Our students’ project was truly masterful – taking Houston’s Buffalo Bayou and developing it so that every negative (pollution, abandoned land, and toxic brown fields) is converted into a positive (a school for the blind, farm land for inmates, a green manufacturing facility). In their proposed plan, Buffalo Bayou becomes not only an example of sustainable development, but also a place where people want to gather to eat and watch boats and ships glide by.

It goes without saying that this experience will transform forever the five students who are here. I was told that some had never travelled abroad before this trip, and that a few of them had barely been outside of Houston. And here they are, rubbing shoulders with the best in the world and getting undivided attention from Mr. Hines himself!

I am leaving from Venice with immense gratitude for the faculty who made this possible for our students. I also commend Dean Oliver for thinking big and aiming high.

As for myself, I have learned more about the discipline of architecture in these three days than I ever thought possible. My travels will no longer be the same. I will always be thinking about how spaces affect our behavior and how buildings have the power to transform us all in one way or another. It took one more visit to this lovely city – and the inspired efforts of our students – to teach me that.
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Power of Maya Angelou’s pen…

You may not control all the events that happen to you,
But you can decide not to be reduced by them”

The mighty pen that wrote these words fell silent this week. We, the world, lost Maya Angelou, one of the greatest American writers of our times…of all times.

I had an opportunity to meet Maya Angelou very briefly. It was not the meeting itself but her words that made her such an inspiration to me, providing the guidance someone might receive from a trusted mentor. After all, a mentor helps you listen to your own voice, understand your inner strength then act to leverage the two.

Her one sentence (You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them) has done all of this for me. It has helped me have patience to deal with difficult people, to manage impossible situations and to put my failures in perspective.

As a woman and an Indian-American, it would have been easy for me to blame “the unfair world” around me as I faced challenges in the path of leadership, but Maya Angelou never let me have that luxury. Every time I tried to blame the world and wallow in despair, her words would dance in front of my eyes, as if saying, “Get up and try harder! You are better than this.”

As a tribute to Maya Angelou, I hope that you will read some of her words, for they may inspire you the way they have inspired me.

My favorites from Maya Angelou:

“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”

“My great hope is that I laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”

Indeed, Madam Angelou, you have cried, you have laughed, you have loved, but most importantly, you have given us ourselves!

Narendra Modi, India’s new leader, through my eyes…

On Friday, India woke up to a new dawn. Everyone was expecting the candidate for Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, to win, but only a few had expected this outcome – a landslide!

Since then, I have been asked at least twenty times, “Who is Modi, and what is he like?”

I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Modi in January of last year at Vibrant Gujarat, an annual day of celebration for his state, the State of Gujarat. I saw him in action again in January of this year when I was in India to receive Pravasi Bhartiya Samman, a presidential honor.

I don’t claim mastery over India’s politics (who could?) nor am I a serious political observer in any way. What I like and enjoy is watching people and their reaction to political turning points. Here is what I observed during these two encounters with the gentleman who has become the Prime Minister-elect of India.

I was invited to speak at Vibrant Gujarat and arrived 30 minutes before the start of the event in the VIP room. I was one of the first persons there, so I got to watch as the room started to fill with India’s top industrialists – Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Anand Mahindra – and top executives from many multinational companies based in UK, Germany, USA, Japan and China.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Modi arrived without an entourage and without the drama that I am used to seeing surrounding elected officials in India. He followed the same routine of shaking hands, but then I was taken by surprise when he congratulated me on my work at the University of Houston. (He was briefed well, I thought!). My surprise doubled when he complimented me on my presentation a day before in Gandhinagar (Obviously, he was aware of my presence in his state). And then he said that his state needs help and partners to expand access and establish excellence in higher education. (He was engaged with issues, I thought further).

A few minutes later, I walked along with other speakers to the stage. It was the most elaborate stage I have ever seen – three rows of dignitaries in stacked seating making it clear to everyone that Gujarat was a business-friendly state. For next three hours, many got up to speak about Gujarat, and almost everyone spent 90 percent of their time in complimenting Modi’s leadership in transforming the state of Gujarat. On that morning, he appeared larger than life.

