Gerald Hector believes that life is about service and sacrifice to others.
“My DNA and make up is all about my faith and serving others. I’m a people person at heart.”
— Gerald Hector
“There’s an old biblical scripture: To whom much is given, much is required. I believe that,” says Hector, who is the senior vice president for administration and finance at UCF.
It’s an ethos instilled in Hector by his faith and the many people in his life who spent the time to help him grow into the person he has become. In April, Hector was recognized for his commitment to giving back when he was inducted into Morehouse College’s Collegium of Scholars of the Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity. The group of academics, ministers and scholars are committed to research, writing, teaching and mentoring in a wide variety of disciplines and contexts that promote and give support to the work of peace through moral cosmopolitan social responsibility.
Hector grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. He moved to the United States after high school to attend Howard University on a full scholarship for track and field. After earning a bachelor’s in business administration from the historic university, he went on to work for Deloitte, the United Negro College Fund, John C. Smith University, Ithaca College, Cornell University and Morehouse College before joining UCF. During that time, he also earned a Master of Christian Thought from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, wrote the book It’s Easy ‘Son,’ Quit Making Things Difficult: Lasting Life Lessons from a Coach and Mentor and launched the podcast It’s Easy Son.
“I wrote my book as a thank you to my college track and field coach for the things he taught me but also as a way for me to give back to young people,” he says. “A lot of people poured into me to allow me to get to be a CFO at 34 years old. I thought it was appropriate to do the same for others. And the book spawned the podcast, which now is up to about 40 episodes and is all thought leaders from around the globe.”
“My role is really to get people to see beyond what they currently know of UCF, so we can all see and move toward [President Cartwright’s] vision together.”
Among his greatest professional accomplishments, he counts being a part of the team that established the financial framework for the landmark $1 billion Gates Millennium Scholars Program while at the United Negro College Fund in 1998 — which has seen over 20,000 minority students earn college and university degrees — and administering the first-of-its-kind $35 million loan payoff program at Morehouse College.
But leadership is something Hector feels called to step up to do even when it falls outside of his area of responsibilities. One example occurred as a result of the student protests around racial injustice on campuses across the nation in the fall of 2015. Hector was working at Ithaca College, a liberal arts college in upstate New York that is a majority white campus and town. Students were protesting both on campus and within the community.
“Although I was also a person of color, who up to that point had a career that sought to provide educational opportunities for students of color, because I was a member of the administration, the students did not want to speak with me,” he says.
Rather than shy away, Hector started weekly lunch sessions around the topics of race and racism. The group started with only seven people meeting weekly to discuss a chapter at a time of Beverly Tatum’s book Why Are All the Black Children Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? As the weekly luncheons went on, more people would join until it became a campus-wide open forum with more than 300 people, including community leaders. Hector and other members of his leadership team have implemented the same programming at other campuses since then.
“Not only am I a senior vice president for administration and finance, I am a campus leader,” he says. “When issues are happening across our nation, I can’t be a leader and say, ‘Well, my job is just the money, or my job is just facilities.’ No, I’m a leader. I have to be in tune to all that is happening.”
Outside of his role at UCF, Hector is married to his college sweetheart, Sharon-Kaye, and they have three children: Joshua, who graduated this weekend with a master’s in computer systems engineering from Howard; Timothy, a junior and co-captain of the swim team at Ithaca College; and Kezia, a first-year student at MIT.
We sat down with Hector to learn more about what drives him, what empowering others looks like and how he plans to help push forward President Alexander N. Cartwright’s goal of achieving academic, inclusive and operational excellence.
Laura J. Cole: Congratulations on being inducted into the Collegium of Scholars. What does this honor mean to you?
Gerald Hector: This honor means a lot to me. First and foremost, I’m very humbled by it but it means a lot because it means that my peers and those around me see the work that I’ve been doing, appreciate it and recognize it. I do this work because I love it. My DNA and make up is all about my faith and serving others. I’m a people person at heart. I always want to see people succeed and get to the next level, so to have people see that and understand me in that context, I think is great. I’m also very appreciative of the honor of being inducted with such a robust and august body of individuals.
LJC: Speaking of faith, you majored in accounting and went on to get a master’s in Christian thought, both of which are seemingly on opposite ends of the academic spectrum. What led you to both?
GH: As I mentioned, I am driven by my faith. It’s part of my DNA and influences everything I do — from how I live my life to the work that I do. But my passion is accounting and finance. I love numbers.
After I earned my bachelor’s, I went to work in corporate America. Every day I was getting up, going to work, doing my job, getting financials out the door, doing all these things. I knew there had to be more to life than just this. I felt a strong sense that I should be doing something more. I couldn’t shake the sense of purpose that so many people had encouraged in my life, including my grandmother, my father, my college coach William Moultrie, Dorothy Cowser Yancy and William H. Gray, III.
