In episode 17 — the second of season two of Knights Do That — we speak with Gerald Hector, UCF’s senior vice president for Administration and Finance. He shares his story of personal triumphs, his journey through higher education, how he empowers and motivates people around him through leadership, and how we can all find where our values and passions intersect to live a fulfilled life.
Gerald Hector: In order to lead you have to have the capacity to one, be humble, oftentimes be vulnerable, be willing to be vulnerable. And thirdly, exhibit the behaviors that you want people to emulate. If you are a leader and nobody’s following you, you’re just out for a walk. And unfortunately leaders that are not effective, they don’t realize that they are not leading well until it’s too late.
Alex Cumming: Hey Knight Nation. Welcome back to another episode of Knights Do That. I hope your 2022 has been off to a great start. Today’s episode is full of inspiration and motivation to keep that momentum going. Gerald Hector, UCF’s senior vice president for Administration and Finance, shares his story of personal triumphs, how he keeps his team motivated and empowered, and how we can all find where our values and our passions intersect. Without further ado, let’s hear from the man himself, Gerald Hector.
Working in the department of finance, he’s been here for about a year, starting beginning of 2021, and as the senior vice president for Administration and Finance. What drew you to UCF and why do you see it as the right place for you at this time in your career?
Gerald Hector: I have a very interesting story. Excellent question. What drew me to UCF? It actually was a colleague of mine who is Dean of the (Burnett) Honors College, Dr. Sheila Piñeres. We attended the Harvard Leadership Program in 2015, and I was up at Cornell and was getting ready to leave and move back South.
She heard about transitions and my name just came up and over the years we stayed in touch and I did research UCF. And then while I was transitioning down South, I was interviewing at several places, for Clemson, Georgia Tech and George Mason, and she said to me, “UCF is looking for an interim CFO.”
To be honest with you. I never heard anything about UCF prior to that. I knew of the 2017 championship, but I came down and I met with a host of people, the board, the provost, Interim President Thad Seymour and it didn’t work out that way. And I went to spend some time at Morehouse. And when Dr. Cartwright came, my name came up again and they reached out to me and here I am.
What is interesting about UCF, for me, is the people. And the people laugh when I say this, when I first came down to visit for that interim CFO discussion, I was fascinated by the Reflecting Pond and the fountain. And then I got to meet the people in the finance office, the business office. I met with the provost at the time, the president, got a tour and I said, “Wow, this campus is amazing.” And then I said, “This would be a great place to work.” I’m originally from Jamaica. So the weather, all that stuff fit good, but it is a great place to be. And I tell people today, now that I’m here, what I see mostly is the people.
And why — you ask me, why is it that feel to be here, or — I’m paraphrasing. This institution is on the cusp of something great. I can feel it in my very bones. You look at the assets we have. The buildings, the faculty, the staff, the students, the brilliant students. And then you overlay on top of that, the ability to grow this place in such a way that it becomes this destination for research, this destination for public service, then this destination for academic scholarship.
It’s just a great place to be. The weather and the Reflecting Pond. now that I’m here permanently, are just bonus.
Alex Cumming: I can’t agree enough. I love the weather. There’s some days more so than others, but I mean around this time of year, instead of freezing my tail off, I get to, I’m here in a short sleeve shirt and jeans, right?
Gerald Hector: That’s right.
Alex Cumming: So, you can’t knock that. And you’re right, the Reflecting Pond is just, man, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. All the different ways that it lights up all the times of the year. I love it. You’re so right about, the people that make this place special, the university can give everything that it can, but if the people aren’t here to put their whole selves into it, and you see how dedicated people can be and the noise that UCF and the students and the faculty makes. And waves of being such positive changes, the way that UCF in upstate New York, and the great presidents. Thad Seymour was a great man and President Cartwright, a great man. So to have, those men be aware and to work alongside them. I bet that’s pretty cool.
Gerald Hector: It’s very cool. I saw President Seymour recently downtown. I hadn’t seen him since I moved to town. Last Friday I celebrated one year, so seeing him and shaking his hand and then just saying hi again, that was good. That was good.
Alex Cumming: I’ll always remember him at Spirit Splash. I don’t know if you’ve been Spirit Splash yet.
Gerald Hector: I’ve watched it from the window. Cause it was raining this year.
Alex Cumming: It was a little bit, it was a bit wet outside. It was a bit wet outside, but it was a good time.
I remember President Seymour in his duck floaty. I don’t know if you were there for that one. When he was wearing his — in mid-November and you’re in upstate New York, you can’t have people running into a pond, or they’ll get hypothermia.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely not. It. This is, I’m in short sleeves just like you are, and I’m loving it to be honest with you. I just enjoy the weather. I just, I really do. I enjoy. The fact that we’re so close to the beach as well.
I grew up, as I said in Jamaica. So we used to go to the beach all the time. So having that option once again, and then being in a place where I really get up every day to try to see how we can utilize what we have to realize, the goals and objectives that Dr. Cartwright and the board has put forward.
That really gets me going every day, really does.