Thousands of people sat mesmerized for hours basking in the glory of their leader. Finally, Mr. Modi himself stood up to speak to a thunderous applause that refused to quiet down despite several attempts. People loved him. He was their leader; he was one of them!

Mr. Modi electrified the crowd with every sentence. He was not negative and he was not presumptuous. Within seconds, it became clear that he loved his people. It was a magical bond between the people and the leader, witnessed by millions across India on their television sets.

I turned to my husband and said, “This is not a wave; this is a tsunami.”

My second encounter with Mr. Modi was in New Delhi at a convention for non-resident Indians, organized by the Government of India. Other than president and prime minister, many chief ministers were also participating as speakers and panelists. If energy in the room were to be the measuring stick, it was obvious that Mr. Modi was the winner.

For his session, the hall was filled above capacity. Different audience, but the same spell-binding effect. It was as though Indians living abroad were also mesmerized by the Modi charisma. He spoke in Hindi and people listened, even though half of them could not understand that language. The English translation of his speech was distributed to everyone, and it appeared as if those who could not understand Hindi were happy to just be listening to his voice. For those of us who knew Hindi, he reached out to our hearts.

This time, my husband turned to me and said, “He has captured India’s imagination.”

Today, India has high hopes, and it has given a clear mandate. With an absolute majority, an Indian prime minister is far more powerful than an American president. Only time will tell whether Mr. Modi can do for India what he did for Gujarat. But, as a political scientist, I was thoroughly intrigued witnessing the emotional bond between this leader and his people.

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An Ode to My Mother…

[The article below was written in Hindi and published in Sarita.  This English translation has been published in India Abroad and Houston Chronicle. On Mother's Day, I am sharing it with my blog readers] 

More than six years have gone by, but it all seems like a big dream. I was on my way for an interview with the board of regents of the University of Houston, one of America’s largest research universities. I was excited but nervous. I knew this was no ordinary position, and would be no ordinary interview. I was fully aware that no American university had ever selected an Indian as chancellor, nor had a woman ever been appointed to such a position in Texas. I knew that the odds were against me.

To divert my mind, I glanced outside the airplane window and saw white clouds. Suddenly a rainbow shot up from their midst. My heart swelled with wonder and delight. I had seen many a rainbow in life on lifting my gaze toward the sky, but never before had I seen one on lowering my eyes. I groped for the camera in my purse and when I glanced up, not just one, but two rainbows had manifested themselves resplendent in the glory of all their vivid colors. They seemed to be racing alongside my airplane.

How could I have ever come this far? How did life bring me to this place where I could dare to dream of becoming a chancellor? Whose shoulders have supported me and whose hands have guided me on this journey? I found myself traveling back to my childhood …

My journey began in the small town of Farrukhabad, about 250 miles from New Delhi. I spent the first 18 years of my life blissfully jumping rope and playing dolls. Never once had the thought of going to America crossed my mind. Walking down memory lane, I found myself surrounded by voices from the past, and loudest of them all was my mother’s.

“OK, children, I have a question for you. There once was a fruit-seller selling oranges. The first customer buys a dozen oranges, the second buys two dozen and the third only four oranges. If the fruit-seller is now left with exactly half as many oranges as he had started out with, how many oranges do you think he had in the first place?”

“Mom, we are already done with our homework. We are too tired to think anymore,” I mildly protested. My sister and brother nodded their heads in agreement.

“Come on, there is nothing to think about here. You should be able to answer this question in your sleep. Let’s give it a try,” my mother answered. One of us would figure out the answer and the next 30 minutes would pass in answering questions as if it were a game.

This was our nightly ritual as we would lie down in our open courtyard under a star-studded dark blue sky, ready to fall asleep.

Whether we were in the car or in the courtyard, whether lying down in the shade sheltered from the afternoon heat, or huddled under a blanket on a cold winter’s night, mother’s questions would constantly hover around us. My mother is not a teacher, nor does she hold a high school diploma, but her thirst for knowledge and her impatient passion for inquiry led her to read four different newspapers every day.

