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Piva, Duke's top fundraiser, retires

After a job well done--most notably the $2.36 billion Campaign for Duke--Senior Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development John Piva has announced his retirement. Robert Shepard, who has worked closely with Piva as vice president for development, will become vice president for alumni affairs and development.

 

  Piva, who had been privately planning to step down for several years, will leave the University following the fifth-most successful capital campaign in the history of American higher education. The campaign ended Dec. 31, 2003 and was a smashing success, exceeding its original goal of $1.5 billion by over 50 percent.

 

  Administrators credited much of the campaign's success to Piva and his personal, engaging fundraising style.

 

  "There is no one in higher education in this field more accomplished, more committed and more capable than John Piva, and no one knows more than me how much his leadership has meant to Duke's future," President Nan Keohane said. "It is typical of John that he stays out of the limelight, seeks no personal praise and recognizes the accomplishments of others on his team. He is a remarkably persuasive person who helps all of us understand why philanthropy requires not only dollars, but also heart and vision. Everyone who cares about Duke is in his debt."

 

  Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations John Burness said Piva has a gift for persuasion, citing the dramatic example of a donation by Edmund Pratt, Engineering '47. Pratt had not considered a gift approaching the eventual sum of $35 million until he was encouraged by Piva. The money became an unforgettable contribution to the School of Engineering, which was renamed in Pratt's honor.

 

  "[Piva] connects remarkably well with people and he has an ability to talk to people about things they are interested in and help them understand how their philanthropy can make a difference," Burness said.

 

  Though he is largely in the business of convincing people to give Duke their money, those who work with Piva describe him as a straight shooter. "He will listen openly to concerns that you have and he will give you a straight answer in return," said Duke Alumni Association President Michele Sales, "and that makes the best working relationship that I can think of."

 

  Replacing Piva will be Shepard, who has worked closely with his mentor over the last nine years and who garners similarly fervent praise from University officials. Burness said Shepard has done "an extraordinary job" in development, and Keohane called him "superbly able."

 

  And yet, Piva and Shepard have, by most accounts, very different personalities. Where Shepard is gregarious and effusive, Piva is shy, prefers not to address to big groups and never speaks to the media. They are similar, Burness said, in that they are strategic individuals and have strong values.

 

  The shift in leaders should not affect fundraising or alumni affairs greatly in the short term, since the campaign is finished and fundraising is now in a quieter phase. But 2004-2005 will mark a dramatic turnover in the senior administration--with a new president, chancellor and CEO of the Duke University Health System and dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, to name a few--and a new direction for some strategic initiatives that will inevitably affect the nature of development.

 

  "I assume that as Bob takes responsibility for the whole operation, particularly at a time when there will be a new president and a new chancellor for health affairs, some strategies and priorities will change," Keohane said. "I doubt that they will change radically; but that's for the future, and our successors, to decide."

 

  President-elect Richard Brodhead met extensively with Shepard before the announcement was finalized and gave a ringing endorsement to the new development and alumni affairs chief. "Building support for the university's ongoing mission and many new initiatives is a crucial and never-ending task," Brodhead said. "Duke will have a great leader for this task in Bob Shepard."

 

  Shepard said he was excited about working with Brodhead and responding to the academic plans and strategic goals of the new administration.

 

  "Obviously, there are a lot of changes with President Brodhead," he said, "but change is invigorating."

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