Alan DeForest ’75
Leading by Following
On October 18–20, 2016, the Norwich University Board of Trustees met for its annual fall meeting—the first with new Chairman Alan DeForest ’75 presiding. The Record sat down with Alan just after Saturday morning’s executive session let out to ask him about his passion for Norwich, what life lessons he learned from rugby, and how he views himself as a leader.
RECORD: What drives your passion to serve Norwich?
AD: Norwich has done so much for me, I feel obligated to give back whatever and however I can. And that includes time, money, et cetera. My family is also very committed. My wife, Cindy, is a Vermont College graduate; my daughter Danielle is a “double” Norwich graduate [bachelor’s and master’s]; my son-in-law is a Norwich grad; my other daughter attended. We’ve all been so connected—not only while at school, but through the years. Norwich is a big part of my family: They’re not separable in my mind.
RECORD: What lessons did you take away from rugby that have served you throughout your life?
AD: Rugby is a sport of making adjustments and adapting on the fly. That is the essence of rugby. You have to know what you’re doing—you have your basic skill sets, your basic strategy—but you have to adjust. You might be playing defense, yet any second you have to turn around and play offense. Whether you’re rucking the ball or supporting the wing, you have to be ready to do it all, and you also have to be ready to subordinate yourself to another teammate given the situation, and vice versa. It really is very much like life, and teaches such tremendous life lessons. So whether it’s your family, or it’s business, whatever you’re doing, it is all about making adjustments, while staying true to your core values.
RECORD: What is the greatest challenge facing Norwich today?
AD: If I were to choose just one issue, it would be the affordability of a Norwich education to our students. This is coming under increasing pressure all the time, as the price of higher education goes up, and given the pushes and pulls in the political arena. We have to consider, what does paying for a Norwich degree look like in five years? In twenty years? This is a big challenge. I don’t believe any student should have to leave Norwich because they can’t afford it. That is simple to say, but when you understand what it will take to execute that, it’s huge. Meeting the financial need requirements of the current student body is probably a $30 million-a-year issue. So we are challenged with meeting that need—not only year to year—but also in the long term. That is why I believe affordability is the greatest single challenge we face currently.
RECORD: What role do you want alumni to play in our third century?
AD: Alumni have a huge role to play. It will take all of us, working together, to execute the plan, which will be embodied in Norwich After Next , our next strategic plan. We all have an obligation to step up. We’re here only because people before us, alumni before us, were gracious enough to give us this opportunity. Now it is our turn to do the same for the students of tomorrow. And alumni who have already stepped up need to encourage others to see that challenge and that obligation in the same way. I view it as a continuum of volunteerism, leadership, and execution in fulfillment of our collective desire to keep Norwich a viable entity for the next 200 years.
RECORD: How is your leadership style different from, and similar to, that of General Sullivan?
AD: Gordon is and continues to be an incredibly high-profile leader. His very presence is often so powerful that it basically commands respect. That’s very unusual. I (or anyone else in this role) have to earn that respect by demonstrating success and progress and good leadership skills. With Gordon it’s almost assumed, as it should be, because the man has accomplished incredible things. Like Gordon, though, I am comfortable in this role. I also believe strongly that to be an effective leader, you have to be an effective follower when appropriate. Just like in rugby, by being willing to readily subordinate myself to the greater good to get to the end goal, I hope to prove to the alumni and to the board that I can be an effective leader.
RECORD: Is there anything you would like to add?
AD: I cannot overstate how much I appreciate what Norwich has done for me, and the opportunities it has given me, including the opportunity to give back and to see that this great experiment continues for the next 200 years. I view it as a privilege—indeed, an honor—to be in a position, even in a small way, to effect that, and help ensure that Norwich truly is forever.