Lesher joins U ruling board with strong history of serving the state

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Although Cyndi Lesher describes herself as a ìquick study,î the newest member of the Universityís Board of Regents would have to be as fast as U.S. Olympic speedskater Apolo Ohno to learn all she needed before her first meeting.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Lesher ó a New Brighton resident who is also chief executive and president of Xcel Energy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota ó to the 12-member Board of Regents just one day before its February round of meetings.

Lesher will complete the remainder of Richard ìPinkyî McNamaraís term, which ends in February 2007.

This isnít the first time Pawlenty has asked Lesher to serve the state. He appointed her to be chairwoman of the Governorís Workforce Development Council in 2004.

Brian McClung, the governorís press secretary, said Lesher rose to the top of a ìvery strongî applicant pool because of her strong business background.

ìShe understands the importance of the University of Minnesota in driving the economic engine in our state,î McClung said. ìShe believes in a strong University and cares about the success of the University.î

Lesher also serves on the board of directors of nonprofits like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross of the St. Paul Area and the Saint Paul Foundation.

ìAfter 25 years in business, Iím a good time manager and have a high energy level,î Lesher said.

David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said heís known Lesher for about 10 years.

ìShe has exemplary leadership skills,î Olson said. ìShe thinks beyond Xcel Energy. She thinks statewide and she thinks about the greater business community and Minnesotaís economy.î

Lesher said she spent the time between her appointment and her ascension to the board reading the thick packet of material to be discussed at the meetings, getting briefed about University issues and meeting with department heads and faculty members.

Regent David Larson said Lesher didnít have the advantage of time that other regents had when they were appointed.

ìThe rest of us, when we became regents, we typically had three or four days worth of briefings about the University,î Larson said.

Although Lesher doesnít have the strong ties to the University that come from being an alumna ó she went to Drake University for her bachelorís degree in sociology and St. Cloud State for her masterís in psychology with an emphasis in rehab counseling ó Regent Steven Hunter said the distance could benefit her.

ìYou run into danger if you only have University alumni on the board,î Hunter said. ìWe need a balanced approach to things.î

Regent Clyde Allen said he, too, wasnít as connected to the University when he was appointed to the board, but that his commitment to the institution made up for it.

ìI didnít have any ties to the University myself,î Allen said. ìYou have to be passionate about the University when you come on. Even if we donít have ties ourselves directly to it, it is our university in the state of Minnesota.î

Lesher said she isnít treated any different as one of only three women on the board.

ìIíve gotten a lot of feedback from people in the community that itís nice to see another woman in a position of leadership,î Lesher said.

Hunter said he was glad to see the board get a little closer to gender equity.

ìItís important; we need to have a diverse board,î Hunter said. ìWe have a diverse student body and, to the degree itís possible with 12 members, itís important to reflect that.î

Olson said heís worried Lesher might have bitten off more than she can chew in adding the regent responsibilities to her long list of obligations.

ìShe might find sheís not able to do it all, but sheís always been a pretty busy woman,î Olson said. ìMy only concern would be sheís being stretched too thin, but honestly the good people active in these leadership roles are usually the busiest people I know.î

Lesher said that as she gains experience, she will form more opinions on University issues, but Allen said she shouldnít wait to speak her mind.

ìLots of people think you ought to stay quiet and listen for a year,î Allen said. ìI think you are entitled to some opinions and thoughts right away and I think she has the kind of personality where her questions and thoughts will be valuable to us right from the beginning.î

Pawlenty previously tried to fill McNamaraís seat in December with Michael Vekich, but he resigned before he could serve, citing a conflict of interest.

Because Vekich serves on the board of Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, his seat on the Board of Regents could have cost the University grants resulting from the stateís $6.1 billion settlement with tobacco companies in 1998.