Alex Cumming: I love to hear that. Being from Kingston, living in Jamaica in that area. Do you see cultural similarities between the way that this sort of in this tropical climate, palm trees and beaches in the area.
Gerald Hector: Oh yeah, you see it everywhere.
The palm trees, the beach, obviously. And in essence, one of the things that people say to me, I mentioned before people, the mix of people here —
Alex Cumming: Oh yeah.
Gerald Hector: On our campus. It’s just, it really gets you now that we’re back. When I came in January we were in a remote kind of setting, but to have the students back and to have the vibrancy of the campus going, you just get to see this rich tapestry of people. And then when you look at the culture of excellence that surrounds all we do in research and the academy, you’re just like, “Wow, this place is something special.”
Now this is my fifth institution I can say that I’ve been to. I’ve been at Morehouse, which has its tradition for African-American males. I’ve been at Cornell and I’ve been at Ithaca College, Johnson C. Smith. But at the end of the day, this institution here is shaping, the feel of it is more like where America is going and it’s actually pretty exciting to be a part of such a diverse institution in terms of race, social status, economic status. And I’m sure there are other diversity lens through which we can view the population here, but just to walk the campus and see it. It’s fascinating.
Alex Cumming: It is to walk around campus and just see the absolute, smorgasbord, charcuterie board of people around the campus, it’s beautiful. And Florida to its credit is such, you can go, two hours in any direction and you’re in like a totally different area than where you are from, where you started, which I love because that’s what draws everybody. The panhandle and north Florida, south Florida , you get people from the Keys here, and I’m from Orlando.
So I didn’t go very far, but this part of town is unlike anything else in the state. Unlike anything else in the state.
Gerald Hector: The motto for Jamaica is, “Out of Many One People.”
Alex Cumming: Yeah.
Gerald Hector: You can see that right here. The different people, and quite frankly how they all come together, it’s pretty, pretty impressive. Pretty impressive.
Alex Cumming: You can say out of many students, they’re all Knights.
Gerald Hector: That’s right.
Alex Cumming: They’re all UCF, right? We’re all the same when it’s game day. We’re all the same.
Gerald Hector: Yeah. Memory Mall was an experience for my first home game. That was pretty interesting to observe.
Alex Cumming: So your first home game, were you on campus for the game?
Gerald Hector: I was on campus for the game .
Alex Cumming: And you’re walking around and you come around a corner, and tents, grills, footballs, students.
Gerald Hector: Yup. Yup. Yup. Music.
Alex Cumming: Music, coolers.
Gerald Hector: Yeah, that was an experience for me. And once again, not only that I lived in Jamaica, I lived in the Caribbean. So Trinidad, I lived in Trinidad for two years and if you’ve never experienced Carnival in Trinidad, then that’s what it looked like on Memory Mall for a little bit. So that was pretty impressive. I told my wife, we’re going to have to get her to a home game so she can see. The vibrancy of this campus and all that takes place here is what is woven into what I believe is special about UCF in this dispensation in time.
And what we’re seeing (is) the changes in higher ed, but more importantly, the social mobility aspects of what this institution provides for so many people. So it’s pretty impressive.
Alex Cumming: It does. I can attest that UCF, as opposed to many universities you worked, at Ivy League universities, is an affordable college. UCF is, for us, quite affordable. I’m very thankful for that.
Gerald Hector: Very affordable. The gravitas of the institution is growing. It’s not easy to get into UCF anymore.
Alex Cumming: Oh no, I looked at the freshmen class this year. If I had applied now, I don’t know.
Gerald Hector: I don’t know. We would both have problems. Those SAT scores and ACT and the GPA. I’m like, “Wow, OK.”
Alex Cumming: My sister, she’s going to be applying to school soon and my heart goes out.
Gerald Hector: Oh yeah.
Alex Cumming: My heart goes out (to her). Super side note that I was fortunate to get to visit Jamaica a handful of years ago during the Olympics.
Gerald Hector: Oh.
Alex Cumming: And Usain bolt was running and he won. And it was, when I say the most hype I think I’ve seen a sporting crowd watching a gathering on one television. I’ve never forgotten it. It was beautiful.
Gerald Hector: There’s a part in town in Kingston called Half Way Tree. And there’s a clock that stands right in the middle. I’ve left Jamaica since ’89. So I haven’t been down there for that experience, but I can see it on YouTube videos. They have this large TV. All traffic stops. And you probably heard them banging pot covers that. That’s an age old tradition. Mr. Bolt is a special one, a special gentlemen, yep.
Alex Cumming: So I want to talk about, you give off this energy, a very motivated, high-energy, driven traveler. You’ve been all over this world, what keeps you driven? You said you wake up and the opportunities to be a part of the university of the future?
Gerald Hector: I tell people all the time, you have to figure out where your core and your passion intersect, and if you can find what you want to do in that space, then every day you will get up motivated to do something new.
So my core is really about helping people. I’m a people person and driving people to the point where they can see something that’s beyond their current station in life. So that is my very core. My passion, believe it or not is accounting and finance. My wife thinks I’m crazy. My children look at me and say, “Accounting is boring.”
