Renae Conley is an accomplished Ball State graduate who presently serves as the chair of our university’s Board of Trustees.
Renae grew up in Muncie, earned her bachelor’s degree and her MBA from Ball State, and then embarked upon a successful and fulfilling career that allowed her, time and again, to break the glass ceiling.
In this episode, Renae talks about the mentors who helped shape her career ambitions. She reveals why she loved working in the energy industry and what it was like to serve as the first female CEO of the only Fortune 500 company in Louisiana.
Renae also shares more about her college experiences, her memories of her influential mother-in-law, Vivian Conley (aka “The Mother Teresa of Muncie”), and what she finds most gratifying about her role as a Ball State trustee.
If you enjoy this episode, please leave a review to support the show.
Today it is my privilege to welcome another special guest to the studio for our latest episode of Our Call to Beneficence. With me this afternoon is Renae Conley. Renae is a passionate, accomplished Ball State graduate who presently serves as the chair of our university’s Board of Trustees.
In January 2020, when Renae was elected as chair, she was the first woman in our university’s history to hold this important position. Renae is a Muncie native who is also a graduate of Burris Laboratory School. In 1980, she earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from our Miller College of Business, and then her MBA from Ball State in 1982.
After graduating from our university, Renae embarked upon a successful and fulfilling career that has allowed her, time and again, to break the glass ceiling.
And today, I’m going to ask her more about her career accomplishments, which include her tenure as executive vice president of human resources and administration from Entergy Corporation, where she also served as chief diversity officer.
Renae previously served as president and CEO of Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana for 10 years. Before that, she worked for 18 years for PSI Energy/Cinergy Corporation, where she held a variety of positions including president of Cincinnati Gas and Electric.
Today, Renae is the CEO of the consulting firm, ER Solutions, LLC. But she stays very busy with her commitment to her family, to the causes that are close to her heart, and to the boards on which she serves, including our own.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 2:00
So, Renae, I understand that while you were born in Kentucky, you were then raised in Muncie, and, as I said a moment ago, you attended Burris Laboratory School. So, tell us what you remember about growing up right here in Muncie.
[RENAE CONLEY] 2:12
Thank you, Geoff. And thank you for having me on the podcast. This is my first podcast so uh
I’m a rookie, too.
[RENAE CONLEY] 2:20
Well, I’ve listened to the ones you’ve done so far, and it’s been very interesting. I’m impressed with our alumni, so I hope other people have listened to them, too. It’s really a fun thing.
So yeah, I moved to Muncie when I was 4. And so, most of my life was here in Muncie. And, at that time, Muncie—of course, I’m 64, so if you can do the math, it’s been quite a few years ago—um, Muncie was pretty different than it is today. In the sense that, it was very … you know Middletown..right? They did research on Muncie, and you had Ball Corporation was headquartered here, you had a lot of jobs that were in the auto industry, so you had very much of a middle class. And so, my life was pretty what you would call normal—normal USA.
And I went to Burris because at that time Burris was just the neighborhood school. It was still a laboratory school for Ball State, but I lived four blocks away—on Nichols Avenue, so I walked to school every day. And I have to say, I loved my Burris experience. I went there kindergarten through twelfth grade, the classes were small, my graduating class was 50, so you had a very small group of kids going there. But you had a really interesting education because we had a lot of teachers who had been professors at the university, we had participants from the university and the Teachers College always in your classroom, so you got a lot of special attention. And because it was a small school, you could basically do everything. I played the cello, I was in the orchestra, I was in the choir, I was in singing groups, I was in every musical that they had, I played volleyball. And, as a result of that, I learned, or at least I grew up thinking, “I can do anything.” And Burris was a big piece of reenforcing my self-confidence as a kid.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 4:23
Well, and it certainly translated into some success, which we’ll talk about. And then, when you went to college, you didn’t venture too far. You crossed to the other side of University Avenue. Before you enrolled at Ball State, did you consider other colleges? And if so, why did you choose Ball State?
