Mark Rountree

Season 3 - Episode 337

September 18, 2020

Regent Mark Rountree
Regent Mark Rountree

As Chair of the Board of Regents, Mark Rountree works closely with President Livingstone and Baylor leadership. This year, he assumed the role of Chair as the University navigated a global pandemic and addressed important social issues. In this Baylor Connections, Rountree examines leadership amidst rapidly-changing conditions, sharing how the university worked towards an in-person semester and pursues racial healing and justice as an expression of Christian faith.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guest today is Mark Rountree. Mark Rountree serves as chair of the Baylor University Board of Regents. A Baylor graduate, he earned a Bachelor of Business in administration in 1986 and a Master of Taxation in 1987. Rountree has spent the last 33 years with Ernst & Young, LLP in Dallas. He also serves as the lead tax partner for several hospitals, healthcare systems and charitable organizations. He and his wife, Debra, a fellow Baylor graduate, are the parents of two sons. He was elected as Board Chair at Baylor's May Regents meeting this year and assumed the role on June, 1st. There's been a lot going on, but appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Mark Rountree, thanks so much for joining us here on Baylor Connections.

Mark Rountree:

Derek, it is great to be with you. Thanks for the opportunity to be together.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's great to have you here and I know so much work, you know, you took over on June 1st. You've been with the Board of Regents longer than that, but taking over in this role and obviously quite a time to do so, a lot of work to bring a safe fall semester to people and, you know, we've been watching things. It seems like so far, so good. What's it like for you after all that work, to see students on campus and see how Baylor is adjusting to having people back on campus?

Mark Rountree:

It has been deeply gratifying and exciting to see students back on campus, to have our incredible faculty and staff step back into their roles on campus as well. And it's gratifying as a Board member for two reasons. One, obviously the experience we know that our students are getting, that's what it's all about. And so to have all of them back and despite all of the limitations and things that aren't quite normal is gratifying. But as importantly, I would say as a region, it is deeply gratifying because it is the fruition of an extraordinary amount of work by Dr. Livingstone, her President's Council and the broader Baylor team to make this a reality. So the board had a role, and we can talk about that as we move through the discussion today, but I am thrilled, yes for our students, but also for Dr. Livingstone and her team, to see all of their hard work, painstaking tireless work, come to fruition.

Derek Smith:

Well, that's great. As you mentioned, we'll dive into that here a little bit more in just a moment, but I wanted to ask, you get to know you a little bit, you know, it's clear from how close you stayed to Baylor over the years that the university is special to you beyond your role on the Board of Regents. What is it about Baylor, your Baylor experience, that's motivated you to serve and to stay close [inaudible] throughout these years?

Mark Rountree:

Sure. You know, if I look at my life today, as you said, I've been out of Baylor for 33 years now, and if I look at all of the blessings in my life today, the friendships I've enjoyed, the professional experiences that I've had, and most importantly for me, my faith in Jesus Christ and the ability to journey through life, seeking to follow Him, all of those things are attributed back to my time as a student at Baylor University. I mean, quite literally Baylor transformed my life and set my life, the course of my life, the trajectory of my life during my time here. I found at Baylor a community like so many do that enabled me to make incredible friends and that began to foster in me, the growth of what at that time was a very young Christian faith in me. My faculty members at Baylor, not only educated my mind, they taught me to think critically and they instilled in me, they planted in me the seeds of confidence that maybe somehow I could do something that would make a difference in the world and beyond the classroom, so many of my professors and other people at Baylor poured into me and pointed me to deeper transformational truths. Those truths being the person of Jesus and the abundance that awaits anyone who spends her life seeking and following the God who created them. So it is out of simply immense gratitude for all that Baylor has meant in my life, the impact Baylor has had on my life that has kept me involved with Baylor, supporting Baylor all of these years, and it's certainly the reason I accounted a privilege to currently serve on the Baylor Board of Regents.

Derek Smith:

That's great, a great summation there. Obviously, things look a little bit different right now, some of the traditions and things will bring us back to campus aren't as normal right now, but when they are, where might we find you or your wife and your family? What are some of the Baylor activities that bring you back to campus?

