Q&A with Jeff Raikes, chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees

Jeffrey S. Raikes, who joined the Stanford University Board of Trustees in June 2012, took the helm as chair in July and will lead his first meeting of the board this fall.  

Jeffrey S. Raikes, who took the helm as chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees in July, is a Stanford alum who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering-economic systems in 1980. He and his wife, Tricia, are the parents of three children who have earned degrees on the Farm. Raikes recently sat down with Stanford Report to talk about his management style, the role trustees play as “thought partners” to university leadership, and how his experiences at Stanford helped shape the trajectory of his life.


As chair of the Board of Trustees, you will be overseeing a body of 32 people – all highly accomplished in their fields, including investment banking, law, real estate, business, education and philanthropy. How would you describe your management style?

Jeffrey S. Raikes

Jeffrey S. Raikes (Image credit: Aaron Kehoe)

First of all, it’s important to note that we have a very strong culture at the Board of Trustees. We have a culture of attendance. We’ll get nearly 100 percent attendance, which, given the commitments and responsibilities of trustees, is quite amazing. We have a culture of collegiality and of collaboration, which is enhanced by the fact that we’re here for the institution. What I learned in business is that when you have the right culture, things are a lot easier. When you have challenges in the culture, things are a lot harder.

As trustees, we tap into our love of Stanford and our loyalty to the institution. All of us are volunteers, but each of us has their own story and their own form of gratitude for how this institution changed the trajectories of our lives. Our commitment to Stanford is to “pay it forward” by helping create that opportunity for others.

My management style is very much about being a team leader and a supporter. Relative to the Board of Trustees, I think of myself as being the point guard – to use a sports metaphor. In basketball, a point guard passes the ball for somebody else to score. That’s how I view my role. For example, Gail Harris is a fantastic chair of the Trustees’ Special Committee for Investment Responsibility. I tap into her enthusiasm for helping Stanford in that area and then, I support her.

Another part of my style is to be connected, and to listen and learn. In February, I began a “listening tour” on campus, with the encouragement of Steve Denning, who just completed his term as chair, and Isaac Stein, a trustee and former chair. So far, I have had 50 different one-on-one meetings or small group meetings. I have met with members of student government,  all members of the senior cabinet, all of the deans of the seven Schools, university leaders and previous presidents and chairs of Stanford.

My listening tour has included conversations with people outside Stanford – my counterparts at the University of California, San Francisco, Yale, Princeton and Harvard.

My number one goal, personally and as a member of the Board of Trustees, is to help make sure that President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell are as successful as they can be. They’re the ones leading Stanford. A lot of what trustees do is “thought partnership.” We’re a sounding board – to poke when appropriate and to cheer when appropriate.


You became chair of the Board of Trustees at a turning point in Stanford’s history: President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell have taken the helm and have initiated a long-range planning process to develop a bold new vision for Stanford’s future. What role will trustees play in that process?

The long-range planning process – one of the most important initiatives now underway on campus – represents an important responsibility and opportunity for trustees. It is led by faculty, with students and staff. Stanford also encouraged alumni to participate. I submitted seven different ideas, which are part of the 2,765 ideas the university received.

As trustees, we can leverage our networks – speak to the people to which we’re connected–learn their viewpoints and provide an external perspective that will contribute to the process. Stanford has big aspirations for its impact on the world. So a big question for us is: How can we as trustees tap into our external experience in ways that really enhance what Marc and Persis and university leadership will do as part of long-range planning?

Marc will be giving us regular updates on the process. The long-range plan will also be the focus of our spring retreat.


In addition to approving tuition and the university’s annual budget, and shepherding construction projects through the board’s approval process, what other issues will trustees focus on during the 2017-18 academic year?

Stanford has applied for an updated General Use Permit, sometimes called the GUP, which will guide the physical development of the campus through 2035. [The application sets a plan for the university’s academic and housing needs in the coming year, while ensuring that Stanford continues to grow in a sustainable way that reduces impacts to surrounding communities.] That’s a very important part of our responsibility as trustees, because it will pave the way for the university’s growth well into the future.

Stanford Medicine, which is a very significant component of the overall revenue of the university, is an important topic for trustees. When I think about Stanford Medicine, I don’t just think of the adult hospital, the children’s hospital and clinics, or about short-term opportunities and issues. I also think about the ways in which biomedicine, biotechnology and bioengineering are going to revolutionize health care – just as personal computers and the Internet revolutionized the world in the last 25 to 35 years.