But, here in the work that I do now, the intersection of being part of accounting and finance, where I can help to extend the legacy of an institution and provide and make sure that it’s here for the future generations, that’s what excites me. And that’s where, what will make me work the late hours that I work, the long hours that I work, but more importantly, it allows me to interact with people. Seeing freshmen come in knowing everything, you can’t tell them anything. But then see, four years later, they graduate going across the stage with tears in their eyes and near like boo-hooing and I’ll stop them and say, “What’s wrong?” And they don’t have an answer. And response is you matured, you grew up, you’re now a person going over into the next side of the world. And that’s what gets me going everyday, students, knowing that we’re doing something that’s bigger than us, anything that we want to achieve personally. But having those young people to succeed and launch them into their future and playing a small indirect part, not being a faculty member, but an indirect part to make that happen is what gets me up every day.
Alex Cumming: That’s beautiful. And I can attest, as I’m rounding, getting close to graduation time, that it’s going to be hard for me too. I know that I’ll always have a home and a place here. I’m like, when I wake up on a Monday and I’m like, “Oh, I have to go to work now not UCF?”
Gerald Hector: Right? The real world hits you, but you’ll be prepared. And that’s what higher education is about. It’s about, people will say it’s exploring and finding new knowledge. For me, it’s really just about getting someone to be well-rounded so that when they leave the institution and they go — I used to say, every institution I’ve been, I’ve said you got over to the other side. So once they cross over to the other side of Alafaya, And they get there. They are ready. And that’s what I believe higher education does for us for our society as a whole. Is that the more educated a population, the easier it is for us to solve issues, if we are willing to solve those issues.
Alex Cumming: That’s good. I liked what you said about well-rounded students. Yup. Lord knows these freshmen come in, and I was there too, I’m not going to —
Gerald Hector: I was one, I was one too.
Alex Cumming: How do you know everything, and then you go to college, then you’re like, “Oh wait, I don’t know a lot of things.”
Gerald Hector: Yep. Yep, absolutely.
Alex Cumming: But yes, on the other side of Alafaya Trail is a daunting place, but UCF definitely sets them up to knock it out of the park.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. And I’m meeting some of the alums recently, brilliant people, aren’t they? And it’s just amazing. Knight nation is alive and strong.
Alex Cumming: Summer 2019, I was in Alaska, wearing a UCF hoodie.
Alex Cumming: Met a bus driver, he said, “Oh I graduated from there a couple of years ago. I now live off of University. Middle of Alaska and somebody —I’m like, man, Knight nation really is — same thing happened to me, I was in Vancouver and Toronto.
Gerald Hector: Yup.
Alex Cumming: Yeah, Knight nation made its way all the way to the great white North.
Gerald Hector: I’m not surprised, not surprised.
Alex Cumming: And of course, for individuals who work in finances, to make sure that it stays here. Thank goodness that we had great people working in finances 30 years ago, when UCF was a much smaller university to ensure that we could become the one of the largest universities in the world.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. Everything in a life of an institution is iterative and everything works in dispensations in time. I just had this conversation with a group of folks today actually, where are we going prospectively is to make an assessment of where we are now. And where we are now, you walk this campus, you see the assets that we have. I keep saying that because you’ve got this beautiful stadium, you got the arena, you got these academic buildings, you’ve got multiple campuses and you sit there and you say to yourself, “Wow, how do we make this work?”
But somebody had to build that. So now you have the city of Orlando, the partnerships, the people who brought us to this place. They did outstanding yeoman’s work to get us to this place. So now in this moment in time, we have to now assess and say, “What’s next?” And that’s what’s exciting. That is what is exciting to me.
Alex Cumming: The UCF downtown campus opened recently. There’s UCF, Daytona, UCF Clermont, proving that Orlando is UCF. UCF is Orlando.
Gerald Hector: Yup.
Alex Cumming: And to take over the downtown area, to go straight from class to watching the Magic play, then the next day watching UCF play, it’s so cool to see just how large it’s getting at such a positive perspective growth. You can be almost anywhere in Central Florida and you’re going to find UCF
Gerald Hector: Yup. Or you’ll see a UCF license plate. No kidding.
Alex Cumming: I love seeing them whenever I see it. I’ll be like, “Oh my gosh.”
Gerald Hector: And you look over to see if you know the person, you’re like, “Yeah.” The things you do, that’s the sense of pride that comes with being affiliated with an organization that is on the rise.
Alex Cumming: True.
Gerald Hector: Okay. You get that sense of pride. You get that sense of energy drawn from the littlest of things that you come across. Going to the supermarket and see the paraphernalia and so on. It’s just, it’s a little thing, but you’re like, “Wow, we’re in the super market.” Yeah, it’s a part of our existence right now.
Alex Cumming: It’s a school to be proud of. When you’re at the airport and you see someone wearing black and gold and you’re like, “Are they a UCF fan? Are they a Steelers fan? What’s going on? Let me see if I can tell.”
