Not Loafing Around: Donald P. Lofe, Jr., ’79, is Working Tirelessly for His Alma Mater

The following article appeared in the 2020 edition of Leadership magazine.

A brief call to the office of Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr., ’79, results in a hearty laugh from his executive assistant, Sarah Miller. “He was just here but left again to run to the Business Office,” she explains.

Miller chuckles because Lofe is undoubtedly conducting an impromptu “fly-by” meeting with a staff member, which is his signature communication style.

The 30th person to act as College president (see “About Donald P. Lofe, Jr.” below) — “Don” as he prefers to be called by all in the Westminster community — has been constantly on the move since he began his post on July 1, 2020, taking a leave of absence from his prior role as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the College.

A person with a quick step, who ran cross country and track and field as a student-athlete, Lofe sometimes stands suddenly during long meetings. Hands in his pockets while deep in thought, he then speaks rapidly after carefully drawing his conclusion. Lofe is a man with a plan. And he will tell you the plan has actionable steps.

Implementing a First 100 Days Plan

Paramount in his agenda: an ambitious First 100 Days plan reminiscent of many U.S. presidents, beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program is fitting for a presidency at Westminster, which has long focused on leadership skills that help graduates find their purpose and go out into the world to lead “lives of success, significance,

and service,” as stated in College’s mission statement.

Lofe is proud to represent the College’s mission statement as the third alumnus in the presidential role (read more on page 23). Fittingly, his First 100 Days sharply focused on the College’s alumni population throughout many parts of the country.

Along with key members of his leadership team, Lofe hit the road for five months to speak with large and small groups of alumni, updating them on the state of the College, from academics to COVID-19 on campus to enrollment numbers (short story — they’re up significantly) to finances. But mostly Lofe listened. During that time, he also listened to and spoke with staff, faculty, students, and student associations, including fraternity/sorority leadership and other groups.

Going Forward with a Plan

 “When I first took the role, I was determined to listen, and I’ve learned about what our alumni and donors’ views and expectations are, and I’ve learned more about our institution’s past and present,” Lofe reflects, pausing briefly to collect his thoughts. “Frankly, now I have a better sense of where the College has been, but more importantly, where we need to go. And that is where I want to spend my time, both on campus and on the road visiting with alumni, donors, friends, and other constituencies of the College.”

Lofe notes he has been moved by the passion of all groups mentioned above and what they share with him. Many tell Lofe the overall quality of communication from the College needs to improve.

“I have heard that repeatedly and, more importantly, felt it personally throughout my discussions while on and off campus,” Lofe says. “We need to be more communicative and foster a better sense of optimism about the College’s future, with a sense of reality. We have been inconsistent in such messages.”

Also included in his First 100 Days and beyond is a series of student town halls, state of the College addresses for faculty and staff, and meetings for parents of current students via Zoom and other communications to the Westminster community.

Lofe explains that in the months to come, the leadership team will examine how to enhance all academic and operational aspects of the institution while focusing on the overall student experience. Ultimately, a detailed strategic plan, including a financial capital plan, will be completed and presented to the Board by summer 2021. Lofe adds that these and other actionable steps will be ongoing until then.

“Most importantly, we’re evaluating seriously where we’re going in the future in order to have a sustainable financial and operational platform,” he says.

Addressing Past and Present Issues

A conversation about Westminster’s past and present focuses on perceptions about the College’s sustainability and viability by a variety of individuals in the College community. Many heard rumors in years past that Westminster, like other small liberal arts colleges throughout the United States, was permanently crippled by severe financial concerns. Some, on the other hand, positively speculated that the state of affairs at the College was absolutely perfect, while others criticized the College for being almost saccharine in its messaging. Frustrated, some alumni turned their backs on Westminster entirely.

Lofe maintains that none of the most extreme perceptions are 100 percent accurate, and many of the rumors were ridiculously negative.

“Although we have much work to do in communication and actual demonstrable actions to change those perceptions and overcome those challenges, I believe that with our current leadership team, we have clearly begun to make strides in giving the institution a much more optimistic perspective,” Lofe says firmly.

Foremost in changing faulty perceptions is an emphasis on what’s going right at Westminster: Enrollment numbers are up more than 25 percent for the 2020-2021 Academic Year.