Mark Rountree:

Well, first and foremost, you will find me, or find us, on campus anywhere a Dr. Pepper float is being served. That to me is heaven in a bowl, so we would be there but more seriously, I'm drawn back to campus by a lot of things. I find the Baylor campus, it's simply beautiful. And certainly walking through campus, the buildings, other places on campus, stir wonderful memories from my time at Baylor. We always pay a visit to Joy and Lady in the Bear Habitat, always make a stop by the Baylor bookstore to see the latest [inaudible] or sportswear and other memorabilia. We are also drawn to McLane Stadium and the Ferrell Center pretty much anytime it's open for a sporting event, so you will find us there. And I'll say on a more personal level, I also love anytime I come back to campus, I love stopping by and visiting the people, faculty and others, that have impacted me, that didn't impact me when I was student at Baylor. Now I'm old enough now, of course, that most of those individuals have retired from Baylor, but a few still remain. And so when I'm there, I love stopping by and saying hello, and just again, simply saying, thank you for what you've done in my life. So those are some of the things that draw us back and some of the things you will find us doing when I, or we, are on the Baylor campus.

Derek Smith:

We are visiting with Mark Rountree, Chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, here on Baylor Connections. And Mark, as you mentioned at the top of the show, you've been on the board, but you assumed the role of Chair on June 1st, and quite a time to be doing so in the middle of a pandemic, in just really an important season in the life of higher education, and so many things going on across the country. Stepping into that role in the middle of summer 2020, how would you describe leadership in the midst of all that with so much going on that really are a number of priorities?

Mark Rountree:

You mentioned the word leadership. Let me kind of answer it by picking up on that. You know, most books you read on leadership, business decision making for individuals, almost always point back to what's often referred to as the Eisenhower decision matrix or Eisenhower box. It's basically a way to categorize decisions that face an organization. There are the urgent and important decisions, so those are typically quadrant one decisions. There are the important but not urgent decisions, that's typically quadrant two. There are the urgent but not important decisions, which are quadrant three. And then there are the not important, not urgent, quadrant four. And most research out there says the highest performing organizations and boards and executives tend to differentially invest a lot of their time in what are called these quadrant two decisions. They're highly important, but not urgent. Those are the most strategic vital things to an organization. Well, what has made leading Baylor through not just the pandemic, but all of the other cultural and racial and social issues facing the organization, is the sheer number and volume of quadrant one matters that must be addressed. There are so many that are urgent and all of them are important. None of them can be ignored. And so, and what compounds, and has compounded, the complexity of those decisions is that many of those decisions about those urgent and important matters have had to be done in the face of incredible uncertainty, particularly around the virus itself. So that's what has made it incredibly challenging. I will say it has been remarkable as a Regent during this time, to have a front row seat from which to observe Dr. Livingstone and her extraordinary team of leaders, the President's Council, lean into and lead through this virtually unlimited number of quadrant one challenges facing Baylor. The boards had its role, again, happy to unpack some of those specifics, but Baylor is where it is at this point in the crisis, and it is thriving in the manner that it is because of the talent skill, tenacity, wisdom, resilience and courage of Dr. Livingstone and her team. Their collective efforts, coupled with that of our incredible faculty and staff, who have stepped back onto campus in the midst of their own uncertainty and anxieties, have made this fall semester possible for the students of Baylor university. So to all of them, on behalf of the Board and the Baylor family, I would simply say, "Thank you."

Derek Smith:

You know, as you describe what their efforts have meant, could you peel back the curtain a little bit for people who don't know, what stood out to you about President Livingstone and her council working together through this, to where we are now?

Mark Rountree:

Well, the list is long. I would say several things. First, the ability to anticipate and model out almost unlimited number of scenarios. Second, to have a detailed plan to execute upon behind each of those potential scenarios. A relentless commitment to communication with the board, with the broader Baylor family, that was open, transparent, honest and detailed. And then really, you know, you could have the best plans in the world, but if you don't execute on them, it really gets you nowhere. Their ability from the highest sort of strategic level down to in the trenches to execute on those plans, to measure results, to pivot when needed, all of those things have been remarkable to watch. And it's Dr. Livingstone and her entire team. Each of them have their fingerprints on a different part of the university, but to watch them execute on their plans specific to their sphere of responsibility, to have incredible alignment across the board. And then again, to be engaged with the board, both to inform us about that which we need to know, to elicit our input about that which we can help with. And then where appropriate, to get boards approval or affirmation. It's truly been remarkable. I said to one of the regents not too long ago, I feel like watching Dr. Livingstone and her team during this crisis is truly a Master Class in leadership in a crisis. And again, as a regent having a front row seat to that, has been truly inspiring.