Gerald Hector: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: You hit them with a, “Go Knights.”
Gerald Hector: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: We talked about, you’re growing up in Jamaica and all the areas that you’d grown up, but you came to America to go to school at Howard.
Gerald Hector: Yes, I did.
Alex Cumming: How has education played a part in your career to where you are now?
Gerald Hector: Education is paramount. In 1996, I took my college coach to Jamaica to do some workshops because the NCAA rules had just been passed. I just graduated in ’93 and here’s the hook: it was education is key. Education is essential and that was the theme of the trip without education. Education is not necessarily to get a job, that’s how I started out looking at it. But if you think about knowledge and learning and growing as an individual, you have to be a continuous learner. And for me, when I got to Howard, I had no choice because I came on a track and field scholarship. And I knew I did not have the money. If I messed up anything, I would not be able to graduate because I would not have the money to complete my education. Cause I just wasn’t, I didn’t come from a, I came from — my dad did excellent for us as a middle-class family in Jamaica. But when I came to the states, it was, you got to get this done or else.
Like all freshmen who go through that freshman year and you’re like, “Wow, this is great.” Howard University, Washington, D.C., the mecca, the capstone, and then I had to get through my first year and I said, “Wow, I had to really focused on what I’m doing.” And, found the right mentors, found the right people always had the educational hunger, if you will, but was not focused. And so I came in as an accounting major and I finished as an accounting major. But over the time, it’s not just so much learning accounting. It was learning how to navigate the United States for example. It was learning how to relate to people who I didn’t grow up around. Other cultures, Africa, the Caribbean, you name it, we had that at Howard. So that was also the nature of me growing and developing as a person, people with different views. And that’s what helps me. So in the higher education setting today, that for me still remains. You’re growing as an individual, you are maturing, you’re coming into yourself. In athletics, we say that, you don’t mature physiologically until you’re 27 years old. I could say the same is true in terms of how you are driven towards your career. Your life and whatever it is that you going to take on in the future, it’s all hinges upon education, formal (and) informal. But going to Howard was a blessing for me because it allowed me to see things that I had not experienced prior to coming to United States.
So education for me is key. Education is essential because it sets a foundation on which you can build. And for me, lifelong learning is still a part of it, educating myself every day. I read a lot and I try to expose myself to as many things as possible. So for me, education drives everything.
Alex Cumming: I agree. You do a lot of reading, any good books you read recently?
Gerald Hector: I fallen off because I’m here a little bit, but I always go back to John Kotter’s book. The reason why I’m reading that again for the 10th time is because of the work that I’m doing here at UCF in terms of how to take disparate pieces of information and try to bring it together, to put it to a body of individuals that want to change. Change is hard and because you’ve been successful at it at one place does not necessarily mean you can come and plop the same thing here. So you have to have that level of humility. So John Kotter’s Leading Change is one. And I’ve going to just picking up again the Four-Frame (Model) by Bolman and Deal. The four frames of an organization once again, because we’re going through this change management exercise here at the institution, want to just recalibrate. But our own professor, Richard Lapchick, who actually was on my podcast, [which] aired yesterday. He gave me a book. So it says 2020 heroes or something like that, might get the title wrong, but I’m going to dive into that. And that was a gift. And whenever I get a gift I try to read and absorb. But Dr. Lapchick in and of himself is a fascinating individual. So I definitely will be reading that book.
Alex Cumming: You talked about change. I’m so curious about your experience of coming from change, coming from Jamaica to a college in Washington, D.C., the hub of the free world, where you have to work on staying on top of your academics. It was very academically rigorous being in the finance world, along with track, was there a specific hurdle?
Gerald Hector: The 200 and the 400 to 200. So it’s the quarter mile. 40 pounds ago.
Alex Cumming: You said you had problems freshman year. I had to put on a little weight my freshman year. That was my big change in college. I did hurdles in high school, so I can assure you that track is no joke. What was that like for you having to balance all that being in this major, booming metropolitan city where there’s so much going on in D.C.?
Gerald Hector: It was interesting. So I wrote this book in 2019, and I start out by my journey from where I even got into the cab. I prepared myself so well because I’ve never been to Union Station. I flew in from Jamaica to New York and I visited my grandmom. There was time for me to go down. So I took an Amtrack from New Haven, Connecticut, down to Union Station in Washington, D.C. I had everything mapped out. I wrote everything down. I didn’t know where I was going. I went by myself, my grandma being who she is, she gave me some money just in case I got lost or I needed food. So I mapped out what I was going to say to people. I knew if I left the train station, I have to go up North Capitol Street and then that’s the route to the university. I did that because street smarts wise said to me, I don’t want to be taken advantage of, making a wrong turn, whatever it may be. But that was the start of how I had to cope by myself from a foreign country.