[RENAE CONLEY] 4:42
I did, but not a lot. We didn’t have a lot of means when I was growing up. I’m one of three kids, and we were all kind of in college at the same time. And then, my mom, who had not gone to college, started going to college. So, there were four of us. And, I did apply to IU and did get accepted to IU. So, I can say I rejected IU—
Another good decision.
Another good decision. And chose Ball State, and it was a great decision for me.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 5:16
Yeah, so I want to talk a little bit about your experience. And maybe specifically, one of the things we talk about is the relationship that our faculty has with our students. That there’s kind of a personal, educational experience that we provide. Were there any professors that you recall who had a significant influence on not just your experience here at Ball State, but your professional career and perhaps your life?
[RENAE CONLEY] 5:41
Definitely, Geoff. You know, I had an experience in my undergraduate, I worked full time and went to school full time. So, I didn’t have the traditional living in the dorm, and um, I didn’t make as many friends as you would in your traditional college experience. So, from that perspective, my professors were even more important to me. And I had one in particular, Dr. Parkinson, in the accounting program, who really made a big difference in kind of again, believing in me and believing in what I could accomplish. And that carried me way into my career. I stayed connected to Dr. Parkinson, and he would kind of follow my career, and just reenforcing, you can do whatever you want to do. That’s what I always say, “You can do this. Put your mind to it. You can do it.” He was tough. Your best professors are always your tough professors. They don’t tell you everything’s great. They tell you, “Yeah, this is good but you need to work on this, and continually improve upon yourself.”
My other experience that was really positive was graduate school. When I graduated with a degree in accounting, I was already married and had a child. So, my kind of complications of life was pretty high at that point. And if you look back at 1979, 1980, there was a huge recession going on. And in Indiana, this area, the unemployment was like 25 percent, so there were no jobs to be had. And I was fortunate that I applied to get my MBA and I was a graduate assistant. So, kind of for the first time, I was in school and working at school, and 100 percent focused on the education environment. And I loved it. I worked for Dr. Krishna Mantripragada in the finance department and Dr. Hogan and his wife. And again, they were extremely supportive and really helped me as I went through graduate school and prepared for my career as I was going to finish my MBA and come out into the working world.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 8:04
Yeah, so let’s tease that out a bit. It sounds like, as you prepared for that first job, that you were well prepared. Beyond those particular professors, what was it about the educational experience that you had here that gave you that confidence to feel that you were prepared to tackle a profession?
[RENAE CONLEY] 8:25
Again, I think it was not only the professors, I remember very vividly my advisor. I remember sitting down with her, because I started my freshman year with, “I wanted to get a degree in accounting.” I had talked with my dad a lot about—my dad was a huge advocate of college. He had been in the Korean conflict, went to school on the GI bill, um, was the first in his family to be educated. We moved to Muncie and he was constantly, ‘When you go to college,’ and that’s why he was a huge influence on my mom. “You need to go get your college degree.” His advice was, ‘Renae, get a hard degree. You can always go easy. But when you get out, you can’t necessarily go into accounting … you can’t go back into something hard.”
So, I sat down with my advisor and said, “This is what I’m thinking I want to do.” And she laid out for me all four years. Because I knew my life—I worked, and went to school, and so she laid it out and helped me throughout those four years of what did I need to take, and when was it going to be available. And I think that was a huge part of my success in school, how did you—how did I balance my working full time and going to school full time and then when I got married and then when I had a child. I mean, it was a lot to balance.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 9:56
So, you were already prepared for the challenges—
[RENAE CONLEY] 9:58
I was. And I think Ball State helped me sort that out, too.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 10:04
And I think, we often talk about the role our faculty play. But we also know the role that our staff plays, including advisors laying that path out. And so, it’s something that we continue to work on as we support the success of our students to this day.
So, in my introduction, I talked about how you worked for many years in the energy business, including president of Cincinnati Gas and Electric and then president, at some point, president and CEO of Entergy in New Orleans in Louisiana, and then with Entergy Corporation as the executive vice president of human resources and the chief diversity officer. That’s a pretty remarkable career progression, and so I know you’re modest by nature…So I’m going to ask you to go out of your comfort zone, and be a little less modest. And tell us, what do you attribute that remarkable career progression to?
