In the lead
CSUEB grads take charge in business, boardrooms, and health care
BY KIM GIRARD
Cal State East Bay has always provided opportunities for students to explore their leadership potential — whether through internships, working with professors and community mentors, heading lab research experiments, or running for election on campus.
“Leadership (development) goes on here every day, and it’s extremely beneficial for our students,” says Susan B. Opp, associate vice president, Academic Programs and Graduate Studies, at CSUEB. “No matter what a student studies, there are leadership opportunities across the campus from business to science to education to art. We’re developing leaders for the global community.”
While some students intentionally set their sights on one day running a business or reaching the top rung on the corporate ladder, others discover their leadership gifts while exploring alternate paths to success. Like James “Jim” Houpis, CSUEB provost and vice president for academic affairs, some alumni never consciously outlined a plan to become a leader. For Houpis, a passion for his career, and a commitment to working effectively and honestly with teams, helped him evolve into that role, he says.
“There comes a point in your career when you realize you are that person,” says Houpis, a former environmental scientist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Graduates who learned early lessons in leadership at Cal State East Bay have moved from on-campus roles such as student body president to a top spot at a prestigious university. Another alumnus parlayed leadership skills as a student-athlete into a career coaching his alma mater’s Division II team.
In the following pages, we take a look at alumni representing four eras and their leadership journeys.
Making things happen
Aristide J. Collins Jr. ’93 has built a 19-year career on making things happen behind the scenes in higher education through fundraising and university relations, a professional path he worked toward as a Cal State East Bay undergraduate.
As student body president at CSUEB and chairman of the California State Student Association (CCSA), he represented all students on campuses throughout the California State University system. He also worked on search committees to find a new university president and counts former Cal State East Bay presidents as mentors, particularly President Ellis E. McCune. “I enjoyed spending time with him,” Collins says.
Though politics may have been a logical next step for Collins, he says he was ready to move on to new challenges after graduation.
“I never wanted to run for anything,” says Collins, whose duties at George Washington University as vice president and secretary include working closely with the 43-member board of trustees.
“My secret ambition was to be someone’s chief of staff,” he says.
After graduating from CSUEB, he worked in university relations at Cal State Long Beach. He moved on to Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School in Pasadena before taking over as vice president for institutional advancement and university relations at Clark Atlanta University.
In 2010, he joined George Washington University, where, as a member of the top leadership team, he contributes to the strategic vision for and helps oversee all aspects of the institution.
“Our job is to serve and take care of our board,” he says. “We connect them to programs on campus, support their governance responsibilities, and provide the infrastructure and support that allows them to do their jobs as leaders of this institution.”
Collins still follows politics and finds leadership lessons in the current polarized political climate.
“One thing I have learned about leadership: nothing is black or white,” he says. “There is always a shade of gray. If you understand that shade of gray, you can make great decisions. To be a good leader you have to understand compromise.”
The business of beauty
Karen Oliver ’72 launched a 40-year career in the beauty industry with classic leadership chutzpah.
As a newly-minted Cal State East Bay graduate, Oliver aspired to opening a boutique in San Francisco that would retail European sportswear and high-end skin care. Without a second thought, she called Arthur Noto, the general manager of Erno Laszlo in New York, hoping that the cosmetics company would agree to expand its exclusive distribution to include her new enterprise.
“I called and got through to him via his secretary and pitched my idea,” Oliver recalls. “He was pleasantly surprised by a young kid calling him with this idea.”
Oliver didn’t end up opening her boutique, but her pluck did land her a sales position with Erno Laszlo at the upscale San Francisco I. Magnin department store. A mere three months later, she was promoted at age 23 to help manage a 52-women cosmetics department and then again six months later to cosmetics buyer.
That job, and Oliver’s initiative, led to a long and successful career in the cosmetics industry.
Today, Oliver is president and CEO of Karen Oliver and Associates in New York, a beauty-focused public relations firm with a client roster that includes renowned dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf and iconic skin and hair care brands Avène, Glytone, Klorane, René Furterer, and Liftlab.
Before opening her own agency, Oliver prepared by gaining years of executive-level experience that spanned positions from cosmetics buyer to regional training director positions at Lancôme, Borghese, Shiseido, and Christian Dior, followed by a move to New York City from Los Angeles to become vice president of retail development for L’Oreal’s Helena Rubinstein brand.
It was Oliver’s friend, Regina Kulik Scully, founder and CEO of RPR Marketing Communications, who convinced her that her passion for the brands she worked with over the years would make her a natural at public relations.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure PR was the right fit for me,” Oliver says. “But I took a chance and ended up working for RPR for over three years, launching the first Aveeno skincare line.” Loving the work led to founding her own firm in 2005.
A licensed esthetician in California and New York, Oliver also pursues other creative endeavors, such as designing and sewing her own clothes inspired by couture designers from Yves St. Laurent to Chanel, and designing flowers for weddings. Her husband of 31 years, Jerry Tokofsky, is a film producer. With Oliver as co-producer, the couple teamed up to produce Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 movie starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, and Kevin Spacey, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Mamet play.