I believe Stanford Medicine will be a platform for Stanford’s leadership in this coming revolution in biomedicine, what Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, would describe as “precision health.” Our expertise across medicine, engineering, data science and policy can really help shape the future of health care in this country and beyond.

Last year, in part because it was Marc’s first year, the Board of Trustees spent a lot of time hearing from the deans and what they saw as the strengths and opportunities in each of their schools. This year is a great time for us to learn about exciting research that’s underway on campus. Last year, we held our spring retreat in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one of the things that trustees absolutely loved was hearing presentations about exciting new research from leaders at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and from Kendall Square, a neighborhood of vibrant and growing life sciences research. I want to tap into exciting research at Stanford and make that more available to the trustees.

Our trustees also have a very strong interest in campus life. This may be one of the most dynamic periods in the evolution of the student experience. I think it’s very important that our trustees be connected and they’re very excited to do that.

We’re also very excited to engage with the faculty. As part of my listening tour, I met with Debra Satz last May when she was still the chair of the Faculty Senate, and recently with Liz Hadly, the new chair. The trustees and Faculty Senate are scheduled to have dinner together later this year.

We’ll be recognizing the service of the trustees who are ending their service and welcoming the new trustees. It’s bittersweet – we have some fabulous trustees who will come to the end of their terms, but we also have some great incoming trustees. Carrie Penner joined the board in June, Felix Baker and Jerry Yang will join the board this fall, and we’ll add several more new trustees this year.

Stanford has become a focal point in the world because of the university’s profile in a number of dimensions – whether it be technology, our location in Silicon Valley, our reputation as a top liberal arts institution or the quality of our graduate programs. How should we think about our global footprint?


As a Stanford undergraduate, you chose Ujamaa, one of Stanford’s ethnic theme houses, as your home during your sophomore, junior and senior years. “Uj,” as it is affectionately known, is the place where students can explore black culture and heritage, and engage in personal and group discovery around issues of identity development, race, class and gender and social norms. What drew you – a white teenager who grew up on a Nebraska farm – to choose Ujamaa as your home?

I grew up on a farm that was seven miles from Ashland, Nebraska, a completely homogenous town of 2,000 people. Our nearest neighbors lived more than a half mile away. When I came to Stanford in the mid-‘70s, I went from “a farm” to “the Farm.” At that time, I would say about 50 percent of Stanford’s incoming freshmen were from California. If you were not a Californian, you tended to have a Californian roommate. My freshman roommate, Kenneth Nunn, grew up in Omaha. There were probably only five kids from Nebraska in that incoming class of 1,700 students – and my roommate was one of them.

Kenneth and I grew up 35 minutes apart, but we grew up worlds apart from each other. I learned that privilege tends to be invisible to those who possess it. I wouldn’t have been able to envision what Kenneth’s life was like, growing up as an African American in Omaha. Yet we developed a great friendship. Via Kenneth, I got connected to the black community here on campus.

Kenneth and I roomed together in Ujamaa as sophomores. I also lived in Uj during my junior year, and during my senior year I was a resident assistant there. I got one-third of my education in the classroom and two-thirds of my education outside the classroom – the people I met and the experiences I had on campus were a very important part of my learning. Rooming with Kenneth taught me that I had a real lack of awareness of the lives of people of color in our country. It set me on a path of interest in social justice that really influenced my career.

My Stanford experience helped me better understand and be sensitive to race and equity issues, and to this day helps me understand how important these issues are to the university, particularly its students, faculty and staff. I have been able to take those lessons and apply them outside of Stanford, too. At Microsoft, those experiences helped me focus on diversity as a leader. At the Gates Foundation, issues of equity are very important, and they are fundamental to what we do at the Raikes Foundation where we focus on how we can help create opportunity, especially for youth of color. Life in Ujamaa was a great learning experience and there is no question it really shaped my life and career in a very positive way.

Both of my daughters lived in Ujamaa as freshmen and both of them were residential staff members in the dorm as seniors. My son Connor lived in Casa Zapata, which is focused on the Chicanx and Latinx experience, so that’s another family connection to theme houses.