[RENAE CONLEY] 10:56
You know, Geoff, I get asked that often … you know, kind of, what was it that made you successful in your career? And, um, a couple things: one, I do go back to my roots at Burris, to be honest. Okay, I had confidence that I could do what was put in front of me. When I first came out of college, and I started working for PSI Energy, and I was in internal audit, I didn’t know anything about internal auditing. But they sent me to class, they took me to school to train me in the way they wanted me to do the auditing, and I figured it out. And, early on, I didn’t see myself as having the potential to rise to the level that I did. But I think others saw it in my earlier. And I thought, “If I could be manager of corporate accounting, that would be like [Geoff interjects: “that would be it”] top of my career—top of my career.” Because I was an accountant, right? And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an accountant.
And, so, I went from internal audit to corporate accounting. And I was working on corporate accounting, which is kind of the hub, right, of accounting. And an opportunity came up to be a supervisor in accounting or to go to the treasury department and be a supervisor in the treasury department. And, of course, I didn’t want the treasury job, I wanted the accounting job because that kept me on my path, right? And, um, of course they said, no, you need to apply for both jobs. And so of course, what job did I get?
You got the treasury job.
I got the treasury job [laughs]. And I was so upset, and said, “This isn’t what I wanted to do!” Well then, I got over into treasury, and then kind of the world opened up, and I realized I was a good accountant, but I wasn’t going to be a great accountant. Some others had recognized that too. And I was much better on the financial relationship side of business than just being in accounting and doing the research that was necessary to be a really great accountant.
And so, I go over to a job I knew nothing about, figured that out, and then I quickly realized that I liked the change. The change didn’t scare me. I didn’t have to remain in my comfort zone, and that I was willing to take new assignments, do different things. And they didn’t always have to be a promotion. I was happy to take a lateral or, even at times, you know, I took a demotion, just to get a broader experience. And I think that was probably a lot of what helped out my career was just my willing to do what I needed to do in a role … and fill the white space. But I can also say that I was never looking for that next job. So, I really tried to stay engage in the job I was in, and it made me a better team player. And made people want me to be a part of their team.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 14:33
So, you’ve touched on the opportunity that I’ve had to meet people who’ve had the same level of extraordinary success and fulfillment. There are kind of three themes in there that are consistent with what I’ve heard from others, which is, focusing on excelling in the current position. Your career progression will take care of itself if you excel where you are. The other piece that I heard was the role of mentors, who see your potential perhaps in ways that you don’t see in yourself and that good fortune that others are around you. And then change. Instead of pursuing, just perfecting in the lane that you’re in, is being willing to get out of your comfort zone and see other opportunities—new challenges. And those are some consistent themes that I’ve seen in others, in my experience.
[RENAE CONLEY] 15:18
Right, right. If you just stay comfortable, you’re not going to progress. Because you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone to then be able to experience something new.
Particularly if you want to rise to the level of a president or a CEO [Renae interjects: “correct”], because you have to have that span of experience.
[RENAE CONLEY] 15:37
Even if you’re within the same silo of your, you know, of your discipline, you have to have a breadth of different experiences to really be an executive. You have to be able to see it from different perspectives and angles and different jobs. And have respect for all aspects of the organization. Because a lot of times you may have people in finance think the operations people don’t know what they’re talking about, or vice a versa. And if you’ve spent time in both organizations, you grow to have respect for both. And it really helps you in those roles
[GEOFF MEARNS] 16:10
Right. So, um, I have a pretty large span of my responsibility, but don’t tell anybody, I really don’t understand what accountants do. [Both laugh.] So don’t tell anyone.
Well, you have a really good accountant, so …
[GEOFF MEARNS] 16:23
I do. And we have a couple of them on the board as well.
