Lee Nunery

Nunery adjusting one of the ties he inspired

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Vice President for Business Services Lee Nunerys got the white shirt and suit. But the tie is a surprise. Its inspired by an object in the University of Pennsylvania Museums collection.

Its a subtle sort of branding, an object-oriented way to increase Penns name recognition in the world at large. Administrators had been considering it for years, but it took Nunery to make it happen.

He joined Penn last year after working in banking, and before that as vice president of the NBA, responsible for business development and human resources.

The University of Pennsylvania Collection, as the line of branded products is called, is based on the same concept as sports paraphernalia, and its currently Nunerys favorite project.

But most of his job is to manage and operate the things that make everyones life on campus either miserable or pleasant parking, transportation, housing, dining, the mail service. This scion of a family of entrepreneurs heads a division that grosses $200 million a year most of that goes to cover costs, he said. To him everyone on campus is his customer. And he wants to make sure the customers are happy.

Q. Are the items on this table now for sale?

A. In the bookstore.

Q. Do you have more items in the works?

A. Were going to launch some wrapping paper. Youll also see things that are Ben Franklin-inspired. Carol [Meisinger, director of Publications Services] came up with an example the other day with a kite, and the tail of the kite are some of the sayings of Ben Franklin.

Theres a traditional product line that were looking at here. There should be an edgy nouveau line that reflects what West Philadelphia is. Its the birthplace of a lot of jazz, a lot of R&B, a lot of rock. But you dont ever really see that in the products. If you go into the bookstore today, theres a lot of red and blue, but you dont see anything that says this is the source of a lot of crazy so you have to take the idea of innovation, the Ben Franklin idea of being at the edge, out standing in the rain in a thunderstorm with a kite, OK, and who would have thought?

Its got to be appealing. The audience were going after students, faculty and staff and alumni but then theres this whole general public thats out here. How do you reach them? If its too much Penn, theyre like, I didnt go there so I dont care. Except that, hey, its kind of neat. Ive never seen that before.

The goal with some of this is to just get the name of other venues, like the museum, out in front of a group of lawyers. Some of it is awareness-building for what assets and properties the University has. And obviously the secondary piece is to see if we can to make some money at this and to build unrestricted revenue sources.

You know, we have these tremendous events each and every year the Penn Relays, which bring 100,000 people to our doorstep. Theyre looking for mementos, like theyve gone to a mini-Olympics. Just last year was my first one. I saw Maurice Green for the first time flying by. I saw Marion Jones. These are headliners that people are going to see. And they pay a pretty nice price for pretty exciting activities.

You treat an event like that not just as a place to sell yourself, but to build awareness that you had a great time Hey, maybe this is a school I can come to. Hey, maybe this is school my kids can come to. I had a safe time. I was able to park my car. I was able to shop somewhere.

I got a phone call today. Somebody was miffed about the parking they had during the football game. Its important that they get a letter from me and/or athletics that says, we hear you, were sorry you got inconvenienced, were going to fix that the best way we can. Thats the one thing theyll carry with them.

Its a customer service thing and it sounds sappy, but I quote the Nordstrom concierge effect.

Q. Whats that?

A. You know, when you go to Nordstrom, Nordstrom bends over backwards.

If you come to anybody at Nordstrom and say, I need to find mens socks, theyll even take you there. It shouldnt matter that, well, thats another department thats over there. Its all part of us. We need to care about that.

It sounds very commercial and oh my god, its corporate-speak. But you know, its important that that student whos a freshman, who was walking around today trying to find the parking window, if I can get them there and theyre happy with that, when they graduate, they may write us a check. I view it all as tied together. It shouldnt be separated.

Q. Howd you get here?

A. I have no idea. Im still wondering myself.

I had no intentions of coming to a university. I was a banker by trade. [Executive Vice President] John Fry kind of reached out to me and said hey, theres this position, are you interested? Uuuuh, I dont think so. And lo and behold, as he was more persistent than I was resistant, Ive been here a year and a half, and its been real highs, some lows, but for the most part its been phenomenal.

Q. Why dont you give me a list of your highs?

A. Getting to understand about how this place functions. Its getting a chance to work with some incredibly talented people who love what they do.

And Campus Express. I dont think people understand how big a hit that is.

Q. What is that?

A. Its a program that every new and returning student receives, that allows them to sign up for the housing, their dining, their phone, sending in to take care of their ID card before they got here, over the Internet. What weve been trying to talk about here is one-stop shopping. You shouldnt have to stand in 50 different lines to get what you want.

Q. Other highlights?

A. The PennPass program, which now gives now 425 kids a chance to go anywhere where SEPTA goes in the city for a flat fee. The successful operation of the restaurants and the hotels.

Q. Any lows?

A. The lows have been its hard to get decisions made here.

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. The consultative process does it. You literally weight things down by going to committee meeting after committee meeting. My job may sound like its to garner revenue. Its actually to find the inefficiencies in whats here and redirect it and reallocate the resources.

Q. Does anything else frustrate you?

A. What I should be doing as a central administrator is bringing that audience here for meeting space, for conferences, getting them to think about Penn as a place for a weekend go to a football game, go to Annenberg, get a great meal. And people do it, but we dont always make it easy for them to do that.

The students, for example, want a video store. Youre not going to get any small mom-and-pop as much as you want to, because its an expensive business to be in. My larger question is OK, guys, you want video and you want access, but the worlds moving to DVDs, pay-per-view, pay-on-demand. So youve got to listen to the audience, but you also have to anticipate whats going to come next.

To convince a video store operator or a restaurant to come here is still incredibly hard because they can go right now to Center City or King of Prussia and say, We can get the audience we need without any problem, why do we need to come here? [Restaurateur] Steven Starrs taking a huge risk opening up on 37th and Sansom. I think hes going to be a hit, though.

Wait til the grocery store and the Sundance theater open. This place going to be hopping.


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Originally published on October 12, 2000