An Interview With Lewis & Clark’s New Board Chair
June 14, 2004
John Bates has taught the intricacies of finance to Lewis & Clark undergraduates. He has built a successful business around serving as a litigation consultant and an expert witness to major New York Stock Exchange brokerage firms. He has lived in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. He drives a bright red Volkswagen Beetle. He’s been known to wear bow ties. And he’s one of the most charming, down-to-earth people you would ever want to meet.
Bates became chair of Lewis & Clark’s Board of Trustees in June. He succeeds Fred Fields, who completed his third term as chair in May. Already a familiar face on campus, Bates hopes to enhance the visibility of the board and foster open communication among the College’s key constituents.
Q: How does your prior history as a Lewis & Clark faculty member inform your work as board chair?
A: When I was on the faculty in the 1970s and ’80s, I did all the things a faculty member does: I taught, I advised, I was on faculty committees, I earned tenure. So I have a good sense of what a faculty member does. As a result, I bring to the board a level of understanding that is different—not better—but different than that of other board members.
Q: How have your subsequent experiences in the business world prepared you for this position?
A: I have a strong background in finance. I taught the subject when I was at Lewis & Clark, and finance and investments are the focal points of my business. In this period of scarce resources—which all colleges are facing, not just Lewis & Clark—I think my financial background will be useful to the College.
Q: Why have you stayed interested in Lewis & Clark over the years?
A: For starters, I live close to the College—I can walk to campus and do, on occasion. I’m also in contact with a large number of alumni, some of whom have worked for our firm. As a matter of fact, the current president of our firm, Rob Lee, is a double graduate of Lewis & Clark College—he attended both the undergraduate college and the law school. Another strong link is my connection to the Benelux overseas study group—24 wonderful students with whom my family, including my son, Christopher, traveled in 1979. That group has remained close to our family and close to each other. We will have our 25th reunion on campus this fall during Homecoming weekend.
Q: Why did you decide to accept the position as board chair?
A: The fundamental answer to that question is that I was asked. I think the board felt my particular mix of skills might be appropriate for Lewis & Clark at this time. I accepted because it was brought to me as something that was important to the College and its community. I think when one is asked to stand up, you stand up.
Q: What are your goals as board chair?
A: I think the board has to be more visible—more visible to faculty and staff, to students, to alums. I’m eager to have more interaction between faculty and board members at board meetings. I’d also like board members to be more visible to students on campus. For example, I could imagine offering seminars where board members could speak to students about opportunities in various employment fields. The board also needs to get out and see alums. So far, I’ve attended alumni events on the West Coast, but I intend to expand that effort.
Q: What changes have been made to the board’s operating procedures—especially in light of last year’s revelations about an unsecured $10.5-million loan to Environmental Oil Processing technology Corporation? What changes are planned for the future?
A: The changes that have already been made are quite significant. We have a relatively new chief financial officer, Jim Walker, who came to the College with a strong background in finance, most recently at Oregon Health & Science University. We have a new general counsel, David Ellis, who has a deep legal background, including a previous position at Lewis & Clark Law School. We have strengthened the board’s Audit committee and charged its members to be ever more vigilant with regard to the finances of the College. We have amended the bylaws, the articles, and the standing rules of the College to bring them into conformity with each other and the rules of the state of Oregon.
In the near future, we will be making major changes in the structure of board sessions. Frankly, I want to make them interesting and challenging to board members and other participants. There is so much talent on this campus that is not being tapped by the board. We have professors doing compelling research, we have people doing excellent work in conjunction with the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition—just to cite some examples. Later in the academic year, we’ll hold a board retreat in which we’ll engage in self-inspection and strategic planning with regard to board structure and activities.
Q: The board recently approved five new board members. What qualities were you looking for in these new recruits?
A: All five of the new board members are alums of the College. And interestingly enough, three are married to Lewis & Clark alums. I like to say we’re getting six for the price of three. These new members have been immensely successful in their careers, and all have done postgraduate work either at Lewis & Clark or at distinguished East Coast universities. The Nominating Committee was looking for potential trustees who exhibited commitment to the College; commitment to the function of the board; and commitment to give of their time, their talents, and their treasure. We sought out alums because they have a special sense of the culture and the history of the College.
Q: How have you been building bridges with faculty, students, and staff at the College?
A: I’ve been meeting with them one-on-one, mostly in their own environments. I’ve also been attending events sponsored by all three schools. I think that’s what one has to do in this position—be visible, be recognized, and be active in campus activities.
Q: You served as an ex officio member of the Presidental Search Committee. What impressed you about Tom Hoch-stettler, Lewis & Clark’s incoming president?
A: Tom is a proven leader who is deeply committed to the liberal arts. It is this commitment that attracted him to Lewis & Clark. His diverse background enables him to see the College from both the administrative side and the intellectual side, which I think is very important. Tom is well versed in strategic planning, adept at consensus building, and skilled in hiring top-level positions. He also has extensive international experience and supports the international thrust of the College. I believe he has a deep sense of integrity, which you feel when you’re with him.
Q: How would you describe the working relationship you hope to develop with him?
A: I find Tom to be very easy to work with. I have every reason to believe that Tom and I will form a cohesive partnership with regard to our respective duties to move the College in its continued upward trajectory.
Q: What excites you about Lewis & Clark?
A: We’re going into a new era. We have a wonderful new president, three highly successful schools, and five new and enthusiastic board members. I think it’s the perfect time to be excited about Lewis & Clark.
Age: 69; born in San Diego.
Business experience:Chief executive officer, Bates Private Capital and Bates Private Capital Advisors (1988-present); private financial consultant (1981-88); various positions at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith (1960-72), including vice president and manager, National Municipal Bond Department.
Teaching experience:Adjunct professor of finance, Lewis & Clark College (1985-86); associate professor of finance, Lewis & Clark College (1975-81); assistant professor of finance and management, Oregon State University (1972-75).
Honors and awards:Outstanding Faculty Member, Lewis & Clark College (1976); Citation in Recognition of Business Leadership, University of Oregon (1969).
Education: M.B.A. in finance, with honors, University of Oregon; B.S. in finance, with honors, Oregon State University.
Family: Wife, Susan; son, Christopher.