Derek Smith:

That's great. Now I understand that, you talking about having to do this all virtually even, I understand that you haven't been able to meet with President Livingstone in person since this started, but the communication itself has flowed, nonetheless.

Mark Rountree:

It is fun, yeah. I had the benefit, obviously having been on the board for all of the time Dr. Livingston was here, a little over three years, to have a strong relationship with Dr. Livingstone going into this. But certainly the disruption of COVID, not being able to be together has been a challenge. I think we've worked through it though. We've been able to continue to engage and be effective, I think, in our work together, despite the limitations for two to three reasons. One, you mentioned communication. That has been key. Dr. Livingstone and I have a set weekly call where we talk every week about matters before us that week. We guard that time religiously. So even if we don't have much to talk about, we still connect. And then beyond that we talk once or a few times a week about different things. I think commitment to communication that's open, regular, frequent, has enabled us to work well together, despite the limitations of COVID. And then the other thing I would say is, that's been an ingredient of our work together, is really just trust. Any relationship has to be built on trust. I think it's particularly so between a CEO and a Board or Board Chair, and we enjoy a wonderful relationship of trust with and in each other. And we work hard, even though many times it's over Zoom, to continue to build on that trust, by speaking candidly, by talking about hard things when they come up, by treating everything that we share with each other as sacrosanct and by being motivated by doing what's best for each other and for what's best for Baylor. I think those two ingredients, if you will, have allowed us to continue to work hopefully effectively and well together, despite not being in person.

Derek Smith:

This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Mark Rountree, Chair of the Baylor University Board of Regents. Mark, you talked about the Board of Regents, working through this with a university leadership, and I was wondering if we could zoom out a little bit. I know people know the Board of Regents, know they play an important role. But maybe if, I think if you quizzed a lot of people in the Baylor family and said, what's that role look like? You'd probably get a lot of different answers. Now, I was wondering if you could just sort of broadly paint a picture of that role for us, and maybe even more specifically what that looks like over these last few months.

Mark Rountree:

Sure. Let me start at kind of the high level, and since we're in a US Presidential Election, I'll answer the question by borrowing from the presidential oath of office, in the words, preserve, protect, and defend. You know, in layman's terms, the role of the Baylor Board of Regents is to preserve, protect, and propel Baylor University. We preserve the mission of the organization and it's true adherence to it. That's the responsibility of the board. So Baylor's mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence, Christian commitment in a caring community is the board's chief role. And distinctive of course in that mission, since the founding of Baylor in 1845, is our commitment to be an unambiguous Christian university committed to the centrality of Christ, the certainty of scripture and the calls of live transformation. So first and foremost, it's the responsibility, solemn and sacred responsibility, of the board to preserve the mission of Baylor University and ensure adherence to it. Then there's the protect function. So the board is charged with protecting Baylor University, and specifically the financial integrity and viability of the university in the short and longterm, and protecting Baylor's standing and reputation in the world. And we carry that responsibility out by focus on two primary things. One, the hiring, the assessment, and where needed, the replacement of the president of the organization, the leader of the organization. And second, by approving the annual financial budget of the organization and overseeing the endowment of the university. And then finally, there's the responsibility to propel Baylor University. The board is responsible for propelling Baylor, not just into the future, but more importantly, to propel Baylor to achieve its highest aims, ideals and aspirations. And the board carries that out primarily through helping develop and approve the overall strategy and plans to execute on that strategy for the university, and then by supporting and enabling and equipping Dr. Livingstone and her team to execute and carry out that strategy. So to preserve, protect and propel in the simplest terms, is the way I would describe the job description of the board. You know, during the COVID crisis, we talked a lot. There were stretches early in the crisis and as August 24th approached, the reopening, where we talked to every week. We talked about a lot of things and we sought to support and encourage Dr. Livingstone and her team. But our primary responsibility during the crisis was twofold. One, to ensure that we understood the financial impact of COVID. And we approve a plan, a financial plan, mitigation plans and navigate the crisis. And then two, that we understood and affirmed the plan Dr. Livingstone and her team developed to bring students, faculty and staff back on campus safely for the fall semester.So we did a lot of things, we talked about a lot of things, but if you boil down our responsibility during that time, it was really in those two areas. And we executed and approved the plans in those two categories.