You must have faced some challenges as a woman, progressing in the energy business, in the state of Louisiana. Tell us a little about those challenges, and how you responded to them
[RENAE CONLEY] 16:41
Well, it’s interesting, um, I think my first challenge as a woman in my career was with my first job in coming out of college. In that, I already had a child. And I graduated just after the law changed in terms of being pregnant and whether you would have to quit your job. And that was what women did, back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. If you started your family, you quit your job, and you stayed home. So, I had been working at PSI for a couple of years, and then became pregnant with my son. And I wasn’t going to quit my job. And I was the first woman in a management or, you know, salaried position, that had become pregnant, and everyone was watching to see, ‘What’s going to happen with Renae?”
Right. There’s the law and then there’s how it works—
There’s how the culture is. Well, I was very fortunate to work for a wonderful man, Wayne Leonard, who is also a Ball State graduate with a degree in accounting. And um, then our CEO, Mr. Barker, who came to me both and said, “This will never be a problem. And, you know, expanding your family is wonderful, and having your career—you can do both.”
So, they gave you that reassurance.
[RENAE CONLEY] 18:12
They gave me that reassurance from the top. And I was a staff accountant, you know, at the time. And, um, so I did. I had my son, went back to work. And then a whole lot of other women started having children. And so that was probably my first concern about how do I maneuver through this, um, world and this work world …
But what I always had to grapple with was, um, that balance of my family and work. Because the perception was, you have children, you can’t work late, you can’t work that much. She can’t take that job because she’ll have to travel, so, you know, we’re not even going to talk with her about it. So, you have this view of, “I’ve got to work more, I’ve got to work harder.” And I mean, it may have not been the case, but you put that on yourself. And so, I ended up being a person who worked all the time. And I think that was detrimental to, um, my personal life, and um… but you manage through it. And you learn to be able to try to have that better balance the older you get and the wiser you get.
And Louisiana was interesting, um, being a woman of a large utility. We were the only Fortune 500 company in Louisiana. I was CEO of the largest organization in the state. So you are, as they would call us, we were the 900 pound gorilla in the state. And so, people weren’t quite sure, as a woman, because I was the first in that role, so I just worked to make people comfortable, you know? And I always would find things I liked in everybody so I could make that connection with people. And, um, I would—I had a team that was a great team. And I would just learn to trust them, and they to trust me, and I think from there … obviously it wasn’t always easy, but I learned to have, um, … everything wasn’t personal, and it wasn’t a slight.
I grew up with a fairly tough dad and two brothers, and there wasn’t any, the expectation of what I needed to do was as much for me as it was for my brothers. So I think I just kind of had that grit.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 20:44
So tell me about Wayne Leonard. He sounds like he was somebody who had a significant influence on your professional career. I understand he was also a mentor and a friend for you. Tell us about him, and maybe in particular, what you learned from him that helped you have this fulfilling career and balance it with a meaningful life.
[RENAE CONLEY] 21:07
Wayne was an amazing person. I could spend a lot of time talking about Wayne. Wayne grew up in Indiana, and didn’t have a lot growing up. So, he had a tremendous respect for education and a tremendous respect for the industry we were in. I love the utility business, and he did too, and helped me learn that love. Because it’s all about purpose, right? Everybody needs electricity. It’s all about the service, and it’s filled with great people. That’s because it’s a dangerous job. You’re out there on the lines and turning electricity back on after a storm or whatever the circumstance. Wayne was brilliant, also. He has a degree in accounting, but he was a person who could kind of see all aspects of society. He actually was a genius level—he was in Mensa Society, so that gives you an idea of his, um, [Geoff interjects: “of his intellect”] his intellect, but he was a real visionary. But he was extremely down to earth, so he taught you as you watched Wayne, kind of that balance of, you know, his position and his power, but his empathy and consideration of everyone. You know, he would take the time with, whether someone was cleaning his office or was, you know, governor, he treated everyone with kindness and respect. And he was the one that taught me about doing your job that you’re in. And that was … I had been working for about a year, in internal audit, and he was the manager of internal audit, and they sent me off to a program at Purdue, um, supervisory training. And they took you through a battery of tests and personality tests, and I come back and he calls me into the office and he said, “We got the results of your tests and it looks like you have the potential to be an executive. You scored high in these areas…” and of course, I’m thinking, "They’re going to promote me at that particular moment," and he’s like, “I’m really kind of concerned about you.” He said, “You have a lot of potential, but you’re spending so much time focused on what else is out there, what other jobs are out there, you’re really not doing that great of a job of the job that you’re in. He said, "There’s a lot of people selling pencils on the corner that had a lot of potential. And, uh, you need to keep your head where you butt is.”