I had a very thick accent. So even in my classes, I’d say things and people would be like, “What did you just say?” And I’m like, “I thought I was saying it?” Spelling was an issue because we’re under the British school system. So, I got into high school when I was 10. That’s how the British school system is. And we’re going through that process. But the way we spell check here is C H E C K. For me, it was C H E Q U E. Things like that. So I had to understand that/ I got here, didn’t know anyone, just the coach. And the first night we went to the team meeting, my track team became my family, so to speak.
Many of them are my good friends today. So they helped me along as well. One good friend, Sean Bell eventually became my roommate was from Tennessee. And he used to just help me, look at this, do this, don’t do this. Hey, you want to remember this? In Jamaica it might be this way here in the United States, it’s this way.
And especially being someone, from a person of color. I just didn’t understand some of the things that I was seeing and experiencing. So he helped me a lot with that. And after awhile I met the other Jamaicans, many of them. Good friends today, met them on the yard and we just came together as a family and we all helped each other. A lot of them were probably more wealthy than I was, but that’s the nature of the “Out of Many One People. We come together and we get everybody through and they were able to get me through. But it was a lot of change. I remember not knowing how to do certain things and having to just humble myself, to ask questions, which is something that I still do to this day. It was different, but I told myself I have a four-year shot at this, with this scholarship. I got to get it done and I persevered and here I am today.
Alex Cumming: That’s awesome. I’m hearing you say the importance of humbling yourself, not being afraid to ask for help and having a great group around you. Having a great group of people that you can rely on, trust upon and mentors, as well as you’ve said a number of times to make sure that nothing falls by the wayside.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. No man is an island. And it’s very interesting to me to hear people will have this individualistic approach to what they do. But as I said at the very start of this discussion I’m a people person, right? I don’t necessarily draw my energy from people, but I like to be in spaces where there’re divergent views difference of thought. Cause it allows me to think about even my own position on anything. But being in a group setting with like-minded individuals, like-minded from the standpoint that they’re all progressing to a certain point that is enriching and that is enlivening, if you will, if that’s the word to get you to always want to be at your best. I think sometimes when you start thinking that I am the person, I am the man, I am the woman,I can get this done on by myself, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I do believe in humility remaining humble, despite what is happening, despite your successes, despite your accomplishments or whatever you have, you’re just still a regular person trying to make it through this world.
And if you can maintain that attitude, I think then everything comes back to you 10, 20 fold. I honestly do believe that.
Alex Cumming: The ego can be such a difficult thing to silence. Very much so. Being in the theater world, there are some days where you feel like I’m great. I got this. Then one audition later. You’re like, “Why did I do this? I should have gone into the family business.”
Gerald Hector: Absolutely.
Alex Cumming: So leadership, working in your business, people come to you. You have to have the numbers at the end of the day. I imagine as a people person, it would probably be pretty hard to work in finances and not be a people person because people are always going to be wanting to make sure that everything is lined up in an order and coming to you. What have you learned about leadership?
Gerald Hector: I’ll challenge one of the assumptions you just made that the sense of finance people is that we are singular minded. So you can be an expert in finance and accounting, right? And you could be good at it. You will excel. The numbers are straight. The numbers are right. Reports are timely, all of those things. But there is a difference in being a leader. So not everybody that has a discipline in what they’re good at can lead. And here comes this humility part again. In order to lead, you have to have the capacity to one, be humble, oftentimes be vulnerable, be willing to be vulnerable. And thirdly, exhibit the behaviors that you want people to emulate. If you are a leader and nobody’s following you, you’re just out for a walk. And unfortunately leaders that are not effective, they don’t realize that they are not leading well until it’s too late.
What I’ve learned about leadership is you have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand here are the goals and objectives that we’re trying to reach. I have a team of people. How do I get everyone seeing the vision, seeing the goal and can buy into that goal? Because a lot of times, one of the big, main characteristics of a leader is to put a vision in front of. Who might at first, not even agree with it or can see what you’re seeing. And then through work, relationships, execution, you can turn it, especially in this environment that we’re in now at UCF where we’re onto this change management, you will see. We’re trying to get Knight Vision in place. Knight vision is going to be a big deal for this institution, right? So Knight Vision is broken down into the new ERP system and a new budget system and a new way of doing our business processes. But if I am wedded in many ways to how I’ve always done things, I don’t want to change. And more importantly, why do I have to change? So as a leader, you have to be able to answer the question why first, then how, and then on the execution side of it to get folks to see that in this larger context that they can get excited about it.
And in John Kotter’s book, just as a side note, he talks about having vision carriers. At the end of the day, as a leader, you want to develop vision carriers who will take it and run with it, be excited about it, see it, understand it, become it, but more importantly, it believes. And that’s the job of a leader.
So I’ve learned that through my time with mentors like Dorothy Cowser Yancy, who is the lady who got me into higher education as a CFO at 33 years old, or William H. Gray, who used to be the CEO of the United Negro College Fund and former budget director in Congress — first African American in Congress to hold that role. So if I have those types of mentors and leaders pouring into me, I better get it right. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to understand leadership from the context of being a servant. Servant leadership versus being a leader that just barks instructions and everyone cowers in fear and just get it done. I don’t think that’s leadership. That to me, that’s bullying, but that’s how I have always been. People are still surprised about the transparency that we’re undertaking here, but when people don’t know, they mix stuff up and I’ve seen leaders.