Thank you, Mom, for giving me the gift of inquisitiveness.

Today, people ask me, “What is the secret behind your success?” I know that my mother’s expectations are my secret. Being the firstborn, I was the darling of the house and the center of my family’s attention. Someone had to assume the responsibility for making sure that I was not spoiled. Needless to say, this task fell solely on Mom’s shoulders, because Dad was too busy practicing law. Mom’s philosophy was that excelling in academics was meaningless if one ignored the other facets of life. Hence, in addition to schoolwork, I was sent to learn classical Indian dance, Indian drums, sewing, embroidery, painting and cooking, among other things. I am sure if it were possible to pursue any sport in my little town, she would have sent me to participate in that as well. I published my first poem when I was 15 years old, and even though it challenged traditional social norms, she swelled with pride reading it.

I never mastered anything but learned to appreciate everything. Today, when people ask me the secret of my seemingly balanced lifestyle, I just smile and thank my mom for it.

From the day I arrived in America, I found comfort in exploring new ideas and new fields. Even though my mother denies it, I am convinced that she is the one who gave me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone. Thank you, Mom, for giving me the courage to explore and try, try and fail, and fail and try again.

I remember an episode when I was in the sixth grade, where all the girls had to take mandatory home economics class. Preparing a dish at school was the final requirement to pass the class. My lottery pick paired me with the dish Sujii Kaa Halwa, a dessert made with cream of wheat. The problem was that I had no clue how to light the stove, let alone make a dessert. Mother’s school began, and for four days everyone ate Halwa for breakfast, because that is all that was cooked. On the day of the exam, mother measured out all the ingredients, packed them neatly in small packages, and labeled them clearly. “Is it necessary to do all this?” I asked. “There is no grading in this exam. All I have to do is pass.”

“Not only is it necessary,” she said, “it is required that you always aim for above average.”

“What is wrong in being average?”

“Average results come from average efforts. If you dare to immerse your heart and soul in your work, the results are bound to be above average. And all I expect from you is to put your heart and soul in whatever you do.”

How can anyone who from childhood was expected to immerse herself completely in the task at hand ever be satisfied with passable results?

My mother never expected any less from me because I was a woman. I may have had to cross extra hurdles or jump extra loops, but in my mother’s eyes, I was not being defined by my challenges but by the way I faced them. In those days, when the social norm dictated that sons be given preferential treatment, my memories are of mom stuffing extra chocolates in my coat pockets as I went off to school and patting me on my back as I returned.

I thrived on my mother’s pride. It was a given that on returning from school I would find mother standing behind the partly ajar main gate. I would know that she was there as I crossed the alley and walked up the stairs. She was rarely seen in public without my father, as per his wish. It is only natural for someone who is accustomed to seeing her mother’s eyes cover the path of her walks to see rainbows even during the most anxious times.

Thank you, mom, for giving me the gift of knowing that I am never without friends.

I was only 18 when my life took a major turn. One night, I went to bed as a carefree teenager only to wake in the morning to the realization that I was to marry, in 10 days, a man studying in America. I was shattered because I thought it meant the end of my educational journey. On seeing me bawling, my mother said, “That you are going to get married someday is inevitable … today is as good as tomorrow. Your father knows what he is doing. He has made this decision after much consideration.”

“Everyone is concerned only with his own opinions and considerations. No one cares about what I think. I want to complete my master’s program and then get my doctorate. Whatever happened to father’s big talk of ‘the milk boiling over and the ghee being wasted’? How can he think of marrying me at this stage in my studies?”

“I know you want to continue your education, and I am sure your new family will let you do so.”

“How do you know that? Can you point me to a single woman in our extended family who was allowed to go to college after marriage? Who can guarantee me my education?”