Derek Smith:

You know, I know with the board, we've got a number of people of different backgrounds, diverse backgrounds, diverse areas of their fields of expertise, so a lot of people can share in different areas. How does that work when you all are physically separated? I know it's one thing to maybe one-on-one talk to President Livingstone or the council, but what's it like trying to gather in so many people on the board?

Mark Rountree:

Well, I'm sure, like everyone, until late January, I felt the word Zoom meant to go fast. But obviously it means something different. Zoom, I'll tell you Derek, has been our friend as a board in administration since early March when the crisis hit. As a board, we held all of our quarterly committee and full board meetings, both in May and in July by Zoom. And the countless meetings that I referred to earlier that the board has had with the administration that were COVID specific, all had been done by Zoom. And it has been surprisingly incredibly effective. Our board has leaned into it, they've been engaged with it. I feel particularly bad for our seven new Regents that joined our board back in June, because they've not had the benefit of the relationship building that happens when we meet in person over meals and the like. But they, all of our Regents, have been really amazing through this and leaned into and use the technology that is available to us. I can't answer, or quit answering this question without mentioning one other ingredient that I think for us as a board and for the administration that has helped us particularly navigate not being together and remain effective, and that is the work of our board professional, Kristy Orr. Kristy and her colleague, Sarah Schmuck, are responsible for virtually all aspects of our board interactions and logistics, both as a board and with Dr. Livingstone and her team. I've come to refer to them as the dynamic duo. Kristy as our board professional is superb. She's professional, organized, accessible, insightful, and she and Sarah, particularly during this time when we can't be together, have been remarkable in enabling us to fulfill our responsibilities as a board, despite the COVID limitation. So, I didn't want to conclude this response without a specific shout out to Kristy and Sarah for how they have helped us through this.

Derek Smith:

Unsung heroes.

Mark Rountree:

Unsung heroes, yes.

Derek Smith:

Certainly, two deserve to be known, that's great. As we visit with Mark Rountree, Chair of the Baylor Board of Regents. And shifting gears a little bit, this summer the nation as a whole was obviously focused on the important issues of injustice and racial equality, and in a lot of cases that, you know, it really sparked a re-examining of historic racism in a variety of institutions. And I know one of your very first communications with the Baylor family was about just that. The board issued a resolution on racial healing injustice. It announced the formation Of the commission on historic campus representations at Baylor. In that time, as you collectively examined that, what were the priorities or aspects of the Baylor mission that really shaped the way that we approach that and responded to it?

Mark Rountree:

Sure. The yard board's actions were guided in large measure by two biblical truths or principles. The first truth or principle that guided the board's deliberations and ultimate actions, is one that is seen really throughout the whole of scripture. And that is this, that reckoning always precedes reconciliation. Our board concluded that for Baylor to fully fulfill its Christian mission and to be an instrument of racial reconciliation, we first had to reckon with Baylor's history of racial injustice and inequity, and specifically the intersection of Baylor's early history with slavery. That kind of reckoning could be uncomfortable. Such a reckoning can be painful, messy and uncertain. But as one writer I read put it as I was reading, and we were working through this, it is haunting to reckon with the sins of the past, but it is also holy. And so our board concluded unanimously and resolutely that now is a for such a time of this for Baylor to do the hard work, do the holy work, to acknowledge the dark and painful parts of Baylor's history and to do it and move forward in ways that are truthful, reconciling, and we hope redemptive. And then the second biblical principle, and this gets specifically to your point about the commission. The second principle that guided our board's actions can be found in James 1:19. And that passage, James 1:19 states this, "Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak." Our board determined that before we took any further action to help foster a sense of racial reconciliation, either at Baylor or beyond, we as a board needed to be quick to listen. And so our board established the commission on historic campus representations to be a vehicle to help us be quick to listen, to listen deeply, intently and intentionally. So the commission provides our board a defined process and platform, if you will, to enable us to listen to a broad diversity of fault, perspective, geography and generation on the topic of racial healing and reconciliation. This commission I know, it's publicly announced, is comprised of 26 extraordinary men and women who were carefully selected because of the unique perspectives they would bring to the conversation. And this commission is comprised of representatives from virtually every major constituency group of the university. Students, faculty, staff, athletes and alumni. So our hope and prayer through the work of the commission is that our board will listen. And that by listening, we will learn. And by learning we will better lead as we move forward as a university.