Who would want to keep everything to the chest tight fisted? I believe in leading a group, especially an institution this big, the more people know how it works, the more ideas come your way and you can then figure out which ones you’re going to take and move. So leadership is broad. I’ve often been asked, are leaders born or are leaders made? I fall on the side of leaders are made because it’s purposeful and it’s work that you have to put in.
Alex Cumming: Your visions on leadership, how do they incorporate with President Cartwright’s view for the future of UCF to make it the premier and preeminent metropolitan university?
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. A great question, Dr. Cartwright’s goals are just out there. They’re bold. So now what I have to do, and what I have been doing, is seeing those visions — for example top 50 major metropolitan institution — I’m going to pick a couple operational effectiveness and efficiency and things like that. So what I have been doing since my arrival is understanding that goal and then putting the work in with my team to say, “How do we fit into those goals?”
Diversity, all the things that he has laid out, that’s where leadership now becomes key. And to get everyone to understand the cascading nature of those goals. So everything that I do, I’m big on assessment as well. So you can’t measure what you don’t measure. We have to be able to do that and then ask ourselves fundamentally, “How does that fit with what Dr. Cartwright is trying to do?” So are all of the goals that he has laid out? We have to figure out, okay programmatically, how do we do it? That’s number one. Number two, in my estimation, is that how do we fund or pay for these things in the context of an institution or an organization that’s already established and set in its way.
So that’s what I spend a lot of my time on, around the budget, around how we spend money around our administrative functions. And quite frankly, what are the things the deans and the faculty and the researchers are trying to accomplish and how do we get those funding in place to have that happen? So that’s how I fit into that. And that requires leadership, not only at my level, the level right beneath me and beyond. You don’t have to have a title to be a leader. And that is where I think we are right now. We’re in what I call the churn of leadership because there’s so much change that’s happening, but it’s interesting. You’ll hear people say this change is long overdue, and then you hear on the other side of the spectrum, “How is this change going to affect me?” So part of my job is to bring all of that together. So we can all point to the goals that the president has put out, which I think are the right goals for this institution based on what I’ve seen in this moment in time.
Alex Cumming: The right leadership for the right time. This is the launch pad for the future of the university. That with the right people, it is scary how impressive and massive and impactful the university will become. And I’m so thankful to have people like yourself and President Cartwright and their vision for —
Gerald Hector: Thank you. Thank you for that.
Alex Cumming: Creating that future that I look forward to sharing to say that I was there for that. I got to be blessed to be a part of it during that time.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. It’s a great day to be at Knight. I can tell you that.
Alex Cumming: That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. With what you laid out, what do you see as the future of UCF and how are we going to get there if we have the right vision and the breakdown when you have all the ideas laid out, what do you want to see UCF becoming?
Gerald Hector: Anywhere that I go across the country, post COVID and we’re traveling around again, I want UCF to be on the top of everyone’s lips around things like the research that we’re doing, the public service that we’re doing. The academics is a given, we’re going to excel academically. But then how do we get the name and the brand to be more noticeable across the nation? Like I said, at the very beginning, prior to coming down for that interview, I knew about UCF as the 2017 national championships. But then when you got down here and you saw the Rosen School, number one in the world, and you have all the stuff you’re doing with engineering, then you go downtown, you see the downtown campus.
Alex Cumming: Beautiful.
Gerald Hector: You go out to Lake Nona, and you’re like, wait a minute, timeout, this school is really not only massive in student numbers, if you will, but in terms of the impact we can have for the future. So what I think needs to happen is we need to figure out how we get to what I, what a former boss of mine called because. St the end of the day, we are Central Florida’s research institution. That means we have to figure out how are we impacting this community, this state and this nation. When you look at our graduates, I believe it’s something like 90% of our graduates stay in the state of Florida and 75% are here in Central Florida when they graduate from UCF. Wow. That’s a statistic in and of itself.
So how are we producing Knights that are leaving the institution such that they go straight into industry? So the partnerships are very important. For example, we have 600 interns at Lockheed Martin annually. Awesome. What other things can we be doing to get not only just what I call “manila research,” but applied research, medical research.
What would UCF look like if we diversified our revenue, this is the finance person talking now. What if we were to diversify our revenue, such that no single revenue stream tops 25% on an annualized basis? What does that mean? It means that we have the capacity to do a lot more. Without some of the collars that we have now based on rules and regulations that we must follow.
So those are two things. Another thing that I see is how do we get to a point where UCF is a destination? When we talk about this culture of excellence, that’s here on this campus, how do we be in such a way that, the expertise, the gravitas that everyone wants to garner at their institution, it’s here.
For example, our themed experiences and the new graduate programs there, and all the things that we are, quote unquote experts in, how are we taking that and branching out? How do we get to a point where our alumns are such that wherever they are flowing far and wide, the name UCF is generated over and over again.