“I give you the guarantee. My mother’s heart is giving you this guarantee. Deep down here,” she said putting her hand on her heart. “I know they will let you continue your education. He will keep you happy.” I was smart enough to know that these were simply words to cajole me. Who would let me study in America when I could not even speak English? I only believed my mom’s words after securing admission at an American university. Mom wrote me regularly, and in each letter she never failed to remind me, “It is only because of Sureshji (my husband) that you are able to go to college … to reach such heights.”

“We are starting our descent…” the flight attendant’s voice echoed in the plane and jolted me back from the past into the present. When I peeked out of the window I saw that the rainbows had been left behind and beneath us was America’s fourth-largest city, Houston. My mind was as light as the morning dew and my head free of all preoccupations and worries. Exactly eight hours later, the dual appointment of chancellor and president was in my hands. The very first person I called was my mother back in India. In my impatience I woke her up in the middle of the night.

“Mummy, I got great news for you. I have become the president of the University of Houston.”

“Very good. Can I speak with Sureshji?” She always adds ‘ji’ as a sign of respect for her son-in-law.

“Mom, didn’t you hear what I just said? Aren’t you going to say something?”

“I heard everything, my dear. Now, give the phone to Sureshji.” Dejected, I shoved the phone in my husband’s hand.

“Sureshji, heartfelt congratulations to you on Renu’s becoming the president. It is the results of your efforts and you deserve full credit for this day.”

This is my mother, ever encouraging others and always sharing credit with an open heart.

Mom, please forgive me for not listening to you today, but I want the world to know that you are the one who deserves all the credit for my success.

 

A Gourmet Night to Remember…

I am invited to many black tie events every year. Houston loves to dress up and raise funds! But my favorite black tie event every year is the Gourmet Night organized by the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management here at the University of Houston. Nearly 400 students make this a night to remember.

Student Manager Team

Student Manager Team

Let me take you to this year’s Gourmet Night with me.

The theme is Route 66. The invitation itself takes you back in time – very retro, very nostalgic! You are requested to dress in theme-appropriate attire or black tie. I was raised in India, and therefore have nothing in my closet that could be called “theme-appropriate,” so I opt for a red gown. One can never go wrong with red!

Upon arrival, you notice that there are no professionals running around because no event planning companies or outside vendors are involved. Every little detail has been planned, and is now being executed, by the college’s students as part of their training.

We are offered a glass of Champagne and are given a number that we can use to bid on hundreds of items displayed in the silent auction. I am drawn to the section on vacation packages and restaurants – too many to count and each one under fierce bidding. What else would you expect from a hospitality college? I stop in front of an item, called “A Collection of Wines by the Faculty.” Before I can place a bid, I hear someone calling my name and asking if he may introduce himself. I turn around and greet him and forget the bidding.

With Martina Bahr, sous chef

With Martina Bahr, sous chef

In few minutes, the sound of the dinner bell invites us to the ballroom which has been transformed into Diner 41 in celebration of the 41st year of the Gourmet Night. Women in poodle skirts and men in 1960s hair style greet us in the hallway. We stop for a quick photo, one being taken with an IPhone and one with an old-style camera. We find our table, decorated with records and candy jars. A loud band plays familiar songs and I can see people moving in their chairs to the beat of the music.

With Katie Proctor and Diego Cardenas

With Katie Proctor and Diego Cardenas

Now we are ready for the gourmet part of the night. Five courses accompanied by five wines please our eyes and taste buds. Hundreds of students offer synchronized wait service on multiple tables in an expertly choreographed fashion. They are eager to explain any wine or food item in front of us.

Here is the part that I always wait for. The student general manager takes the microphone and introduces all of her managers – the food manager, the beverage manager, the service manager, the marketing director, and on and on. Then she calls on all the volunteers and a parade of 400 students enters from one side of the ballroom and marches across to the other side.

We all sit in amazement as this night comes to an end. Students start to plan this event as a part of their curriculum almost a year earlier. They compete and audition for leadership positions. They take responsibility, form teams, delegate tasks, hold each other responsible, manage conflicts, and finally produce an evening that is unparalleled in experience and elegance.