It must have been a little bit of a wake-up call.
[RENAE CONLEY] 23:54
It was a little bit of a two-by-four to my head … um…
But it might have been one of the best things that he ever could say—
[RENAE CONLEY] 24:01
It was the best thing he could have ever said. Because here I was, a year into my career, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. And when I changed my perspective and the way I behaved, I became such a happier person. Because I got good at what I was doing. I was a better team player. You know, the whole dynamic shifted when I shifted my attitude about my job. And he was—that was the first…and then he was a person … he spent a lot of time understanding even diversity, at that point, you know, 40 years ago. In the sense of, I remember him giving a speech, it had to be in the early ‘80s, about how does work capture the soul of our employees. He said, “I see people come to work and they switch off when they arrive, and then when they leave, they turn it back on and they’re all involved in their community, but we don’t engage them. And that’s because we don’t include them.” He was talking about this years ago. And, um …
[GEOFF MEARNS] 25:15
And so, how does that translate then, into strengthening the culture of a business or an institution—that philosophy around diversity and inclusion.
[RENAE CONLEY] 25:25
Well, it’s critical, I think, in every aspect of how you run a business. If you don’t have that diversity, whether it’s…however you want to look at it, diversity of thought, diversity of degrees, ethnic diversity, gender diversity …. You’re just missing so many points of view. Um, I mean, I have a great example of myself – I can have a fairly strong personality, at times, and it was one of those team building sessions that I have with my team, and we were trying to tackle some problem, and we were working against another team, and I and my operations head were on the same team, and he and I both had very strong personalities. And I can be quick to make a decision, not always the best decision [laughs], but I’m quick to make them at times. And he and I got together on what we thought was the right way to do this, and we had four other people on our team who were saying, “You should try this” and we were like, “Get out of our way, we got this!” And of course—
It didn’t work.
It was the wrong answer. And it just reenforced for me how, I migrated to the person that was like me—who thought like me, made the same decision. And we were wrong, because we missed so many different aspects of that decision. And I took that away as saying, I have to slow myself down, I have to include other people and not make a decision until I have everybody share their views. And I can’t talk about my opinion, until that happens. And that’s…they became more productive. Nothing’s worse than being on a team and not appreciated or valued.
And keeping your good ideas to yourself because the person sitting at the head of the table hasn’t created the environment for you to speak up.
Right. So you just check out. You just—
You punch the clock.
You punch the clock and show up.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 27:40
So, let me shift gears for a bit and talk about your family. You mentioned your mother. I think you also mentioned she was attending Ball State when you were a student here. What was it like to have your mother on campus at the same time as you’re a student. That was not a typical experience.
[RENAE CONLEY] 27:55
No, it was not a typical experience. And it was funny because, she, uh, my dad had also talked to her about maybe she should have a degree in accounting [laughs] — wasn’t her forte — and so when I’m taking my accounting courses, I was ahead of her in the coursework, and then she came behind me taking them, and couldn’t quite get the hang out of it, and I would try and help her with her homework and things and quickly decided, ‘Mom, just do you—do what” and she majored in home economics, which was exactly what was best for her, and, um, teaching. So, she taught, and she did a lot of substitute teaching, and loved it, and was great at it. And she still sees kids—I mean, my mom is 86—but she’ll see kids that were her students, and they love her and she loves them. So it was a positive environment.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 29:00
And you have been on our board for many years, and I’ll talk about that in just a moment. But you endorsed, and enthusiastically supported, the partnership that we now have with the Muncie Community Schools. How was it that your growing up in Muncie, going to Burris, your mother serving as a teacher in the area, did that influence your perspective when we were contemplating this unusual and potentially risky arrangement?
