ultoday.com interviews the founder and architect of UL's fundraising office, and one of the University's most enthusiastic advocates.

Earlier this year, UL lost one of its most important assets, as John T. Landry retired after 17 years of service.

In 1991, Landry sold one of Acadiana's Top 100 Businesses to become the first Director of Development at UL. Over his career, he has served the University, Abbeville, Vermilion Parish, Acadiana, and the State of Louisiana in numerous ways, from civic involvement, business development, conservation, education and educational fundraising, and his church. Most notably, Governor Blanco appointed him to the Board of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. In fact, because of his ability to work with people of different political views, he has served in various capacities under every Louisiana governor over the past 35 years. He spoke with ultoday.com recently.

John T. Landry, Fundraising, Major Gifts Officer, University of Louisiana FoundationTell us about yourself.
I grew up in Crowley, where I was graduated from St. Michael's (the high school is now Notre Dame) in 1963. I attended UL, and after graduation in 1968, I moved to Abbeville with my wife, Sandra, where I got in the automobile business. In 1979, I bought the dealership. Then in 1991, after a 23 year career, I sold the dealership and began working for UL as its first major gift development officer.

Why do you love UL so much?

My commitment went to another level after I became involved with the Alumni Association. Dr. Savoie kept talking to me about starting a Vermilion Parish Alumni Chapter, and he wore me down. So we called a meeting, and a large number of people showed up.

Later he called me again, wanting me to run for an officer's slot in the Association. I told him I didn't have time. He convinced me I wouldn't win. But I forgot I had a block of 500 UL alums in Vermilion Parish. So I was elected Secretary.

Then 4 years later, I was elected President [chuckle.]  It's worked out well, but trust me, Dr. Savoie knows what he wants for the University, and he knows how to make it happen.

How did you end up at UL?

Out of high school, I volunteered for the Marines, but I didn't go to Viet Nam. I went to boot camp at the infamous Parris Island, in South Carolina. I actually asked for Parris Island; I was young, stupid and just gung ho. I did my advanced combat training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

When I got out, I came to USL. There was never any doubt that I was coming here. There's no particularly reason for my choice;it was just a given. But when I got here, people like the late Dean of Men, Glynn Abel, Assistant Dean J.B. Guillory, and Dean of Women Mary Alice McFaul; those people were just so caring. I majored in Agribusiness, and from Dean Arceneaux on down, everyone was fantastic.

As a student I was very involved on campus. I somehow was elected to Who's Who, and the Blue Key National Honor Fraternity, and I was a Kappa Sigma. In fact, I later became UL’s first Interfraternity Council President elected from Kappa Sigma Fraternity.

One summer, Dean Abel got me a job covering 8 states for Warner Lambert Pharmaceuticals. We trained for a week in Dallas, then were sent out in our own company cars cold-calling on pharmacists throughout the eight state region. We had a little radio lamp as an incentive; if a pharmacist bought the $300 floor display, he got the radio. It made me think on my feet.

I ended up the #2 salesman in the South, but more importantly, I saw different cultures, and different areas of the country. It made me appreciate home, and UL.

So what it in your UL experiences that made you so passionate?

I think my involvement with the Alumni Association made me more keenly aware of the uniqueness of UL, and the excellence of its programs. And I also became aware that our alumni were generally not aware of that excellence. Consequently when I became Alumni President in 1988, the theme of my presidency was “Awareness." I wrote a weekly newspaper column entitled "Did You Know?" that was carried in 22 newspapers.

Another unique accomplishment was getting our University name/logo on the Lafayette city buses. I read one day that the Lafayette City Council was planning to purchase 20 new buses, and I knew about the University of Alabama putting their school name on the local buses. So we approached the city council requesting that they paint the buses in school colors with the University name and logo, and they did. We now have 'rolling billboards' which promote UL.

My whole tenure as Alumni President was exhilarating. It was exciting to meet with other UL Alumni Chapters around the country. In effect, I was a salesman for the University, and I was constantly advocating what we were doing.

The other thing that has made me so passionate is my respect for President Ray Authément, and people like [former VP for Academics] Dr. Gary Marotta and Dr. Joe Savoie. I just have the greatest respect for those people, and their vision.

So in the 17 years you've been at UL, what is your proudest achievement?

I think the most satisfying thing was setting up a major gift fundraising office from scratch. Dr. Authément wanted a University department dedicated to fundraising after the late Alfred Lamson raised that initiating $10 million in the 1980's.

It's been fun. My first piece of "software" was a Big Chief tablet. Then we got an upgrade-- a set of steno notepads. We numbered the notepads, and we numbered the contacts. It was all, "Ask and ye shall receive." The University’s gifted assets have grown from $19 million in 1991, to $150 million-plus today.

That's an impressive growth curve.

Yes, thanks to many generous donors, but I think the potential for future development is enormous.

Our next step is to ramp up the Department. One thing about marketing the University is that an engineer can better convince an engineer, and an accountant can better persuade an accountant. I can't do that nearly as well. Somebody who can talk about a specific academic or athletic area is often going to be better at fundraising than the generalist. So at some point in the near future, we need to have fundraisers dedicated to each college. All universities our size use this model.

You ask a lot of people for a lot of money. That must be difficult.

People say it must be tough raising money. But what makes University fundraising not nearly so difficult as one might imagine, is that our work is focused on major gifts, on permanently endowed University assets. So we identify potential donors who can make major gifts to UL, and we suggest a permanent academic/athletic position or a facility that will bear the donor's name, or the name of a loved one.

That concept is so powerful and pleasing, that donors are as happy about giving as we are about receiving. Their investment endures forever, permanently benefiting the University.

Talk about your car dealership. You sold one of Acadiana's Top 100 businesses, to make a fraction of what you made in business.

I think the good Lord works in mysterious ways. My son always planned to be a dentist, so there was no one in the family to take over the dealership. And the notorious Dr. Savoie had gotten me involved with the Alumni Association. One thing led to another, and after serving as UL Alumni Association President, in 1991 I sold my dealership, and came to work here.

From a business perspective, it turned out to be a good choice. The industry was changing, import sales were increasing, and now Oldsmobile is gone. When I first got into the automobile business, GM had 53% of the domestic car/truck market and Japan wasn't even a player. That's all different now. GM and Ford bonds are now considered 'junk bonds'.

Dr. Savoie, the Vermilion Parish Alumni Chapter, my son, it all came together. All of a sudden, I was faced with a unique opportunity to make a difference for my alma mater. So I began 'selling' a product-- the University-- that I was really fired up about.

And the university environment is very stimulating. It's like the TV commercial, "I liked the product so much that I bought the company." And I did. I thought maybe we could continue what UL had started, and build upon what Mr. Lamson did for the University and Acadiana.

What's the biggest opportunity and challenge for UL fundraising?

At this point in time the energy sector is good, and Lafayette is booming. People in Acadiana are very generous, they're hard workers and smart business people, and many of them have saved and invested well. We have the community resources to take UL to the next level, and we have a University that people can believe in. We simply need the increased resources to cultivate these opportunities. We have reached a tipping point in the evolution of the Development Office. It’s time for the next generation of development officers to help move the University forward.

Once we get that in place, I think people will be very surprised at how quickly donations will grow.