In order to pass, students are judged by a really tough group, because the room is full of big names in the industry, from people who manage their own restaurant to those who are the owners of the largest franchises in the world!

As we walk out of the ballroom, we are handed a Coke bottle reminiscent of the good old days. We thank the students and walk to our car, proud and happy in the knowledge that all of the managers will get job offers – if they don’t have one already! Because, after all, they are the best of the best!

 

 

Balancing personal and professional lives…

After a long silence, I am back blogging.  The silence was not because I had nothing to say, but simply because I got involved in a project that consumed any and all of my spare time — our daughter’s wedding!

Often, I speak on the theme of leadership and one of the most frequently asked questions is, “Did you have to sacrifice your family life in order to reach where you are today?” I always start out by saying, “I hope not,” and then complete the response by giving some mundane examples.  I know in my heart that it is not a fair question.

It is not a fair question because I have had more flexibility during the early years of my career than allowed to others.  Yes, I had to put in 60 and 80 hours of work weeks, but I had the luxury of setting my own schedule.  I cannot recall ever having to make a choice that would have made me feel deprived of my family life.

Last year, when our daughter got engaged and the question of planning the wedding came up, I knew that my job would never allow me to be the one to plan it, even though I had planned her wedding many times in my imagination.  You have to understand the complexity of Indian weddings in order to appreciate  my hesitation.  But when our daughter said that she wanted a traditional wedding, I knew that I had to find a way to plan it.

During the course of the year, my “what if” ideas made a complex project even more complicated.  A typical discussion would go like this…

I would ask my husband, Suresh, “What if we were to have five horses in the groom’s procession?”

“Five? Why five?  I have seen hundreds of weddings with one horse.  What’s wrong with one horse?”

“Nothing, but, I want five.  Five would be awesome.”

“If you know what you want, then why ask me?”

“Because I want you to want what I want.”

And next day, Suresh would call and arrange for five horses! In the end, it took one French château, two dance companies, three bands, four events, five horses, 21 desserts, 32 vendors, 105 henna hands, and 300 guests to make it just the way I wanted it.  I stayed up many nights and lost a few pounds.  But, the joy of giving our daughter the wedding of her dreams (perhaps, I should say the wedding of my dreams) was worth every sleepless night and every lost pound.
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I had a lot of help in the planning of the wedding, but in the end, it was solely my responsibility. I got it done, and am most proud of the fact that I never canceled any university meetings or events – during the day or the evening – in order to plan the wedding.ParulGreg_preview_0008_medNext time, when someone asks me if I had to sacrifice my family life for my professional life, I will smile and say, “No, I could have, but did not.”

Please don’t sacrifice your family life.  Don’t let go of the precious moments, because they will not return.  Don’t skip those recitals or soccer trips.  And most certainly, don’t miss weddings.  Try…at least try your best.

In honor of those who give…

A few months back, I found an entry on my calendar, “Greet and Thank Professor……..”  Because the meeting was set up just for him, I was a little intrigued and was curious to know which noteworthy act of teaching or research the professor had achieved.  So, I opened the attached note that said, “…for $1.5 million gift to establish an endowed chair.”

My immediate reaction was “Wow.” That is a significant gift and it is coming from a current faculty member!  I read the professor’s name again.  No, I could not recall the name from any of my conversations with the development staff.  And no, he was not from a discipline where an invention or a start-up company could have been the possible source of his fortune.  My curiosity remained.

At the scheduled time, I walked in the board room and there he was…an unassuming man with a totally down-to-earth attitude.  He appeared uncomfortable in tie, as if he had put it on just for the meeting. We shook hands and I thanked him sincerely for his generous gift. Then I proceeded to inquire about the reason behind his generosity.

He responded very matter-of-factly, “I have worked at UH for over 30 years and have had the most wonderful time. Every morning, I have been waking up excited to come to work, to see my students, and to do whatever I can to make this a better place. It has been my home; it has been my life.”