[RENAE CONLEY] 29:23
I think all of the above did. I know the importance of getting a good education, K through 12. I had the huge benefit of that with Burris. I knew that Ball State had the knowledge with Burris that if we could, in some way, help Muncie Community Schools reach their potential, it would just be huge, for not only the students there, but for the community overall. And I know that, when you have a really good public school system, it makes all the difference in the world in the community overall. People want to move here, they want to put their kids in the schools, that’s the foundation of it, is a good education. So, when we had the opportunity to get involved, and, um, help the Muncie Community Schools … I said, this is a great opportunity. 5,000 students is a very manageable size, and if we’re successful here, hopefully we can help other communities be successful and be a model for that. So, I think it was a really wonderful opportunity for us to get involved in.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 30:41
And you have another connection to the history of Muncie, and perhaps its future. You mentioned when you were at Ball State, you were married at the time to Richard Conley. His mother was Vivian Conley, and I never had the good fortune to meet her. I understand though that she was one of the most revered, perhaps beloved, women in the history of Muncie. Tell us about Vivian Conley.
[RENAE CONLEY] 31:06
[Sighs] You know, I get a little emotional when I talk about Mrs. Conley. We called her Granny B. She was an amazing woman. When she died, the headline in the Muncie paper was “Muncie’s Mother Teresa Passes” because so many people attributed success in their lives to Vivian Conley. She was a domestic, um, and had not ever graduated from high school. She decided to go get her GED when she was in her 50s, and started going to Ball State. And she discovered how difficult that could be, as a Black woman, in your 50s, you’re a non-traditional student because of your age. You’re a non-traditional student at that time also because you were Black. And how hard it was to maneuver through the school, so she set out to help a whole lot of kids get in from Muncie, Black kids, to get into Ball State, um, maneuver through Ball State, stay in school, and she convinced the university to help make sure that they were successful.
Unfortunately, she died at an early age—from my perspective, at 64—she died at 73. But at her funeral, there was 1,000 people that showed up because so many people said she had made such a difference in their lives. And she was a person that didn’t have financial means, so this is truly a person because of who she was, and what she believed, um, made such a difference in so many people’s lives. And she definitely did in my children. My children being inter-racial, um, were, you know, faced with difficult times as adults and as children with prejudice that they faced. But she told them, she was a woman very much of the faith base, and she said, “God chose you to be the bridge…you see both sides. You understand what it’s like to—your mother’s white, your father’s Black, you have the benefit of seeing…and your life is to be a bridge, and they believed that, and they have been that.”
[GEOFF MEARNS] 33:41
Yeah, a remarkable woman who shows that the impact a single person can have on so many other people [Renae interjects: “yes”] just through caring and supporting.
So let’s talk then, for just a few minutes, about your engagement with Ball State University. You’ve been engaged with us for many years, doing so despite a very busy professional and personal life. What prompted you to become so engaged in the university?
[RENAE CONLEY] 34:09
Well, you know, education has always been really important to our family, it’s been really important to me. When I was in Louisiana, I was very involved in education issues in the state of Louisiana, high level of poverty. I was very involved with early childhood education, understanding the benefit if you can have children, not only a mother get good care when they’re carrying a child, but having lots of interaction—birth to age four—it makes a huge difference in the outcome of that child in the future. So, I spent a lot of time on those issues, and then I also spent a lot of time on how do you get kids to stay in school and graduate. We had a high dropout rate in school in Louisiana, I was involved in Teach for America. So, I spent a lot of time on education issues in my career.
