New executive director of Office of Strategic Initiatives to spearhead campus financial planning efforts

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Lyle Nevels, former assistant vice chancellor for information technology, was appointed Wednesday as the executive director of the campus Office of Strategic Initiatives, a body recently created to support comprehensive economic and structural planning for the campus amid financial challenges.

The office reports to Andrew Szeri, vice provost for strategic academic and facilities planning, and is staffed by a small number of primarily campus experts, rather than outside professionals.

Created to continue support for campus initiatives, the office will support a large-scale planning process that will be integrated across a number of campus activities. Like a group project for a class, Szeri said “this process will require the coordination and work across different individuals.”

In order to optimize the office’s strategies, close contact with the campus student body — especially student leaders — will be pursued by the office over the next five years as the project unfolds, according to Szeri.

But Jenna Kingkade, campus Graduate Assembly president, said in an email that she and ASUC President Yordanos Dejen were briefed about the office 24 hours before it was publicly announced.

“As a student leader who firmly believes that students should be involved in decision making that impacts the structure and values of our university, I found this late notice to be at the same time disconcerting and motivating,” Kingkade said in an email.

One of the many focuses of the office will be to facilitate and expand fundraising initiatives. In 2015, the campus received $462 million in philanthropic gifts, making last year the most successful fundraising year in the campus’ history.

We do an excellent job at fundraisingbut we’d like to reach further and do even better,” Szeri said.

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, however, the office was not created as a response to financial strains.

Nobody here feels like we’re in a crisis; we’re taking these steps so we don’t reach that point,” Mogulof said. “We’re being proactive from a position of strength … so that Berkeley remains Berkeley for years to come.

In an email sent by Szeri to the campus community, Nevels was appointed by a search committee that consisted of representatives from the chancellor’s office, the executive vice chancellor and provost’s office and administration, as well as faculty.

Part of my role in (Office of Strategic Initiatives) is to help the strategic leaders and project leaders to think through their initiatives while understanding the resource implication of those initiatives,” Nevels said. The most significant goal is the collaboration between the various units on campus (and the) faculty, students and staff.

In the past, Nevels also served as the campus deputy chief information officer and was the campus Haas School of Business’ first chief information officer. According to Szeri’s message to campus, Nevels was selected based on his “extensive experience leading and implementing cross-functional initiatives and transformational change.

As the first chief information officer at Haas, Nevels had access to a “backdoor pass to an entire organization,” according to current Haas chief information officer Kevin Cornish. He added that Nevels had the “enterprisewide view” of the “highest levels of strategy,” making him an ideal candidate for his newly minted position.

“(Nevels) is the kind of person that connects people and ideas,” Cornish said. “He is very capable of … expressing a very complex view and strategy to an audience at every level and making sure that what he says resonates with everyone.”

Larry Conrad, associate vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer, worked alongside Nevels for three years and said he has “distinguished himself as a go-to guy and somebody that gets things done.” In undertaking this challenge, Conrad said Nevel’s ability of building, maintaining, developing and nurturing relationships and trust will help the office be successful on campus.

“One of the reasons why I came to UC Berkeley is to make a difference in higher education,” Nevels said. “The reasons why I applied for this role (are) to think about the future of the university from a long-term standpoint and help position it for greater success.”

Contact Sofia Gonzalez-Platas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sglezplatas.