From Parking Lots to President's Cabinet:
Date: June 17, 2002
UC's New VP A Campus Success Story
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Lisa Ventre
Archive: Campus News
Nine titles. Thirteen different managers. Offices in seven different buildings. These are just a handful of figures that summarize the 25-year career of James R. Tucker at the University of Cincinnati.
But nothing quite sums it up as well as this fact: He started as a parking attendant and has just been appointed by UC's Board of Trustees as the vice president for Administrative Services and Business Services. It's the kind of climb to success that makes Tucker who he is and even prompts strangers to utter a "wow."
Although there are many individuals who have worked their way up from entry level positions at UC, there is "not anyone who has gone the last notch to vice president and started from his entry point," says Dale McGirr, UC Vice President for Finance. McGirr was Tucker's boss from 1996 to February 2002, when Tucker was named an interim vice president.
"I think he is a real bottom-to-top success story for UC," McGirr says. "I think the university is going to benefit greatly from someone as dedicated as him serving on the cabinet. He is a very talented and known asset. It's a great win for the university."
Just over a year ago, when President Joseph A. Steger decided to make customer service a university-wide priority, he selected Tucker to co-chair the new Quality Service Initiative. Tucker has been a successful quality service leader in UC's Facilities Management and campus services for the past decade or more.
His accomplishments earned him the Award for Excellence in Facilities Management in 2001 - the highest institutional honor given by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers. The honor became a double achievement for him when he received a congratulatory note from President Steger offering praise that remains one of Tucker's proudest moments. "I consider you as one of the best executives I have ever had the pleasure to work with," the president wrote.
This spring, the 44-year-old Tucker marked his 25th anniversary at UC. Although he always planned to work his way up the ladder, not even Tucker dreamed he would make it as far as he has. Today as a VP, he oversees 1,066 employees, plus 290 contract employees. He's responsible for a budget of $119 million in annual operations - $96 million in auxiliary services and $23 million in general funds.
At 19, his first job on campus slotted him as an attendant at the College-Conservatory of Music garage. Already working on a bachelor's degree before he landed a job here, the LaSalle High School graduate continued to work full time and pursue higher education.
Back then, UC was nearly broke and about to become a state university. Parking lots were nearly all gravel and dominated the campus landscape. One of Tucker's first major accomplishments was making parking maintenance an internal function.
In those early years, asphalt and snow plowing filled a large part of Tucker's work schedule. "I've worked all three shifts, I plowed snow for five winters and shoveled blacktop for four summers," said Tucker. "What really drove me was that I didn't want to keep shoveling and plowing. I always said that by age 30 I wanted an indoor job as a business administrator."
Tucker met that goal five years early at the age of 25. His subsequent posts have included acting supervisor in parking, groundskeeper supervisor, building maintenance superintendent, manager of parking maintenance and shuttle operations, director of parking and traffic, acting director of design and construction, associate vice president for administrative services and information technologies/director of facilities management, and associate vice president (AVP) for administrative services. "I've always been willing to accept more duties and responsibilities. I like the opportunity and challenges," he explains.
In the AVP position, his responsibilities continually grew - campus services, which includes the bookstores, copy centers and central stores, came under his supervision in 1995. Purchasing and materiel management were added in 1996, as well as housing, dining and the student union in January 2000. And that list is not even complete.
Juggling education and employment has never proven difficult for him. He has earned three undergraduate degrees at UC - in management, marketing and information processing. In 1997, he received his MBA. In addition, he attained industry certification as a Facility Manager and an Energy Manager.
"School has always been easy for me," he confesses. Then he shares a comment his father once made to him: "You've got your mom's brains and my common sense." His mother, Vera, worked for 27 years at UC, starting as a cashier and retiring as a senior auditor a few years ago. Tucker's parents aren't the only major influences in his life. His bosses have had a big impact, too.
"I've tried to learn the best from them and from their mistakes...Charlie Leffler (former director of parking and transportation now serving at North Carolina State) introduced me to the concepts of goals and objectives, (Vice President for Finance) Dale McGirr brought in the whole idea of understanding the big picture," Tucker says. He adds that he has also learned a lot from the people he oversees. For example, the late Harry Goedde, former director of Building Services, was very close to him, and an award in Administrative Services now bears Goedde's name. "Goedde led his housekeeping group like a coach and taught me some of the finer points of managing human nature."
Tucker sums up his years at UC "as time well spent with abundant opportunities and innovative people." As far as his staff, he considers them among the finest in their field and "feels honored to lead the group in new and exciting ventures."
Key awards and honors
The Tucker bylaws
Bosses and co-workers share insights