After leading the University of Memphis for more than a decade, Shirley Raines retired from her presidency earlier this year. Brad Martin, retired chairman and CEO of high-end department store retailer Saks Incorporated, has stepped in to fill the void.
Martin, a Memphis native, became the U of M's interim president this July. A week after the university's fall semester started, he spoke with the Flyer about his thoughts on becoming interim president of his alma mater, the goals he seeks to accomplish while holding the position, and his future plans. — Louis Goggans
Flyer: How did you go from being chairman of a major department store to the U of M's interim president?
Brad Martin: I've led enterprises bigger than the University of Memphis in terms of the scale of the operations, so I think that was probably how my name came up. I care a lot about the university and was willing to do it.
What are some of the things you've learned since accepting the position?
I have a greater understanding of the importance of strategic focus for a leader, how effective a collaborative group can be if you invest the time to give people in the group equity with decisions that you're making, and that people want to hear more about the future than they do about the past.
Your current position is temporary, but do you desire to become the U of M's permanent president?
Under no set of circumstances will I consider that. I have a lot of other interests in life, and I'm not looking for a job. I'm accepting no compensation for this. I'm doing it very intensely for one year.
You're a graduate of the U of M. What has changed since your college days?
I think there are many of the same elements that were there decades ago: talented faculty, dedicated staff, [and] students who want to learn. Technology's a lot bigger component of the learning environment than anything I experienced when I was in college. I'd say the biggest change is all the different ways one can go to class with [regard to] the internet.
You recently introduced a plan consisting of eight initiatives for the 2013-14 school year. Among them was a desire for students across the country to be able to attend the U of M without paying out-of-state tuition.
First, I don't think that out-of-state [tuition] is a relevant concept in the mobile society that we have today. What's out-of-state about an online learner? What's the difference between someone sitting at a computer terminal or on an iPad in Alabama than in Tennessee? Number two: In Memphis, we need a lot of additional talent to make our city grow and succeed, and I would like to go and get energetic, interested, talented people and invite them to come to the University of Memphis and hopefully convince them to stay in our community.
What would you most like to achieve before your time as interim president is over?
I would just like to know that we've advanced the strategic significance and contribution of the University of Memphis in this community that is my hometown and that we have a better future in the community as a result.