Catching up with Chris Ito
Ohio State Alumni magazine recently sat down with Chris Ito, chair of The Ohio State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, to discuss ties with the university, new programming and the impact of Archie Griffin’s leadership.
On Ohio State’s move to an all-inclusive alumni association in 2012:
By moving to an all-inclusive model, we can effectively reach and potentially engage more of our alumni than we could under a membership-based model. Under the membership model, our services were focused on serving our members, which numbered around 175,000. Now, the mission is to serve all 500,000-plus alumni. I think that the move allowed us to develop a set of programs that responded to some of the things that alumni wanted most. The Bill and Susan Lhota Office of Career Management and the Office of Volunteer Relations are examples. We’ve really gotten some very positive feedback on those services.
On strengthened ties between alumni and the university:
I truly believe that the alumni association is looked upon by the university as an integral part of University Advancement. The university appreciates the importance of connecting with alumni, and now I think that the university leadership has a much better understanding of the role the association serves in facilitating that. Archie’s role as a leader of the organization and being able to facilitate the integration — of getting the association’s staff to really buy in 100 percent that this was the right decision for the association and our alumni — that was really important. I think the biggest accomplishments under Archie’s leadership are the programs that have been introduced and the strength of the relationship between the association and the university. When we made the decision five years ago to formalize our relationship with the university, it enabled the president and CEO of the alumni association to become part of the senior leadership team of the university. While it is clearly not the role of the alumni association to act in an oversight capacity, the ability to have some involvement and a voice in terms of certain decisions that are made at the university, I hope is something our alumni value.
On the value of helping alumni with their career aspirations:
It’s important because that’s what alumni have told us they are interested in the university providing. There are a lot of services that help students find first employment opportunities. But there haven’t been any centralized services for alumni to help with their careers — whether they are young, mid-career or experienced alumni. To better use the network of Ohio State alumni to help their careers is something alumni wanted. We were coming off a bad recession, challenging times for many people. Career counseling, career advice, networking, all those things are important. And we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. It makes alumni who take advantage of those services feel good that their university helped them through a difficult point in their careers.
On the association creating volunteer opportunities for alumni:
I think we’re really just scratching the surface on what the alumni association’s Office of Volunteer Relations can do. People want to give back. And when they can find ways to do that, around an event with other Buckeyes, people find it a fulfilling and enjoyable way to spend the day. You’re doing something that’s positive for your community, you’re doing it with other people with whom you have an affinity and you’re doing it in the name of your university. That makes you feel good about being a Buckeye. I think there’s a lot we can do with that office to create more programs, more events and make more people aware of volunteer opportunities. It’s going to translate into a stronger connection that people are going to have with their university. Maybe they volunteer more time with us. Maybe they volunteer their time with students. Maybe it means a financial commitment down the road. We’re not thinking about any particular end financial result, but better connections in general are going to make for a greater commitment of time, talent or treasure.
On connections between alumni and students:
The Student-Alumni Council is a big part of the alumni association. It’s really the bridge between current students and those students becoming alumni. They do an incredible job of promoting the alumni association and the benefits of staying connected after graduation. We are fortunate that SAC is involved in many different programs at the association. Their involvement — including the SAC president’s participation on our board — really gives us a sense of how young people want to stay connected, and it also gives us a perspective on how the younger generation views both engagement and philanthropy. Archie has really focused on integrating students into a lot of programming. And that’s been intentional. He understands that at the end of the day, the students are the essence of why the alumni association exists. That’s what we’re all about. If we can keep more young people connected after they graduate, they’re going to be more willing to give back, financially or otherwise, over the long-term.
On the importance of Archie Griffin's leadership in these endeavors:
At the end of the day, none of this happens without confidence in Archie’s leadership. I think that one of the things that Archie is most proud of is the team of people at the association. He has given the team the mandate to implement and execute those programs, and he holds the team accountable. The funding for those new initiatives required confidence on the part of the board and the university that this group within the alumni association has the skills and ability to execute the plan. The fact is, there is a whole heck of a lot of confidence in the team at the alumni association to be able to plan and execute. And that says a lot about the way Archie has run the association.
On Archie's continued involvement with the university as senior advisor in University Advancement:
It’s great for the university that he is still going to be involved and be visible. There’s probably been no greater representative of the university than Archie Griffin, perhaps in the history of the university when you think about it. He is one of the most important, influential people to ever be at Ohio State. Sometimes, I think we — the university community as a whole — focus too much on his athletic accomplishments and not all of the other leadership activities he has undertaken. So I hope people have a broad perspective about the things he has done for the university. He deserves it, right? He only spent four years here running up and down the field. He’s done a whole heck of a lot more than just be a great football player. I told him the other day that I no longer think about him as the only person to win the Heisman Trophy twice. He’s far more than that.
So for him to remain visible is going to be helpful for the relationships with alumni, the relationships with our community, the relationships with the audiences we want to reach. But if anybody deserves the opportunity to step back on his own terms, it’s Archie. He’s given his life to the university. He’s just gone above and beyond. So I’m glad he’ll have the opportunity to do some things he wants to do, things he didn’t have a chance to do because he was so dedicated to the university. But he’s still going to be here. You ask him and he’ll tell you, he still has a lot to do.
On the lasting effect of Archie's leadership:
Woody would be proud. Archie just lives his values. The one thing about him personally that I’ve come to appreciate from working with him for the past six years is that his constant focus, in terms of his decision-making, is always, “What is the right thing to do?” Not the right thing to do for Archie Griffin, but the right thing to do for our alumni. And that’s how he’s made decisions. A lot of his leadership style is leading by example. He’s fostered an organizational culture that is really a pay-forward culture, an organization that really lives its values of serving the university. And that is something I expect to continue after he steps away. And so you want to make sure the next person you bring in is going to continue to promote those values. I think that’s important.