Oliver says her concept of leadership is simple: set the example by working hard, staying positive and passionate, and by always doing business in a highly ethical way.
“To me, every person on a team has equal importance,” she says. “I use the simple analogy of the high-performing Ferrari with four tires. If one of the tires is out of alignment, the Ferrari can’t function optimally, and at high speeds it could potentially lead to a crash. It’s like that with a team.”
Degrees drive success
Cal State East Bay’s new head baseball coach Bob Ralston ’88, M.S. ’92 credits his father with his drive to succeed in sports.
“He was my biggest role model growing up,” says Ralston, 49, whose father was an assistant football coach at Chabot College in Hayward. “The thing I learned most from him was to be tough, be aggressive, but go with the flow a bit, and handle the ups and downs.”
Like many baseball careers, Ralston’s was a roller coaster. It began at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, where he played football before switching to baseball. At the University of Arizona, where he was an All-American, he played for Jerry Kindall, a second baseman during the 1960s for the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians, and the Minnesota Twins.
Drafted in 1984 by the Minnesota Twins, Ralston played minor league ball for seven years as an infielder, finishing his career with the Oakland Athletics AA team in 1990. (Billy Beane, now the Oakland Athletics’ general manager, was Ralston’s teammate on the Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers’ AAA team, in 1986.)
While he was always “one step from the big leagues,” Ralston says his college education guaranteed him leadership opportunities beyond baseball. He came back to Hayward to complete his bachelor's degree at CSUEB, then earned his master's degree in kinesiology in 1992.
“That opened doors for me,” he says. “A lot of friends I played with didn’t finish their college degrees. I did, and that gave me the opportunity to teach and coach.”
He got his coaching start as an assistant at University of California, Berkeley from 1990 to 1991, helping the Bears to the NCAA Regional final. It was a difficult transition to move from player to coach after he was released from the Oakland A's, he says, but ultimately rewarding. “I was really valuable to the kids at that time,” he says. “I had the experience, and I was a leader.”
Ralston served as an assistant coach at Diablo Valley from 1992 to 1994 and then worked as a teacher at Clayton Valley High School for 13 years, coaching for 11 of those years. Clayton’s Eagles made the playoffs every year, Ralston says, playing in four North Coast Section finals, and winning one.
Last July, the Pioneers named Ralston head baseball coach, the first opportunity he’s had to coach a NCAA Division II college team. Ralston replaced Dirk Morrison, who served as the Pioneers’ coach for 18 years.
“There’s a lot of potential to build a great team,” Ralston says. “There’s lots of good baseball in the Bay Area. If we can keep some of these kids home, I think we have an opportunity to be successful.”
Mending medical care
Icarus Tsang ’10, who earned a master’s in health care administration at CSUEB, knows that immigrant populations are often underserved in hospitals when it comes to everything from clinical trials to new medicines. As an advocate and researcher, Tsang’s goal is to make change in these areas.
“I hope to give voice to the underserved and understudied populations,” he says.
A research fellow at the UC San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Langley Porter Psychiatric Research Institute, Tsang is pioneering three projects: a study of nicotine replacement therapy among Chinese and Vietnamese men; a clinical trial study among Chinese cancer patients to better understand their decision-making processes; and a pilot study to promote the use of advance directives within Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhist temples, where the use of directives, or specific instructions to direct medical care when a person is unable, is low.
“What we hope to see is that we can use these Buddhist communities as an intervention point,” he says.
Tsang, a Hong Kong native, was also asked to help draft a standardized national exam for medical interpreters. Working with the National Board of Certification for medical interpreters, Tsang’s group has drafted Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, and Russian versions of the exam, which must be endorsed by both federal and state governments. “We are in the pilot phase now and testing the validity of the test,” he says.
A language access advocate, Tsang is the quality assurance team lead at California Pacific Medical Center, where he tests interpreters to make sure their skills meet the highest standards. He also serves as an interpreter for patients in both inpatient and outpatient clinics.
Cal State East Bay professors Toni Fogarty and Lisa Faulkner both influenced Tsang’s career choice. “To me, they are more than my professors,” Tsang says. “They are my mentors and really opened my eyes to the health care and public health industry.”
For Tsang, part of becoming a leader meant understanding that he had the power to change the health care system. “I was following in the footsteps of my professors,” he says.
Ralston, too, remains inspired by teachers and general managers like Billy Beane and legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who revitalized the college’s football program by winning despite ever-changing teams and new challenges.
“All good leaders want challenges,” Ralston says.
Philosopher Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, wrote in the 6th century B.C. of true leaders as faithful, trusting of others, attentive, and quietly inspiring people to become their own leaders.
Whether on the ball field, in the halls of a metropolitan hospital, behind the scenes at a top university, or working to get the word out about a hot new beauty industry client, these alumni continue building on their university leadership experiences by challenging themselves — and expanding their ability to lead — every day.