QC: Whittier College prides itself as being one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country. How do you intend to maintain this status, or do you foresee any changes in regards to diversity on campus?
LO: I don’t necessarily see any changes, but I see the diversity on campus as being a real asset. We all know that students learn best in diverse environments. I think if there’s any change, it’s not a change, per say, but it’s how we look at diversity. It's not just gender, gender identity, ethnicity, and all the other identities that people have, but it’s also socioeconomic. It’s also international, it’s people from different geographic regions, and when you put different types of people together, it improves everyone’s learning and understanding, and that’s where the world is headed. I’d look at our job in higher education in general, but particularly in a place like Whittier, training leaders who look like the world, and that’s the best way for lots of different people in the classroom to learn from each other.
QC: You spent some of your career in venture capital pursuits. What made you want to shift your focus from venture capital to educational pursuits?
LO: Well, I did some venture capital, but I’d say it was more startups and innovation. That’s the way that I think about it. I’ve always had a passion for higher education. I’m a lot like many Whittier students in that. I was in first in my family to go to college, and I’ve seen how education can change the entire trajectory of the family. I saw that in my own family, with my siblings and cousins, and now my sons. I’ve always had that passion in terms of access to higher education. I always kept my toe in, even while I was doing corporate type roles. After my MBA, I stayed for a year on campus and was on the admissions board, and my job was to recruit diverse students to the Harvard Business School. I stayed involved with the African American Alumni Association and did recruitment on the West Coast. To me, it was about the access. It’s actually kind of fun, because I’ve served on boards for elementary schools where my sons were. I served in a role when they were in high school as athletes. It actually was my startup pursuits that allowed me to retire from that, and then really pursue higher education. I actually taught at several business schools, and that was the first way I was involved. I taught at Wharton, I taught at UC Davis, and I taught at San Diego State. When I entered an administrative role at UC Davis business school, I had that really broad background and that passion for higher education, which is one of the reason why [San Francisco] State hired me as Dean.
QC: How do you feel that running a school is similar to running a business? Do you see any similarities in terms of leadership?
LO: Every organization has a business model. A business model is, you need revenue to survive, and decide what to spend it on. Every organization has that. Every organization also has individuals that, as a leader, you have to get working towards a shared mission or purpose. The mission in higher education at a place like Whittier, is basically to produce wonderful students to go out in the world. What I try to do, as a leader, regardless of the type of organization, is really try to get to know as many people as I can. Which actually fits with Quaker values; I really believe that everyone has value. As an employee or as a leader, I try to figure out what they’re good at, and what they want to do, and really try to fit people together. It’s actually an entrepreneurial mentality, because when you're doing startups, you have to find people who complement each other, not substitute each other.
QC: Were you hired to be in the position of Chief Diversity Officer at UC Davis, or was that something that came out of your own interests and passions?
LO: It came out of the latter. One clarification, I was the Chief Diversity Officer of the School of Management at UC Davis. They [also] had one for the whole campus. It’s actually an interesting story, because I was hired to do business development and marketing for the business school, and in particular, in the Bay Area, since Davis is pretty far and there aren’t a lot of corporations or industries there. After two weeks of going to the Bay Area and talking to companies in Oakland and San Francisco, they were asking me about diversity, and I went back to the Dean and I said, ‘What are we doing about diversity? Because frankly, we are not a very diverse institution.” He said, “Why are you asking?” and I said, “Because companies are asking me.” One thing I’ve found is that industries and organizations in California are way ahead of the rest of us on this, and they were saying things like, “We need leaders who look like our customers. California is changing,” and the Dean’s response was “Oh. Well, you can be the Chief Diversity Officer.” And so, I said “yes.”
It was actually a really wonderful experience, because then what I did, was identify a couple of very senior faculty and we basically worked on the Diversity Initiative. It was everything from coming up with a diversity statement, to actually appointing a faculty committee on diversity for the first time, which is a pretty big deal in higher-ed, to have the faculty really embrace that issue. And we really did improve our diversity in the MBA program.
QC: Is there anything else you’d like the student body of Whittier to know?
LO: That’s a great question, and a great opportunity for me to say- what you may not know is that I was in your position once. When I was a student, I was Chairman of all Student Media at UCLA. I was publisher of the Daily Bruin, and 15 other publications, so I always try to talk to other student journalists. News is kind of a passion of mine, and I’m a news junkie, so I’m really happy when I see students who are really trying to do this for their life.