Derek Smith:

That's great. With the commission, what is their charge? I know their work is ongoing, but as you sort of empowered them to do this work, what's the charge that they'll be working towards fulfilling?

Mark Rountree:

Yeah. The commission has a threefold charge. First it's to study the complete contextualized history of Baylor's founding, and that of its early leaders, including the intersection with slavery for both. Second, to share with our board based on their study and their deliberations, their thoughts and observations regarding how Baylor can moving forward, better convey its history in a more complete, accurate and redemptive manner, specifically in regards to these past intersections with slavery and injustice. And then finally to share with our board any observations about how Baylor might address any current historic campus representations that could be an impediment to the full flourishing of our students, faculty and staff of color. The commission has been asked to consider all of the recommendations in the context and with the end in mind of expanding opportunities to redeem the painful parts of Baylor's past, to enhance a sense of belonging for our students, faculty and staff of color. And in the end of the day to unify and make stronger the entire Baylor family. So the commission, as you said, they are deep into their work already, they are scheduled to deliver their report to the Board of Regents by December 20th, and I am praying for their work and I am eager to hear the results of their deliberations and efforts.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. So, look forward to hearing more about that as we approach the end of the year, as we visit with Mark Rountree here on Baylor Connections. And we're heading to the final couple of minutes of the program, covered a lot of important ground here. But just as we wrap up, summarize a little bit. Now that that work to deliver an in-person semester has been realized, what's next? How do priorities shift and what areas are front and center for you and everyone as you work together with President Livingstone in leadership?

Mark Rountree:

Sure. Well, there'll be continued focus and engagement by the board on COVID-19 as we move through the semester, and as the virus flares and fades, we will continue, of course, to be engaged on the work that is going on right now with Dr. Livingstone and her team, with Mack Rhodes and his extraordinary team and athletics, that's focused on enhancing and elevating this sense of belonging of our students, faculty, and staff of color and cultivating ways Baylor can be a beacon of hope and gospel centered light in the face of racial injustice. But beyond these areas, I do think, Derek, we are getting to a place where the board can begin to shift its focus back to some of those quadrant two types of things, the important strategic, but not so urgent. And, you know, for Baylor, those include several things. One, continuing to execute on our illuminate strategy and strive to achieve all pillars of that strategy, including tier one status for the university. It includes focusing what every university is focusing on now, which is addressing the unsustainable increase in the cost of higher education, and finding ways to make Baylor more cost accessible to future generations of students. It includes exploring strategic alliances, ventures, other opportunities that could help Baylor exponentially grow or exponentially increase its impact and reach. And also exploring ways to integrate technology and the online experience which all of us have now been forced to do because of COVID, to find ways to integrate that into the full Baylor experience, and to do so in ways that makes Baylor more competitive, cutting edge and distinctive as a university. So my hope is, in the months ahead including our November board retreat, that we can focus on more of these types of mission critical, strategic needle moving matters, all for the benefit of Baylor university.

Derek Smith:

That's great. A lot of important work, and I hope you and your fellow board members, Baylor leadership, know there's been a lot of prayers for that work, prayers for you all throughout that time. And we're thankful for that and glad to see at least, you know, I know that you said there's a lot still ongoing, but seeing people back on campus, a football game this Saturday, A lot of hard work paying off.

Mark Rountree:

Yes.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much. Mark Rountree, Chair of the Board of Regents, our guest today on Baylor Connections. Really appreciate you joining us.

Mark Rountree:

Thank you, Derek. It's been good to be with you.

Derek Smith:

Thank you very much, we appreciate that. And again, you could hear this and other programs from Baylor Connections online at baylor.edu/connections. I'm Derek Smith, thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.