Forming a Steering Committee for the Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In addition to changing people’s perceptions about the state of the College and developing a strong, all-encompassing strategic plan, Lofe recently formed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee. The committee is a reconstitution of Westminster’s previous Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The new committee will build extensively upon initiatives outlined by the task force in recent years.

Lofe emphasizes that the new committee is charged with a strong mission.

“What I have learned is the institution has had several very good programs over the years related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we need to make sure that our Westminster community understands these programs are available to all,” he says.

Aware that many within the College community are concerned about a lack of diversity on campus, Lofe aims to achieve more balance by examining every facet of institution, including the student population, the overall demographic makeup of the faculty and staff, and sensitive issues pertaining to all groups.

Lofe adds that the Board of Trustees also is fully behind the initiative.

“With the participation and support of our entire Westminster community, I am confident we will succeed in this most important effort, because I am deeply and personally committed to this vital initiative,” he says.

Managing the Interim Presidency During Coronavirus

The elephant in the room, of course — while discussing how to tackle difficult issues such as diversity and inclusion, comprehensive institutional strategic plans, and meetings with hundreds of Westminster community members — is coronavirus.

Lofe has not served at the helm of a college during normal circumstances, and maybe that’s a good thing, since he seems mostly unphased by the unprecedented. But then his most recent titles within a large business segment of IBM Corporation were “Partner and Chief Risk Officer.” And what poses a greater risk than a worldwide pandemic?

Lofe maintains that despite challenges posed by coronavirus, the campus remains essentially the same as it was 40 years ago, with strong academic programs, devoted faculty and staff, and, most importantly, enthusiastic students, whether they are attending class in a hybrid format or in person.

In short, Lofe is focused on making sure Westminster offers students a quality, comprehensive liberal arts education during COVID-19 and in years to come, no matter what challenges Westminster experiences.

Lofe says confidently, “We can and will overcome all of these challenges in the years to come. We will learn from and honor the past while also learning from this pandemic, staying focused on the present challenges without losing sight of what we are collectively accomplishing every day. And we will move forward together into the future with a sense of optimism.”

About Donald P. Lofe, Jr.

Donald P. Lofe, Jr., ’79, stepped into the role of Westminster’s Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer after Dr. Fletcher M. Lamkin retired on June 30, 2020.

Lofe previously served on the Westminster Board of Trustees for eight years, taking on more and more financial and operational responsibilities as the years went by. Most previously, he served in 2019-2020 as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

After being appointed Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer by the Board, Lofe immediately took an extended leave of absence from his responsibilities as Board Chair and currently serves as an ex officio member, consistent with historic practice for the role of the President.

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Lofe lived in St. Louis, MO, during his teenage years and graduated from Parkway North Senior High School. Lofe ran cross country and track and field at Parkway North and was recruited by Westminster, where he later became a two-time NAIA Indoor Track and Field All-American.

“Don” Lofe, as he prefers to be called on campus, was an avid cross country and track and field athlete as a Westminster student. He was a two-time NAIA Indoor Track and Field All-American. Pictured above with the 1978 Blue Jays cross country team, Lofe, middle, left, and teammates finished second in District 16 of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in 1978. Photo source: 1978 Blue Jay Yearbook.

 

Photo source: 1979 Blue Jay Yearbook.

“I was considering large and small institutions, and all along, receiving a prominent education was important to me,” Lofe explains. “When I came here to campus with my parents, I knew this was the place for me. It’s an intangible you can’t explain until you come here, and that intangible still remains here for students.”

On the other hand, a more tangible experience that was instrumental in Lofe’s success was time spent making use of Westminster’s career services programs, which at the time were offered by Career Services Director Sally Reynolds. Lofe was able to interview with and receive multiple job offers from large accounting firms and corporations prior to graduation.

Lofe then went on to receive a BA in Accounting and Political Science from Westminster. In 1992, he earned an MBA with concentrations in Finance and Business Policy from The University of Chicago. He was awarded the College’s Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award in 2010 — an award that Lofe says followed years of not being involved with the College.

He explains that he was busy with his professional career, travel, and raising a family with his wife, Lorraine, until former President Dr. Barney Forsythe reached out to him in 2011. “Barney called me up and wanted to meet with me. He did not ask for money,” Lofe reflects. “He just asked me how I wanted to get back involved. I guess as they say the rest is history.”

