Archie Griffin prepares to serve Ohio State in new role
Student, career and volunteer initiatives top his proudest achievements with alumni association.
Archie Griffin is closing the latest chapter of his Ohio State story. After 11 years as president and CEO of the alumni association, he announced April 28 that he intends to step away from that position July 1. Shortly after the announcement, Griffin sat down with Ohio State Alumni magazine to talk about the decision, his legacy of serving alumni and the new role he’ll play serving his alma mater.
When did you start thinking about transitioning to a new role at the university?
In all honesty, I’ve known about it for a couple of years. When I started at the alumni association, I said that I was going to be here for 10 years. So originally my plan was to retire a little more than a year ago. But when I got to 10 years, we were doing some things and working on some initiatives that I wanted to see through. I did that, so this is the right time to make it happen.
Why did you originally set 10 years as the timeframe you’d lead the alumni association?
I’ve always felt that unless you own the business, 10 years is a good timeframe to stay in a leadership position. I don’t want to get stale in the job, and you always need new personalities and different ways of looking at things in your organization. Change is good. It just energizes an organization when you have change like that. And it creates opportunity. We have a lot of young, bright people around here, and if folks who are my age don’t move on, where is the opportunity for those younger folks? I had a great time here. It was a labor of love for me. But my interest is in making sure Ohio State is in the best possible position it can be, and I’m hoping the next person will come in and take us to an even higher level.
The alumni association has changed quite a bit during your tenure. What are you are you most proud of?
There are certainly a lot of advancements we’ve made for our alumni. But one thing that I’m most proud of is our service to our students through improved programs. We’re of the belief that for alumni to be engaged with the university, you need to engage them as students, and I think we’ve improved in that area, as well as with our efforts regarding young alumni. I think that will make a big difference in the future, because students will already be familiar with their alumni association before they leave the university. We won’t be strangers.
One of the first new services developed under your leadership was career assistance for alumni. Why did you want the alumni association to pursue that?
I felt from almost day one that we needed to offer this service to alumni, and that led to the Bill and Susan Lhota Office of Alumni Career Management. And the reason is simple: People call their university all the time looking for help getting jobs. It is something I saw when I was in Athletics, and when I got here, alums were calling all the time looking for ways we could help them get jobs or connect with the larger alumni network. Just the volume of calls we received told me this was a need. We were touching on it a bit when I got here, but we weren’t all in. I feel as an alumni association, one of the best ways we can serve alumni is by helping them manage their careers. Then, as we were going through the mortgage crisis and the economy was difficult, that need grew even more. People were looking to get jobs or transition to other jobs, and that was a need we felt we could help satisfy.
The newest initiative encourages alumni to volunteer with Ohio State. What is the idea behind that program?
Volunteerism is a passion of mine. In my early years here, we did some fantastic volunteer and outreach efforts in conjunction with our bowl games. Back in 2007 when we went to the national championship, we asked our alumni to help support the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which was really re-shaping that city’s educational system post-Katrina. Our alumni stepped up and donated nearly $50,000 to help those efforts. So these types of things have always been a part of the Ohio State alumni DNA, Woody’s whole philosophy of paying forward. People want to get involved, they just need to know how to get involved, and that’s where we can help. We created the Office of Volunteer Relations, which opened last summer, to facilitate this work. We’ll take a big step with this program next spring when we hold our first-ever alumni volunteer summit. The team is already working on those plans.
What’s been the best part about being president and CEO of the alumni association?
The best part of this job is the people. When I say people, I start with our staff. I love our staff. We have a great time here as a group. We work hard, but we have a good time doing it. I’ve always believed the best organizations are ones that operate as a team and have a sense of family. I like to think that we’ve had that here. And then, of course, our alums. One of the best things about this job is getting out and talking to alumni. Travel is tough at times, but when you get there and you are with fellow alumni, you are with people who love The Ohio State University. It’s amazing how much our alums love this university. To me, that’s inspiring.
Any stories of your travels with alumni that really stand out in your mind?
Oh, there are so many. Just recently I traveled to Hilton Head to visit a group of alums there. They’d placed a bid in a charity auction that gave them a chance to pick someone who would be a guest conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. They ended up having the winning bid and asked if I would come down to conduct the orchestra. I had a ball (laughs). We met beforehand at a place down there called Mangiamo’s, which is an Ohio State bar and restaurant. They had nothing but Ohio State memorabilia on the walls at this restaurant in Hilton Head. So a big group of alums met, shared some time together and then went over to the symphony and enjoyed the concert. Then I went up and conducted the orchestra as they played “Across the Field.” Everyone was standing, the whole works. It was a ball. When you see that kind of enthusiasm, at a place almost 700 miles from our Columbus campus, it’s pretty doggone special. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps you going.
What do you envision doing in your new role as senior advisor in the Office of Advancement?
I’ll be working closely with (Senior Vice President for Advancement) Mike Eicher and the Advancement team to identify ways I can help. I’ll be at a lot of events. People will still see me around. That’s the main thing I want people to understand: I’m still going to be around. I’ll probably be at (Buckeye) Bashes, special events, student events and the whole works. I’ll help in the fundraising area for sure, hosting events, dinners and things of that sort. Probably even some golf, too. (laughs)
You’ll also have a bit more free time now. Do you have plans or goals you want to tackle with that time?
It’s an opportunity to spend more time with the family. My wife, Bonita, and I will definitely do some traveling. And as you know, I like to set goals. One of the games that drives me crazy, and I don’t feel I’ve improved at, is the game of golf. I’m sitting at a 14.5 handicap, and my goal is to get to single digits. But you have to play a little bit to get there, so I’m going to work on that.
What do you think Ohio State needs in its next alumni leader?
A visionary. We have to have someone who is really paying attention to the changing needs of alumni. In my time here, those needs have changed in many ways, and they are just going to continue to evolve. We have to adjust to those needs and find more and better ways to serve alumni and keep them involved in the life of the university. I could imagine there are a lot of people out there who would do a great job at that. It’s going to take a person who is really dedicated to Ohio State, because there are a lot of demands on the position. Someone who can do a lot of traveling, can listen and talk to alumni and also help us continue to develop ways to better engage students. Students are the alumni of tomorrow. You have to help them realize that they’ll be alumni much longer than they’ll be students. We want them to develop the understanding that the alumni association has value for them both today and into their futures.
Ohio State has gone through many transitions over the past few years. How do you feel the university is positioned right now?
I feel great. I really enjoyed Dr. Drake’s investiture speech, where he laid out his vision for the university. It’s a great direction, everyone’s on board and I think we’re in a great position to make it happen. His vision was clear and in my mind lays out the steps we can take to continue to be one of our nation’s pre-eminent universities.