I just see so many possibilities for this institution and if we can get all oars in the water and the boat pointed in the one direction, you’ll hear me use this expression over and over again. One UCF. Right now we’ve got 13 colleges and we got units and divisions and everyone is doing their thing. But I think what Dr. Cartwright is doing right now is to get everybody to see if we come together as a collective pointing, not limiting what folks are doing now, but a strategy for how we move the institution. A rising tide lifts all boats. So that’s where I see UCF in the future. And once, I’m telling you, once we get all of those things lined up in that way, all the pieces, the revenue streams, the management, the administrative efficiencies that we’re trying to get done with Knight Vision, the sky’s the limit. And people will say to me on campus here, “Gerald, interesting because you were at Cornell, an Ivy League school and all the things that you did, you were able to see there, and the med school. We have a med school now. Let’s just turn it into what the Ivy Leagues have. That’s how I think. I’m always an underdog, but you’re not going to outwork me is the way that I’ve always approached it. So that’s how I see UCF into the future.
Alex Cumming: I do love the underdog metaphor. Oftentimes I do feel as though UCF has that sort of underdog quality. Even with the 2017 season, the reason that you first heard about UCF was because these were the underdogs that took on the big boys and did it.
Gerald Hector: Yup, absolutely.
Alex Cumming: And that a day will come where that underdog moniker for UCF just doesn’t apply anymore.
Gerald Hector: It’s gone already in my mind. Gone, it’s gone. I don’t consider having been here for a year and observing what we have. I wouldn’t attach underdog to, no. We are performing at levels that people drool to get to. So this is my, as I said, this is my fifth institution, so I’ve seen it. I’ve been there, done that, starred in the movie. So I have the context of seeing an Ivy League and what it does. Cornell is a special place, and what they’re able to do there and all the things. Campus in Manhattan, Cornell Tech, you got the main campus, you have stations in China and India, and that’s what they do. We have a med school, they have a hotel school. We compete. One-to-one not to say I’m competing with, putting the two together, but they go back and forth. We’re not an underdog. We already there, Rosen’s number one. Rosen’s number one. So you can’t be a number one and be an underdog, so it’s a mental shift.
I say this to my some of my mentees. You can’t think big when small has you in his grasps. So it’s a mental thing. It’s a mind shift. And quite frankly, I think all that I see happening here, I’m still always saying to myself, I pinch myself every now and then to say, “Wow, I’m here working at UCF at this moment in time.” Can’t beat it. It’s the best gig in town for a host of reasons.
Alex Cumming: It’s a great place to be, a great place to be. You laid it out. You’re right. I do love the small has you in its grasps. That mental mindset, you’re so right. So with all that being said, I’m curious, what advice would you give to somebody who does what you do?
Gerald Hector: I would say if I was to walk back, my own journey is have an idea of what you want to do early and start there. It will shift. It will meander, but be flexible. But behind all of it, be humble. Beause I was in public accounting when I graduated, I went into public accounting. I was right out of school. I went with Deloitte. That was back then. It was Deloitte Touche. I wanted to rise through the ranks, and I wanted to be a partner and I wanted to set my family up economically and have nothing to worry about. I have three children and I’m like going through all these things. And then I have a client in the United Negro College Fund while I was at Deloitte and just one question, “Would you come and help us address some of the issues and help point us to another place?” I was like, “Okay, that’s interesting.” And I did it and hence my journey into higher education. I never would’ve thought I’d be in higher education.
My expertise was independent power plants and nonprofits, but I love the independent power plants thing because I had big clients. But going into you UNCF, and them creating a position for me to go into UNCF, humbling myself, then all the things started to happen. Ever heard of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program? So I was responsible for working on setting that up as a $1 billion scholarship program that then became the calling card for other people saying, “Who is this guy?” Put yourself out there, seek mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but if I don’t know, I’m going to find out,” and always be in the mindset that.
Not everybody is going to understand your drive and your passion. People will misinterpret it. People will say you’re cocky. People will say all these things, but at your very core, if you know what you’re trying to accomplish, be flexible because things will come. But once you get an opportunity, grab it and run with it and see what the end is going to be.
And plus, my faith grounds me. My faith grounds me and all that I do because I do believe that the work that I do in the higher education space was ordained before I even got here. And I live by that as people say you’re a seminary grad, that’s fine. But I do believe that you get out of your career, everything you put in. But everything you do, be humble, be hungry, but more importantly, try to help someone along and it will come back to you, 10, 20 fold
Alex Cumming: Couldn’t have said it a better myself. Beautiful. I love it. That generations are going to come based upon the work that you built.
Gerald Hector: And that is a humbling thing. I think that you’re creating something that is trying to assist in extending a legacy of something that’s much bigger than you that’s really very humbling.
Alex Cumming: Hopefully my future kids will say, “You went to UCF back then?” I look forward to all that. And with all that I want to know. What’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do, and this can be on a personal level, a professional, but what are still hoping to do?