More recently, Lofe served as a Partner and Chief Risk Officer for Global Business Services – Mortgage and Lending Solutions for the IBM Corporation. Prior to joining IBM, he served in several senior executive roles for insurance, community lending, and other financial and mortgage-related service entities, both domestically and internationally. He was also a

Partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, specializing in financial services and private and public higher-education clientele.

Lofe is a Certified Public Accountant, holds active status as a Chartered Global Management Accountant, and is COSO certified by the American Institute of Public Accountants. In addition, he has been named by Treasury and Risk as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Finance.

A Conversation with Lorraine Lofe

 Interim President Donald P. Lofe, Jr., and his wife, Lorraine, are excited to officially relocate their household in Danville, CA, to Fulton, MO, in January 2021 and start a new chapter in their lives.

Used to moving relatively frequently, the Lofes have lived in a variety of cities, including St. Louis, MO, where they met in the late 1980s at an insurance accounting conference.

Married in 1992, the couple have twins: Their daughter, Lauren, graduated from the University of San Diego in 2019 and currently works as the director of marketing at a digital marketing startup in San Diego, CA. Their son, Don III, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2020. He is now a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and is training to be a naval aviator at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL.

Lorraine, also a Certified Public Accountant, active status, grew up in St. Louis, MO, and Farmington, MO. She says she loves Missouri and looks forward to the president’s residence being both a home and a facility that is open to everyone at the College.

How do you feel about finally residing in Fulton this winter?

It’s not soon enough! I am excited about being in one place. We have been flying back and forth to California, and I’ve been assisting my mother, who is 88 and lives in southeast Missouri.

What are you specifically looking forward to about living here?

I want to be involved with helping out on campus where I am needed and in the community. I am really excited to be here. Sometimes I have felt we have been in limbo these last few months, so I am looking forward to meeting a lot of people and becoming involved.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Mostly, I do a lot of volunteer work. I work with a group called Troops Direct, which is a non-profit that provides needed equipment for our troops. It goes above and beyond what the government can provide.

What has been your impression of Westminster over the years when you’ve been here to visit?

I feel like it’s a family! Everywhere I’ve been on campus, the students, faculty, and staff all know one another and carry on conversation. It’s a very open and welcoming place.

The Presidential History of Westminster College

Donald P. Lofe, Jr., joins the ranks of 30 other individuals who have faithfully served Westminster College as president since the 1800s.* Lofe is the third alumnus to act as interim president. Below is a complete list of Westminster presidents.

Samuel Spahr Laws, 1855 – 1861
John Montgomery, 1864 – 1865
Michael Montgomery Fisher, 1865 – 1868^
Nathan Lewis Rice, 1868 – 1874
Michael Montgomery Fisher, 1875 – 1877
Charles Campbell Hersman, 1877 – 1887
William Hoge Marquess, 1887 – 1894
Edward Clifford Gordon, 1894 – 1897
John Jay Rice, 1898 – 1899**
John Henry McCracken, 1899 – 1903
John Jay Rice, 1903 – 1904**
David Ramsey Kerr, 1904 – 1911
Charles Brasee Boving, 1911 – 1914
John Jay Rice, 1914 – 1915**
Elmer Ellsworth Reed, 1915 – 1926
Marion Edmund Melvin, 1927 – 1933
Franc Lewis McCluer, 1933 – 1947
William Webster Hall, 1948 – 1954
Robert L.D. Davidson, 1955 – 1973
Dale Purcell, 1973 – 1976
William L. Stucker, 1976 – 1977**
John Harvey Saunders, 1977 – 1992
John E. “Jack” Marshall, 1992 – 1993**
James F. Traer, 1993 – 1999
Neal Creighton, 1999 – 2000**
Fletcher M. Lamkin, 2000 – 2007
George B. “Barney” Forsythe, 2007 – 2015
Benjamin Ola. Akande, 2015 – 2017
Carolyn Perry, 2017 – 2017^
Fletcher M. Lamkin, 2017 – 2020
Donald P. Lofe, Jr., 2020 – Present**

**Denotes interim term.
^Denotes “acting” president – Not formally appointed as interim.
*During its first four years, Westminster College acted without a president, and the responsibilities of the role passed among faculty members on a rotating basis. The College implemented the same procedure again from 1861 to 1864.

 

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.