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A Day in the Life of an OSU President

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The following story appeared in Legacy, the Oklahoma State University Foundation member magazine.  The magazine spent a day this past summer with OSU’s 18th president.

It’s a little after 5 a.m.  The morning is quiet, peaceful and President V. Burns Hargis is lacing up his running shoes.  With a quick check of his iPod and a deep breath, OSU’s 18th president is off and running…

…and there’s no stopping him.

Hargis officially assumed the helm as Oklahoma State University’s president on Dec. 4, and although he did not formally take office until March 10, his pace has been nothing short of a dead sprint.

It’s only been a few short months, but this pace boasts a record fundraising track that has brought in the university’s two largest academic gifts to date: a $100 million gift from alumnus T. Boone Pickens and a $57.2 million gift from alumni Malone and Amy Mitchell.  With a record number of chair and professorships secured in 40 days, an endowment that’s growing exponentially with his tenure and a strategy to place OSU on the national stage, President Hargis has proven he’s a force with which to be reckoned.

As the number of notable accomplishments continues to climb with no sign of slowing, we chose to take a look at the man himself to simply answer, “How in the world does he do it?”

After following him for a day, we found out why we enjoy President Hargis - he’s just like we are.  His genuine spirit, infectious enthusiasm, unstoppable energy and deep love for OSU demonstrate that he’s certainly the people’s president.

This is: a day in the life of OSU President Burns Hargis.

5:15 a.m. – Enjoys a brisk jog in Oklahoma City as a 30-year member of his local running club.  (Hargis stayed overnight in Oklahoma City after attending an OSU function the previous evening.)

6:30 a.m. – Finishes run, eats a nourishing but light breakfast, dresses while strategically selecting an orange tie (big announcement today!), signs OSU documents, sifts through mail, and gets on the road.

8 a.m. – Arrives at office.  First order of business – coffee.  Hargis reviews the day’s appointments with his assistants before reviewing contents sitting on his desk, checking his e-mail account, phone messages, and organizing thoughts for the day.

9 a.m. – Dialing for dollars.  “With the state’s intention to dramatically reduce our matching dollars for endowed faculty positions, we have 40 days to secure as many gifts to this program to take advantage of the 1-to-1 state match.  With Boone Pickens’ challenge match, we’re providing donors an opportunity to give $1 which will have the effect of $4.  It’s very exciting.” Editor’s Note – the eventual impact of this and other fundraising efforts brought more than $333.6 million to the university.

9:15 a.m.
– Magazine photo shoot on library lawn.  While posing with an animal science freshman, Ashley Wzyard, Hargis learns she’s taking her political science final directly afterward.  “Political Science?  That’s such an interesting class!  Do you enjoy it?...  Where are you from?” A new friendship develops.

9:32 a.m. – Dialing for dollars recommences.  Hargis makes 11 phone calls on behalf of agriculture and engineering.  

10:22 a.m.
– OSU Communications Director Gary Shutt, enters office and briefs the president on the upcoming gift announcement agenda, media needs, photo opportunity, and luncheon agenda.

10:36 a.m. – Leaves for gift announcement.  When not engaged in conversation, Hargis smiles and greets each passerby.  Most looked shocked, but all say hello back.  “It’s exhilarating to be around campus.”

10:38 a.m. – Arrives at Student Union balcony overlooking the formal gardens.  Hargis greets donors, students, faculty, deans, regents, friends, staff, and media for 20 minutes prior to announcement.  Shutt signals it’s time to start and Hargis makes way to podium.  “Whew, it’s a little warm out here,” he states with a smile. The thermometer reads 93 degrees. He straightens his tie and OSU pin and begins.

11 a.m. – Announces historic $57.2 million gift received from alumni Malone and Amy Mitchell to support athletics and build the nation’s premier entrepreneurship program within the Spears School of Business.

11:10 a.m.
– Thanks donors, poses for photos, and sits for media interviews.  Hargis is then ushered into the luncheon to serve as emcee.  He breathes a sigh of relief as he steps into the air conditioning.  “Sure glad I brought this along,” he says as he pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the sweat from his face and neck.

11:35 a.m. – Begins luncheon program for 70 guests.  Hargis introduces speakers one-by-one: Mitchells, Boone Pickens, business dean Dr. Sara Freedman, athletic director Mike Holder.  Holder shocks the crowd during remarks when his wife joins him and the two announce a $1 million gift to endow an additional entrepreneurship chair.  The crowd goes crazy; Hargis jumps up, shakes his hand and hugs the couple.  

1:05 p.m. – Heads back to office. When asked how he thought the event went he said, “Very well.  The Mitchells are wonderfully humble people. Things got a little hectic a couple times, but it all worked out. It’s a great day.”

1:07 p.m. – Shutt sets up media phone calls requesting statements about announcement.  Hargis delays two minutes to get a recharge on coffee.  Hargis fills a cup with cold coffee, from his turned-off coffee pot, and warms it up himself in the microwave.  “I know how hot I like it.”

1:10 p.m.
– Conducts interviews with Associated Press and “Tulsa World.”  Telling one reporter when referring to incoming donations, “I’ve been amazed at donors saying to me -- this is 10 times more than I’ve ever given to anyone.”  That sort of confidence in OSU provides the university tremendous momentum and raises the bar for everyone.”

1:30 p.m. – Checks voice messages (five), returns two phone calls, receives a commitment of $125,000, makes thank you calls to donors, and searches for reminder pocket cards. “These are an incredibly important part of my world [holding up reminder notes and steno pads].”

