Business Leader of the Year
– UCF Board of Trustees –
– By Diane Sears –
Bev Seay has always been curious about how things work. As a child, she wanted to explore space. By eighth grade, she wanted to be a computer programmer. With a father who worked at IBM, she loved math and science and knew more about technology than most girls her age — traits she passed down to her two daughters and now her granddaughters, who are tinkering with computer hardware and creating video games.
So it’s no surprise that when she became chair of the University of Central Florida (UCF) Board of Trustees in 2019, she wanted to understand the challenges facing the university and strengthen its governance. When she talks about what the board accomplished during her first year as chair, the words “deep dive” come up often.
“My style is usually to get people together and get them the support they need,” Seay said. So the first thing she did was set up a board office and appoint a full-time professional to lead it. The office supports the volunteer board members in their governance role as they set strategies for the university.
The new structure was important because the first year of Seay’s term as chair involved more difficult scenarios than most college board leaders would encounter in a decade: A state investigation into money incorrectly spent on capital improvements. Loss of funding because of the controversy. Lack of a permanent replacement for UCF President John Hitt, who had retired after 26 years. Reputational risk the university had never faced before.
The board didn’t have a crisis management plan, so it worked with experts on UCF’s faculty to establish one, Seay said. “The university had one, but it was more on the physical side — for a hurricane, an incident on campus, or a fire in a building. What we’re talking about at the board level is the risk of reputation.
“That crisis management plan happened to be one of the most important things we did. We knew we needed it, and it also showed us some gaps in the university’s crisis management as we put them together into a comprehensive plan for the entire university.”
The final version was rolled out in February — one month prior to Alexander Cartwright’s selection as UCF’s new president, and right before the pandemic caused the university to shift to remote classes and mostly remote operations. “That timing was very fortuitous because the Emerging Issues and Crisis Response Team has advised the board and the president through the entire COVID-19 crisis,” Seay said.
Her top priority has been helping Cartwright get the right team of C-level executives in place. “These leaders shouldn’t be viewed just as leaders of the university but also of the business community,” Seay said. “They should be able to communicate and work with business, community and government leaders to help us all look forward to what our region will be known for in the future.”
Seay has a vision for Central Florida’s future — and UCF’s role in it. “We have basic expertise that has put Orlando on the map, and that’s modeling and simulation. The world views us as the center of modeling and simulation.”
In fact, that’s what brought her to Orlando in 1990, as an executive with government contractor Science Applications International Corp., known as SAIC. Seay became involved with UCF two years later, and she has served as a trustee, chair of the College of Engineering Dean’s Industry Advisory Board and a member of the UCF Foundation Board of Directors.
“I see a future where simulation is at the core of all our industries,” Seay said. Those include tourism, health care, transportation, energy, education, manufacturing and others. “It all comes around. UCF is here to support the community, obviously, first in education. But out of that education comes a workforce, opportunities for partnering, opportunities for research, and then it all feeds back into creating jobs here that will strengthen our region’s economy.
“I’m looking for those big thinkers, not the ones who are siloed in their particular industry but those who see how technology transfer across industries can advance us all and raise the level of future economic development for this community. That’s important to me because I live here, my children live here and hopefully my grandchildren will decide to stay, too.”
– Bev Seay
Photography by Julie Fletcher
As seen in November/December 2020 i4 Business Magazine