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Regent Cynthia Lesher.

University regent Cynthia Lesher

Lesher sworn in as U regent

By Gayla Marty

Brief, February 15, 2005

Xcel Energy executive Cynthia Lesher was sworn in Friday as the newest member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Standing between the towering figures of Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice Russell Anderson and University president Robert Bruininks, Lesher cut a petite profile as she swore to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Minnesota and to support the University to the best of her ability. To that effort, Lesher brings a big reputation and lots of enthusiasm. She is currently president and CEO of Xcel Energy in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and a member of the Women's Economic Roundtable, which is made up of the top 100 women leaders in Minnesota. She is also a member of the Governor's Workforce Development Council and serves on an impressive number of boards and civic committees. She holds degrees from Drake (sociology) and St. Cloud State U (psychology) and completed the U Carlson School of Management Master's of Excellence program. Lesher resides in New Brighton. She takes an at-large seat on the board for a year remaining in a term begun by Richard "Pinky" McNamara, who resigned in December. After the Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Lesher talked about her new responsibilities.

UMNnews: You are a busy woman with a demanding work life. Why take on the responsibilities of a University regent?

Lesher: I love being at the point in my life where I can be involved and contribute. When I sat in the meeting this morning as the Rhodes Scholar [Diana Fu] was honored, I thought, "This is why I wanted to do this." Three components--world-class students, world-class faculty, a world-class university. Having the opportunity to influence and participate in this is an honor. It's also a great time to be at the University because it's not business as usual...the University is transforming itself. So the question is, why not? Why not do this important work?

What's your history with Minnesota?

Well, I moved here in 1970. It was [like] Mary Tyler Moore. Really! I was in Iowa, at Drake University, and my college roommate and I were looking at four cities...Atlanta, London, Dallas, and Minneapolis. We picked Minneapolis. She got a job at WCCO, and my field was social work, so she was Mary Tyler Moore and I was Rhoda. I never regretted it for a minute. Last year, my daughter completed her master's in public health at the University of Minnesota.

What particular strengths and gifts do you think you bring to the U?

My background in human resources and in business. I have to say that I am totally impressed with the quality of this board, by the great questions they ask, and by the discussion. There are tons of issues they are dealing with, and among those are important issues of human capital.

Can you talk about the role and importance of state funding to the University?

It's one of those issues that won't go away and we have to deal with it. But more important is the vision. I was so excited just to have the opportunity to interview for this process. A strong university is vital to this state and the whole region because it attracts people and it produces a qualified work force. From a business point of view, that is essential.

What about energy? You come from the energy industry...what potential do you see here?

Energy supply is a problem for all of us...not just the university. It's a problem for every citizen, it's a global problem. As for renewables, I'm proud of what my own company is doing....I was blown away yesterday by the tour of Jones and Nicholson Halls, buildings that are not just renovated but so highly functional and serving students.

If there were one thing you wanted University faculty and staff members across the state to know about you, what would that be?

That I'm so impressed by this place. Yesterday I had lunch with student leaders. This place and these people are amazing. We shouldn't take it for granted.