New director ‘not just an army guy’

Alex Perwich was appointed director of the Robertson Scholars Program in February, succeeding former director Tony Brown.
Alex Perwich was appointed director of the Robertson Scholars Program in February, succeeding former director Tony Brown.

Alex Perwich likes to be clear that he has no bias when it comes to the Tobacco Road rivalry.

“I’m not from Duke, and I’m not from UNC,” he said. “I just am.”

This is fitting, given Perwich’s recent appointment as executive director of the Robertson Scholars Program, a position he assumed Feb. 15.

Perwich replaced former director Tony Brown and will serve as the third head of the 10-year-old merit scholarship program, which grants approximately 18 undergraduates each at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill full scholarships, including tuition, room, board, mandatory fees and summer stipends.

Brown said Perwich’s impressive background make him a strong addition to the program.

“There’s no question in my mind that we are a leadership development program,” Brown said. “To have someone with his leadership experience will be a real asset to the program. He’ll be a breath of fresh air.”

Perwich said he is a leader by training, experience and profession. He added that his background is unique because he has spent time in the army, corporate sector, non-profit sector and as an entrepreneur.

After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Perwich received his MBA from Harvard University. His past experiences have included teaching economics at West Point, serving as chief executive officer of Golden Key International Honor Society—the world’s largest collegiate honor society—and acting as president of alternative energy start-up company WaterDesk Corp.

“People like to put other people into buckets,” Perwich said. “They say, ‘Alex is an army guy.’ But that’s just one part of who I am.”

Helping others realize potential has been a lifelong interest for Perwich. He worked to enable students to reach their greatest achievements in the Golden Key society, that was how he saw his role in teaching economics at West Point and that is how he has interacted with his colleagues at various other corporations, he said.

Perwich said when he came across a posting for the Robertson position in the Harvard Business School Club job board, it was clear that this was a position made for him.

“It was almost like it had a light on it,” Perwich said. “It was looking at me, blinking at me. And when I read it, I realized this is the ‘realize your potential’ program, supercharged. It was everything that brought together an alignment of lots of different interests.”

Although scholars have only had limited interaction with Perwich, given his recent appointment, several said they are impressed with what they have already seen and have high expectations for the new director despite his challenging position.

“I think it takes a lot of flexibility and creativity to lead the Robertson Scholars Program,” sophomore Lina Colucci said. “We are a large group of young adults who want to change the world and we all have our own ideas on the best way to do that. The leader of the program has to help each scholar achieve his or her vision while remaining a stable core to the program. Given my impressions of Alex so far, I don’t think there’s a challenge that he isn’t up for.”

UNC sophomore Andrew Sugrue said Perwich is an “all-star in his field.” Sugrue added that he is excited to see where Perwich takes the program.

Perwich said he sees his role as the leader of the next phase of an evolving program and does not arrive with any mandates for monumental change. He said he is simply the next leader of something moving forward. He added that it is an honor to be the steward for the next phase of the Robertson Scholars Program.

“I was going to [Raleigh-Durham International] yesterday and the cab driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror,” Perwich said. “He asked me what line of work I’m in. I go, ‘That’s a great question.’ I reflected on it and said, ‘You know what? I’m in the business of building leaders—what a great business to be in.’”


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