And I had the opportunity, I would come back and visit my mom, and drive through Ball State and see her, and touch base with Dr. Parkinson periodically. And I was asked to be advisory board to Miller College of UBisness, and I was still in Louisiaina, and I would come back and I really enjoyed that experidnce. And I realized that I had a lot of life experiences that would be helpful, and that I needed to hsare that with the university. So then they asked me if I would be interested in beingo n the Foundation Board, and I said well that sounds interesting, too, so I did agree to be on the Foundation Board.
And then as I was retiring from my career at Entergy, and I moved to Chicago, they asked me if I would be interested in being a trustee. And I was very honored to be asked if I wanted to be appointed by the governor for that position, and, um, it’s been great. It was the right time in my life to be able to do this … I had retired from my career—um, I say I’m repurposed, I’m not really retired—I do have a lot of other interests and have the opportunity to be on boards, including the Board of Trustees. But it’s…it’s really been rewarding in the sense …I learn so much, and I feel like my experiences are helpful to the institution, too.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 36:54
So, of course, as a trustee, it’s an important responsibility, and from time to time, there’s some difficult decisions. I try to minimize the number and magnitude of those difficult decisions [Renae interjects: “and I appreciate that”] … that’s my job. But it’s also, very gratifying, I assume. So tell us, what is the best day, as a Ball State trustee, what does the best day look like?
[RENAE CONLEY] 37:19
That’s a great question, Geoff. So, I became chair of the Board in January 2020. And—
Right. Great time to be chair of the board about two months before the global pandemic.
Correct. And I was following Rick Hall, who was a great chair, and trying to figure out how did I do this, and be as effective as he was as chair, and starting to get to know you even better because, on the board I knew you, but as chair, it’s a different relationship. And then the pandemic hit. And then, all of the sudden, we’re talking every day. Well, fortunately for me, and I think for you and Ball State, I have quite a bit of experience in crisis management and crisis response—
A few hurricanes, down there in New Orleans.
Exactly, running a utility and electric system for the state of Louisiana through nine hurricanes, including Katrina, I know how to prepare, I know how to respond, and so I thought I was really helpful, as we worked through, how do you stand up the response, how do you communicate, how do you get information to make decisions, because you were having to make decisions so quickly, and it was, really, a crisis response. Now, it went on a lot longer than a hurricane, who rolls through—
Yes it has—
[Laughs] But, um, in my opinion, those are my best days. My best days are when I’m learning something from you, and from the institution, and I’m helpful in solving a problem. I mean, our role is not to manage it, I don’t need to get into the details and run it, our job as a trustee, I mean, we have fiduciary responsibility, but to help with guidance and strategy, where we have expertise, lend it. And those are my best days.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 39:27
Yeah, and you have been a remarkable steady hand and voice and guide through a difficult time that I think we all hope is coming to the end. We’re not there yet, but we hope is coming to the end.
So, I want to ask you a question. I conclude every podcast with the same question of my guests. And, of course as you know, the iconic statue of Beneficence is a reminder of the enduring values that we all believe distinguish Ball State University. And, Beneficence means doing good for others, through your service and your philanthropy. What does Beneficence—what does doing good—mean to you?
[RENAE CONLEY] 40:10
Keeping it fairly simple, just in the simplest form, doing good is being kind. I wake up every day, like, “Okay, Renae, be kind, whatever you’re going about…” Try not to be judgmental, um, and out of that comes much better interactions, and really that sense of service. And I think, for me, that Beneficence is taking what I’ve been given, through my life, and through my experiences, and I have been fortunate to have a really wonderful, remarkable career, and how can I share those experiences and give those back through my service. And then, you know, financially… helping out financially, those in need who haven’t had the advantages I have. But, when I look at two people who were very influential in my life, Wayne Leonard and Vivian Conley, I think they both represent Beneficence, in terms of “be good and do good,” and that’s what they did.
Two other Ball State graduates.
Two other Ball State graduates.
[GEOFF MEARNS] 41:30
Right. So, thank you for joining me. Also, on behalf of the entire university community, thank you for your service to the University. And, from a personal standpoint, thank you for your support and guidance. Thank you, Renae.
Thank you, Geoff.