Gerald Hector: I’m hoping to write more books, I have to find the time for it. There’s a book that I’ve outlined already. my second one. And it has to do with my journey in higher education from the historically black college and university side, because I spent almost a decade at Johnson C. Smith. I was at Morehouse and then I was at Ithica, Cornell and I’m here. Here is unique because we are an HIS, so it’s a combination of all of this and how I’ve seen the different nuances and being a chief financial officer or a senior financial executive at each one. So that’s something I’m working on right now, but I’d like to write more and professionally.
I’m just enjoying what I’m doing at UCF right now, helping Dr. Cartwright and his board realize the goals and visions. People have aspirations for me that, and people will always see things in you before you see it in yourself. But the aspirations that they have for me, I’m going to have to go back to school. I’d have to go get that third degree. And I look at my three children now going through it, so we’ll see what the Lord wants done on that one. But as I said, my faith drives everything that I do. And when the pressure and the weight of it all is such that I can’t bear it anymore, then maybe that will be the next thing.
But people are seeing me going to another level in higher education and. I don’t know. We’ll see what the cards fall. See how the cards fall, see what the Lord wants done. And we’ll take it from there.
Alex Cumming: Well, I so look forward to seeing it all play out.
Gerald Hector: Yep. Thank you. Thanks for that.
Alex Cumming: So now share where can people find you? Where can they find a podcast, book? Where can they find you?
Gerald Hector: Oh, wow. Thank you. I’m here on the campus of University of Central Florida, Millican Hall. You can find me there. If you wanna email me [email protected] The book that I wrote is called It’s Easy Son, Quit Making Things Difficult, and it’s on Amazon. Just Google, Amazon, you can find it. I’m still humbled by the response to the book. I just wrote the book to say thank you. But to see now that the book has spawned a podcast, the podcast is off the name of the book. ‘It’s Easy Son.’ We’re into our second year now, we’ve actually done about 60 episodes, I think. As I said earlier, we just had our last episode was on Dr. Richard Lapchick, he has an amazing story. But if you go to SoundCloud and search for it, you can find all 60 or 50, whatever it is episodes there. And that’s something that I want to continue to do. Because it gets me away from the numbers, but it also allows me to connect to other people and to learn from them.
So when you talk to an Edward Moses, or an Otis Moss Jr., or Andrew Young people from the civil rights era and then tie it together with what Dr. Lapchick shared with us yesterday, I just get excited about that stuff because you see lives that are making impacts. And as one of my mentors told me, when you leave this Earth, you want to leave this Earth with vibrations that you deposited. And I do believe the podcast, purely by accident — I’m an accountant, I’m a finance professional doing a podcast —so anything is possible if you remain humble.
Alex Cumming: episodes, we got a little bit of catching up to do. Yeah.
Gerald Hector: It might be 55 or 57. Yeah. You know, I’m a numbers guy. So I always try to get the numbers right.
Alex Cumming: Yeah. We’ll keep working at it to catch up with you. And next time, I know you, we talked little bit about whenever you’re on Memory Mall, don’t be a stranger.
Gerald Hector: No, I won’t. And just walk up and just remind me, “Hey Gerald.” There’s so many people I’m meeting, I feel so bad because we’ve been on zoom so long. So I see someone and they take the mask off and I don’t know who they are and you’re looking at me like, and I’m like, am I supposed to know? And then there are folks that I’ve met two or three times, and I still can’t get it because there are so many people, but I’m going to get it right. I’ll get it right. I’ll get it right.
Alex Cumming: I’ll show you. My leadership is showing you a great tailgate.
Gerald Hector: All right. Good, good, good, good.
Alex Cumming: Well, thank you so much for joining us. It was such a pleasure to get to the chat today. And I still look for, to seeing, where life takes you. I’m excited to hear about it.
Gerald Hector: Absolutely. And thank you for it. And Godspeed, and Go Knights and Charge On.
Alex Cumming: Go Knights, Charge On.
I loved Gerald’s story and his vision for the future of UCF. And I hope you feel the same with Valentine’s Day, right around the corner I hope you’ll join me on our next episode as I speak with Dr. Sejal Barden, executive director of the Marriage and Family Research Institute and principal investigator for Project Harmony here at UCF. As she shares her expertise in marriage and family therapy, we’ll learn how honest communication is the most overlooked aspect of relationships and how we can bring our best selves to our spouses, friends, and families.
I look forward to sharing this conversation with you.
Sejal Barden: Couples typically wait way too long to seek therapy. They wait much longer than individuals do because of course you need both people and the relationship to relatively agree to engage in therapy. And so by the time I see my couples, sometimes they’re not saying hello to one another. They’ve been sleeping in separate bedrooms for months on end. There’s really no semblance of who they used to be or what they used to have. And so these conversations that we’re having today is not where I’m starting with those couples. So I think it’s really taking an inventory and assessment of where are we today? And what’s the first next step? Not what are the 15 steps, but what can we do tomorrow? And making sure that’s relative and we set our couples up for success.
Alex Cumming: If you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an email at [email protected], and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights, and Charge On.