Eventually, when I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, my bishop at The Park Church, Claude Richard Alexander Jr., made me realize that I had to pursue more in terms of my religion. I needed to find my “Why?”. I ended up attending the same seminary where he got his doctoral degree, and then my wife and I taught high school Bible study there. It simply felt like a natural progression to get my Master of Christian Thought. I joke about it now and I tell people that I’m trying to get right with God before I go, but my faith grounds me. It enforces my sense of fair play, integrity and honesty — and drives even what I do on a daily basis.
LJC: During your recent presentation to the Board of Trustees, you touched on the difference between leaders versus managers. Can you elaborate on that? What does leadership look like to you?
GH: Absolutely. Managers are simply that: They’re managing something. They’re given some outcomes that they have to get to operationally. They have to get it done.
Leaders are visionaries, right? But everyone can be a leader. It takes just a small shift in focus to understand the difference between the two. Leaders are people who can get folks to see something they don’t agree with but present a vision, a platform and a path that they can then finally see. I call it the bandwagon effect. No one wants to get into the bandwagon at the very beginning. Why? They don’t know if this thing is going to work, but if as a leader you get that bandwagon moving, as soon as it starts rolling, everyone jumps in. Why? Because everyone wants to be a part of success.
Same thing that comes through when you think about leadership in organizations. There are too many people I see who are leading but nobody’s following them. They’re just out for a walk. Leaders always must have that presence of mind that they are to inspire not necessarily push — and there’s a big difference.
LJC: You also mentioned in that same presentation that in order to do your job effectively, you need to empower your employees. How do you support people to do their best work?
GH: I start out by saying it this way: You never, ever as a leader want to have the unqualified leading the unwilling into the unnecessary for no apparent reason. I avoid that by ensuring that whoever is working alongside me, I am setting them up for success. My job is essentially to work myself out of a job.
“You never, ever as a leader want to have the unqualified leading the unwilling into the unnecessary for no apparent reason.”
In terms of leadership, I use the mnemonic device OATE: ownership, accountability, transparency and empowerment. The “E” is the linchpin for all the others. If my employees are not empowered, they’re not going to own their work, they’re not going to feel accountable and they surely will not be transparent because they’re going to try to hide what they’re feeling.
When I think of how I empower people, I mean that I want them to have a level of comfort that whatever it is that is bothering them, even if they feel they have a deficiency, they can raise it with me. Then we can work on: What’s the path? Where are you trying to go? What do you want to do? Let me help get you there. But at the same time, it’s really to allow them to feel comfortable that they have the skills, the acumen and the support to get their jobs done.
LJC: How does your open-door policy play into the OATE method?
GH: That’s it. That’s exactly it. If you’re a leader and all of the ideas are coming from you, you’re in trouble because you don’t know everything.
I’m here because you’re here. I want to understand what you do.
I’m a collaborative leader. I have built a leadership team. We meet every week purposely for two hours. But I also want to hear the voice of everyone in the division. I have something that I do, I can’t do it now because of COVID, but I clean with the custodial staff, I cut grass with the grounds crew, I’ll go and move packages in the warehouse. I go to places where they’re like, “Why are you here?” I’m here because you’re here. I want to understand what you do. I have a big job here at the university, but I have to always make time for the team that I lead. They need to know that I care about their interests and that I see them.
I do those things to build trust. I’m not going to ask you to do something I’ve never done, but there is a culture of excellence that is my expectation that you will do your jobs within. And the open-door policy opens the way for people to come and sit with me, and I get to share with and learn about them, and they can share with me their dreams, aspirations, goals and — quite frankly, nine times out of 10 — their frustrations.
LJC: In April, President Cartwright shared his goal for UCF, which is to become the top public research university in the world through academic, inclusive and operational excellence. What does that mean to you and what actions or steps are you planning to help move the university forward in that direction?
GH: From my side of the ledger, operational excellence means things get done on time, they’re accurate, they are seamless and everybody understands what’s going on. Everyone knows who’s on first, who’s on second, who’s on third. But ultimately, it means that everyone understands the end goal that is outlined by the president and we are all focused on helping the president lift this vision that he has put forward.
From my side of the ledger, operational excellence means things get done on time, they’re accurate, they are seamless and everybody understands what’s going on.
To do that, the first thing we have to do is inventory. We must have an honest assessment of where we are operationally — from our finances to our facilities and everything in between. When folks don’t know what is happening, they make things up.
Step number two is having the conversations with the individuals who will be impacted if you change anything with that inventory, having those face-to-face meetings, having those dialogues, the open forums, the open doors, so all the voices can be heard then you bring the data to the conversation. We have to get to that point where we’re not making decisions based on anecdotes or “this is how things have always been done.”
Step number three is execution. With a campus this big, there’s going to have to be a huge educational component. But we cannot get so bogged down in educating that we forget about executing because executing is going to be paramount for the president’s visions and goals to be realized.
My role is really to get people to see beyond what they currently know of UCF, so we can all see and move toward this vision together. My focus is usually five to 10 years down the road.
That’s where the faith side of me now is to say, “Look, let us get together, drop the egos, drop the pretenses and let’s do what’s best for UCF.” That’s what makes me excited because I tell you if we stick to it and we get the discipline that we need, in two to three years from now, we’re going to look back and say, “How did we do that?” That’s what excites me.