We talked some more about the evolution of the University and all of the trials and tribulations it had gone through.  During the span of 45 minutes or so, I noticed that he had never said one negative word about the university.  He was extremely proud of it and very gratified to have been a part of it.

Explaining how he amassed this wealth, he said, “I am not a big spender and I don’t have any obligations so I want to give it to the place that brought so much joy to my life.”  If you dissect his statement, it is clear that…

…He has been working hard for every dollar!

…He has not been splurging it on himself!

…He feels that the University had done more for him than he has done for the University even though he has devoted his entire life to teaching and research!

…He has no expectations for recognition!

Needless to say, the meeting made my day!  In fact, it made my year!  I have repeated his statement many, many times in my head.

Three months later, I saw his name again, and this time, it was in the context of a luncheon given in honor of the University of Houston 1927 Society.  In that room were many faculty and staff who shared similar feelings, and who had made a planned gift to the place that had given them so much!  Some were retired but many were current members of the faculty and staff. They had lived or were living in the trenches, having seen the best and the worst.  Yet, their love for their workplace went beyond their daily frustrations and struggles.  Like the faculty member, they all wanted to express their gratitude by securing the future of the university.

Even though, the professor expected no recognition, I am going to give you his name—Professor Robert Carp!  On behalf of the future generation of students and faculty who will be the beneficiaries, I thank Professor Carp and the members of the 1927 Society for their generosity.  You are indeed bigger than the institution!

The “Good Old Days” came back for a day!

I was not at the University of Houston when Coach Guy Lewis and his Phi Slama Jama team became a national sensation. Nor was I here when Coach Lewis made history by playing UCLA—and winning—in the first ever nationally televised basketball game. But from the day I arrived on campus in 2008, I started hearing about that magical time.  I could see it in the eyes of those who told me, with intense fondness, stories about the “good old days.”

So, when the time came, it didn’t take me any time to decide to make the trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the induction ceremony for Coach Lewis, and experience the magic myself.

I arrived in Springfield already on cloud nine since our Cougars had defeated Temple in a hard-fought game just a day before.  As I walked into the hotel lobby to check in, it was clear that celebrities were staying there. A line of visitors was already gathering behind ropes to catch a glimpse, or better yet, to grab their autographs.  A while later, I came down from my room to join our group, and sure enough, I soon saw who the fans had been waiting for –Elvyn Hayes and Clyde Drexler were in the middle of the commotion, hugging their Cougar fans, giving high-fives to each other, and signing autographs.

Decked in red, we all accompanied Coach Lewis, who was in his wheel chair, to the nearby hall. By then, Hakeem Olajuwon had also joined in the group.  I must admit that it felt like a Hollywood premier!  People were standing on both sides of the street, clapping and cheering for our icons.  Cougars had brought the biggest line-up of stars for this ceremony.  Our players were being stopped left and right by every television and radio station for a quick interview.

We then arrived at the buffet given in honor of the inductees.  The ballroom ceiling appeared awfully low and my neck soon started to hurt.  And then it dawned on me that the room was full of 7-foot basketball players!

For the next one hour, the event seemed like a big celebration for Cougars (no, I am not biased).  If anyone wanted to find Coach Lewis and his players, all one had to do was to look in the direction of the biggest and loudest group in the crowd.  Reporters, players, coaches, referees—all wanted to take photographs with Coach Lewis and his former star players.

The induction ceremony began with the pump and show of a live television awards program. At the appointed time, a short video was shown to introduce Coach Lewis, and then from the left of the stage Elvyn, Hakeem and Clyde wheeled Coach Lewis to center stage. Everyone in the hall jumped to their feet.   The applause lasted for what seemed like an eternity.  There was so much pent-up joy and gratitude in crowd’s heart, and it felt like they wanted to pour it all out that minute, right then and there.

On his face, Coach Lewis had the smile worthy of an artist’s brush or poet’s pen!

We all had teary eyes!  It truly was a special moment!  Thank you, Coach Lewis, for once again putting the University of Houston on the national map! It was a long time coming, but we are all happy that you finally honored the Hall of Fame by being a part of it!