In her three years as University of Virginia Alumni Association president and CEO, Jenifer G. Andrasko (Darden ’10) put in place a sweeping strategic plan, expanded services and staff, and doubled fundraising. Now the agent of change is making a change of her own.
Andrasko has announced that she’s returning to the private sector, rejoining multibillion-dollar management consulting firm Bain & Company. In a collision of her two work worlds, Andrasko will lead the firm’s global alumni relations.
“Jen walks into a room and there’s a gale-force wind of energy that follows her wherever she goes,” says Alumni Association Board of Managers Chair Louis A. Sarkes Jr. (Engr ’80, Darden ’85), reflecting on Andrasko’s whirlwind of accomplishments and gearing up the search for her replacement.
He will have the benefit of time and continuity. COO Lily West (Darden ’12), Andrasko’s right hand for two-plus years and a kindred Bain alumna, will serve as interim CEO, taking over on July 1. “I feel deeply humbled by the opportunity,” West says. “It’s not lost on me the types of people that have held this role in the past. I recognize I’m interim, but it’s a huge responsibility.”
Andrasko graduated from Duke University cum laude, majoring in political science, and earned her MBA from the Darden School of Business, where she was a Jefferson Graduate Fellow, served on the UVA Honor Committee and, among other academic honors, was inducted into the Raven Society. In between degrees, she spent 10 years as a U.S. Naval aviator, mission commander and high-level NATO aide.
That battle testing proved helpful early on. Within her first weeks on the job, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched on Charlottesville. Hours after the violent rallies turned deadly, Andrasko took the lead to reassure alumni throughout the world what the Association stood for and what it would not.
As CEO, Andrasko used her experience as a consultant to reassess the Association’s mission and to position it to stay relevant to a rapidly growing and changing alumni base. The initiative led to an internal reorganization; a series of high-level hires, COO West among them; and a more robust approach to marketing, business analytics, niche programming and fundraising for the Association and its initiatives, which reached $9.2 million in total commitments in the most recent fiscal year.
As much as the strategic plan itself, Andrasko says, she takes pride in the leadership team she has assembled to execute it, challenge it and continually refine it. As she says, “I’ve been focused on building the muscle in the team.”
She reflects, too, on how the job has strengthened her own leadership abilities. “I have grown in unexpected ways,” she says.
Not least of which during the current worldwide health crisis. “When I was in the Navy I had to make life-or-death decisions for my crew, and my crew was 11,” she said in late March after closing Alumni Hall to the public and moving almost all employees to remote work in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I’ve had to make decisions in the last week that I consider life-or-death type decisions for 85 people and their families, doing it in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.”
West’s stepping in alleviates uncertainty about the leadership of the Association, at least in the interim. She and Andrasko became fast friends staffing a case together at Bain in 2011, West as a Darden summer intern and Andrasko as a recent alumna. “Jen and I would have gravitated to each other had we had no school in common, or quite frankly no work in common,” West says.
Andrasko recruited West to Alumni Hall several years later, during her first year as CEO and on the pretext of bringing dinner to a new mother. West recalls, “She said, ‘Well, I’m here with a quiche, but really I’m here to talk to you about a job.’”
West graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in political science and journalism. Like Andrasko, she also finished near the top of her class at Darden, was inducted into the Raven Society, and graduated to a position at Bain. West returned to Charlottesville from New York in 2014 and ran a national franchise for several years before joining the Alumni Association. She is active in the Charlottesville startup community and also serves as a guest lecturer at McIntire and Darden.
Andrasko says it took Bain & Company more than one try to persuade her to come back for the newly created alumni relations directorship. The tug in the other direction came from her joys in serving her alma mater. She cites her colleagues at Alumni Hall, having the Grounds as a workplace, working with students—“just being around those young people, it’s so life-giving,” she says—and a job that lets her mix with fellow Wahoos.Says Andrasko, “I never cease to be amazed by how passionate our alumni are about UVA, and on the best days and the hardest days of this job it is the alumni who keep me energized.”