My daughter, Gillian, and Kenneth’s daughter, Foluke, graduated last year from Stanford. During Commencement, Stanford holds a graduation ceremony for black students in Memorial Auditorium. As part of that ceremony, they invited Kenneth and me up on stage with our daughters to be recognized – 40 years after we entered Stanford.

It was a very special moment that brought back reflections of the opportunities I was provided here to develop an awareness that I didn’t have growing up in Nebraska – and how those experiences shaped my life. Kenneth is a professor of law at the University of Florida in Gainesville.


You and your wife, Tricia, are the proud parents of three children with Stanford degrees. What was it like seeing Stanford through the eyes of a new generation of students living, working and studying on the Farm?

So, there’s a funny story about our children and Stanford. When Tricia and I were helping our kids look at schools, we supported 48 campus tours; I did 45 of them. As a parent, it was a fantastic experience traveling around the country with a 16-year-old child, listening to them talk about their aspirations for their future. I absolutely loved it. I would never trade it for anything.

Yet, we did all those campus visits and all three of them wanted to come to Stanford. Michaela graduated with a bachelor’s degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity in 2010 and got a master’s degree in education through the Stanford Teacher Education Program at the Graduate School of Education, in 2011. Connor graduated in political science in 2014, with an honors degree in ethics and society. Gillian graduated in human biology in 2016.

I’ve always loved Stanford, but there’s no question that having my children here reinvigorated my love of the institution. Being reconnected to Stanford through my children has been a fantastic experience. I was able to see, from a front-row perspective, how Stanford gave our children an education inside and outside of the classroom.

Along the way, we had a lot of great discussions, and sometimes with different points of view on key issues. Gillian once asked me if I was “disappointed” by some of the protests, and my response was that if the students’ experience shaped their interest in social justice for their lives and career, the way my campus experiences shaped me, there is nothing better I could wish for them.

While Stanford University always has room to grow and to improve, I couldn’t be prouder of our institution and its impact on the world.


You have held senior leadership positions at Microsoft Corporation, a technology giant, and at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a global nonprofit organization focused on poverty, health and education, and at the Raikes Foundation. How will those experiences contribute to your leadership as chair of the Board of Trustees?

All along the way, I’ve worked with great leaders, mentors and role models.

When I started at Microsoft, it had 100 employees. When I left, it had 90,000 employees. Early in my career, I co-led the creation of Microsoft Office. That was a pretty amazing experience. Another part of my experience at Microsoft that will help me in my role as chair is seeing how technology can change people’s lives in positive ways. At one point, I led worldwide sales, marketing and services for some 70 subsidiaries around the world. That really helped me hone my understanding of multicultural leadership. We had people from different cultures and from different backgrounds, yet we all worked together as part of the same entity – the same “team.”

My Gates Foundation experience gave me a sense of important issues in the developing world, and challenges in U.S. education and with poverty. It also exposed me to a very “mission-driven” organizational culture. People work there because they want to have the opportunity to be part of its mission – to help every person have the opportunity for a healthy and productive life. The foundation brings together a very diverse set of employee backgrounds and experiences, with people from nonprofits, philanthropy, academia, policy and the private sector. As chief executive officer, I had to find ways to tap into their experiences and support them and the mission.

I would also add that growing up on a farm taught me a lot about work ethic, which is very important as chair of the Board of Trustees. You have to put energy into this role. It also taught me about work balance, which served me well throughout my career. I think work-life balance is important, but I’m referring to a different kind of work balance. When you grow up on a farm, every farm kid wants to drive the tractor. That’s the cool thing to do. What I learned is that some days you drive the tractor and some days you scoop hog manure. That’s work balance. Throughout my career, I have been able to take the bad with the good.

I learned the importance of community values growing up in that environment, a small town where you know everybody and your neighbors support each other. That’s how I think about Stanford – a community. My brother and sister-in-law, who were professors, gave me additional perspectives on academia.

I’m very comfortable with the idea that one of my roles is to help and support Marc and Persis. That’s been a common theme in my career. At the Gates Foundation, I supported Bill and Melinda Gates to accomplish their goals. As a member of the board of directors of Costco Wholesale, I’m a thought partner who supports the leadership of the company. All of my career experiences have come together to give me an opportunity to contribute to Stanford as chair of the Board of Trustees. I’m grateful for the opportunity.