1:50 p.m. – Pours through piles of folders on his desk containing vouchers, memorials, letters, and documents requiring his signature.  Hargis reviews scheduling requests with his scheduling assistant, Charlotte, for the following day; approves most, reschedules others.  Discussion leads to ceremonial graduation attire.  “I don’t look so good in the hat.  At least you can set your coffee in it!”

2 p.m. – Risk assessment meeting is canceled. “Gives me more time to spend on the phone.  The real risk is that we don’t have enough money!”

2:01 p.m. – Adjusts phone head set and returns phone calls from faculty, administrators, and others.  He speaks in length to one particular donor about resurrecting a petroleum option in engineering.  

2:12 p.m. – Vice President of University Relations Gary Clark (aka: right hand man) enters office and briefs Hargis on a number of items.  Hargis requests contract to send to a potential donor.  He then composes the e-mail, sends it to the donor and realizes he forgot to send the contract.  “Whoops, I forgot to attach the document.  Some times I go too fast for my own good!”

2:22 p.m. – Writes hand-written thank you notes.  “It doesn’t take very long and you just need to do them everyday or they’ll build up.”

2:30 p.m. – Reviews talking points and agenda items for next meeting, reviews contracts and marvels at the slow pace of the day.  “On a scale of one to 10, today would be about a six.  It’s had moments of chaos, but mostly it’s been pretty calm.”

2:42 p.m. – Dialing for dollars recommences.  Hargis tries to track down a donor who is out-of-town.  He asks his Executive Assistant, Debbie, for the number.  While she’s relaying it the phone rings; it’s a donor returning his call.  Ten seconds later, another call comes in.  Hargis switches over and asks Caller No. 2 to hold for 10 seconds.  Returns to Caller No. 1 and thanks donor for gift and provides wire transfer info.  He then gets back to Caller No. 2.  One minute later another call comes in, so Hargis quickly thanks Caller No. 2, “thanks a million,” and picks up Caller No. 3.  Caller No. 3 agrees to a donation, and two minutes later another call comes in.  Hargis juggles both and hangs up.  Four phone calls in four and a half minutes resulting in $1.125 million.  “Whoa, that was intense, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ll never tire of hearing people make a substantial commitment to OSU; I’ll never tire of hearing why they love OSU either.”

2:56 a.m. – Charlotte asks Hargis if he needs something to drink before his meeting, Hargis opts for anything “decaffeinated.”  She brings back a Diet Dr. Pepper and a cup of ice. Hargis thanks her, sees the glass and says, “I get a cup of ice too?  Happy day.”

3 p.m. – Attends sustainability task force meeting.  Discussion centers on current research, sustainability courses offered throughout campus, securing more grants and goals moving forward.  “These meetings are a great opportunity to interact with faculty.  This is a critical initiative.  I’m encouraged by the strides we’re making in this area.”

4:20 p.m. – Responds to e-mails, three voicemails left during meeting, closes two more gifts for endowed faculty positions.  Gov. Brad Henry calls.

5:12 p.m.
– Reviews calendar for next day with Charlotte.

5:17 p.m. – Scans the day’s headlines online.

5:40 p.m. – Takes a break to have a quick snack of Triscuits and organic free peanut butter.  “Ann and I are usually pretty health conscious.  Also, our daughter and her husband own a natural foods store in Norman [Okla.].  That’s not to say I don’t like a good hamburger smothered with onions with mashed potatoes or some sausage and sauerkraut every once in awhile!”

5:42 p.m. – Calls First Cowgirl, Ann Hargis, to discuss evening’s event.  She’s speaking at the Grandparent University event, and he’s attending an event focused on encouraging minority youth to participate in rural programs at OSU.  They decide to figure out dinner when they both get home around 8 p.m.  His voice drops to a low hush as he asks about her day and says he loves her.  Hargis gets off the phone with a big grin.  “My wife is the best.  She absolutely loves it here!”

6:05 p.m.
– OSU-Okmulgee president calls for brief chat about a new professorship he’s received.

6:10 p.m. – Sits down with Clark for debriefing of day’s activities and fundraising progress.  “We have four more days left on this last push for state matching funds, so it’s time to get fired up.”  Gary responds, “What?  You haven’t been?”

6:25 p.m. – Leaves for speaking engagement at evening’s event.  He loads coat, briefcase and multiple folders into his hybrid Toyota Prius.  When asked about being a good steward of the environment he responds by saying, “It’s the right thing to do.  I rode my bike one day last month and chained it to the sign in front of my parking spot.  Ann drove up later that day and noticed the parking enforcement folks writing a ticket for the bike.  She walked up and said, ‘Do you know whose bike that is?’ And they responded they had no idea.  She said, ‘I’d go ahead and give whomever that is a ticket!’”  

6:30 p.m. – Arrives at Wes Watkins Center for International Trade Development.  Event organizers rush to greet Hargis as he enters and he exchanges many handshakes and hugs.  He’s ushered to his seat by event speaker, alumnus and long-time friend Sam Combs.

6:36 p.m. – Program begins and Combs introduces Hargis.  Hargis’ comments focus on encouraging students to attend college upon graduation.  “We’re in the dream business, and making sure you achieve your dreams is the reason we’re here.”

8:02 p.m. – Arrives home and starts dinner.  “To be honest, I boiled water and prepared a frozen meal from Bistro.”  He reads through the day’s mail, signs documents and works on calendar requests.  Ann arrives home shortly thereafter and the two discuss their days.

10:30 p.m. – Bedtime… “Until 5 a.m. then we start again!”
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