We’re All in This Together

A broader perspective is key to UCI’s future success

Julie Hill illustrates the adage “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” The chair-elect of the University of California, Irvine Foundation board is heading an effort to update the roles and responsibilities of trustees in an era when public universities are rethinking their funding models.

At the same time, she’s active on the board of directors of Anthem, the largest U.S. health insurance company by membership; and the Lord Abbett Family of Funds, a $150 billion, New York-based mutual fund management firm. She previously served on the boards of Lendlease, a $7 billion international construction, development, investment and management firm headquartered in Sydney; and Human Options, an award-winning domestic violence shelter for abused women and children.

Hill was CEO of Costain Homes and founded Hiram Hill Development, a homebuilding and land development company based in Newport Beach. And she shares her expertise, currently mentoring 14 young women and working tirelessly to counteract social forces that diminish women’s voices.

She sat down with UCI Magazine recently to talk about the university, its future and how faculty, staff and trustees can work together to foster student success. “Students,” she says, “are the reason we’re here.”

“Success is about discovering your passion. I know that sounds trite, but it’s a cliché because it’s true.”

Q: How did you become interested in UCI?

Hill: I went to UCLA as an undergrad, so that’s part of my UC connection. And then I met Judy Rosener [senior lecturer emerita in The Paul Merage School of Business], who wrote “Ways Women Lead” for the Harvard Business Review. We started talking 25 years ago, and we haven’t stopped. Since then, I’ve been on the advisory boards of many of UCI’s schools; I was chair of the CEO Roundtable; and I received the Amelia Earhart Award from the UCI Women’s Opportunities Center when it was active. It was an honor to be recognized.

Q: What is the role of the UCI Foundation?

Hill: At a public university, it’s primarily fundraising. State support of the University of California does not fully fund its mission anymore. We have to start functioning more like a private institution in terms of raising money, and it’s frustrating how slowly that idea is being accepted. We’re evaluating our fundraising competitors in the public university system nationally, but we’re also looking at private universities. We’re looking at how we recruit students. We need to do things differently – and better – and we’re blessed to have invested, dynamic members among the foundation trustees who are eager to help us do this.

Q: The theme of this issue of the magazine is student success. How do you define success? And how can UCI better help students be successful?

Hill: Success is about discovering your passion. I know that sounds trite, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. When I was in high school, I went to my guidance counselor and told him I wanted to go into business, and he said: “Pretty little girls like you become bitches on wheels in business. You don’t want to go into business.” So I majored in English literature and worked for an ad agency and taught junior high school for a while, but I was off course. I realized I really did want to go into business. I went back to school and got an advanced degree and started my own company. That’s what UCI can do for students: Encourage their natural inclinations, teach them to trust their instincts, and appreciate their quirkiness. We need all the different threads, colors and textures in the tapestry of life. We need them to be their best selves.

Q: What do you enjoy doing just for yourself?

Hill: I love my friends – I have such wonderful friends. I love long walks on the beach, paddle surfing, snow skiing and reading. I love learning new things. I value breadth of thinking, people who have been tested by life and sampled different cultures and ideas, and that’s part of what appeals to me about my involvement with UCI.

Q: If you had to pick one accomplishment in your work reappraising the role of UCI’s foundation board, what would it be?

Hill: One of my goals is to be better partners with the faculty, the deans, staff and students. We haven’t had student representation on the board in some time. We need a broader perspective, a deeper connection, a better understanding that we’re all in this together. We’ve all lost our entitlement to full public support of higher education. We need to realize the implications of this, band together, adjust and modify our strategies in this new environment, and understand that what floats one boat floats all boats.