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Spotlight on our Alumni: Chris Verne ’89

Chris Verne ‘89  spent 25 years at IBM (most of it in Raleigh), worked with Facebook/Meta, Lenovo, and is currently working with Google in Taiwan. This is Chris’ second time living in Taiwan. Anne Powers '90 recently met with Chris to learn about his journey.

AP: How has what you experienced as a Fellow guided your decision-making in life?

CV: My experience in Sociology 501 (sophomore seminar) was foundational in helping me begin to explore the diversity of thought and others’ opinions. I vividly remember debating Calton Zdanski about whether or not people were inherently good. That course gave me a foundation for being comfortable with people who had widely different thoughts from mine, and it taught me to embrace people’s different thoughts in coming up with solutions.  In addition, my time at the Center for Creative Leadership exposed me to activities that give me a basis of ideas and thoughts to start me on the way to thinking like a leader.

AP: How have the values of servant leadership informed your life path or career thus far?

CV: I think that the notion that Leadership is empathetic and collaborative was a central value. While leadership is not democratic, respecting a diversity of thought and understanding your responsibility as a leader to those people you lead has always stuck with me.

AP: How did what you learned play out personally and professionally?

CV: My experience in the Caldwell Fellows program taught me that part of leadership is the willingness to step up and take responsibility. My wife and I raised 4 kids. With that, I was a soccer coach for 15 years, was involved in Scouts, and served on my son’s pre-school board.  The simple act of being willing to step up and take leadership roles and all that goes along with those roles came from my early development in the Fellows program.  I think it also impacted how I tried to raise my kids and teach them the value of leadership.

AP: What was it about the small cohort of Caldwell Fellows that impacted you?

CV: First of all, my group was among the smartest and most thoughtful group of people I met at NCSU. I think the Caldwell Fellows provided a small safe group to learn.  In the larger engineering classes where you don’t get to know people, it tends to stifle open dialogue.  In most engineering classes, there are right and wrong answers.  In liberal arts and leadership, the value is in the dialogue, thinking through a situation, and coming to your own opinion based on a diversity of ideas.  That is much easier to do with a small group of people you trust.  I think I’ve tried to carry that with me throughout my professional life.  In any team I lead, I try to build that small cohort and give my team the opportunity to share and debate ideas.

AP: How have you found a balance between work and family?

CV: I credit my wife with much of this.  Early in my career my wife and I established a perspective and set of priorities.  Because of this, I never felt work/life balance was a problem.  I see so many people struggle with the expectations of the job and feel that it is overwhelming. Someone once gave me the advice to “establish your own boundaries and rules of the road and be transparent with people and companies you work for about what those priorities are.”  That’s how I’ve coached my kids and their early careers.  I was also fortunate that my wife stayed at home with the kids, which allowed me to have more structure in both my home and work life.

AP: Tell me about your first time in Taiwan where you spent 6 years there with your family.

CV: It was eye-opening.  It was a chance for my kids to experience being a cultural and ethnic minority.  My advice to Fellows, if they are placed internationally, would be to jump in with both feet.  Don’t resist.  The unhappy ex-pats were the ones who did not embrace the experience.  Also, don’t “over pivot” on the job.  Experience the culture and get out and travel.  Just do it!

AP: What thoughts would you like to leave alums and current program participants?

CV: The Caldwell Fellows Program was an experience that was transformative.  It was one of those seminal moments in my life like meeting my wife and having kids.  Embrace the program!  Dive deep!  Do as much as you can!  Enjoy the people around you. In this day and age, especially in the US, embrace and value differences of opinion.  You become richer when you understand others’ perspectives.

AP: Well, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it.