University of Louisville Magazine

SUM 2018

The University of Louisville Alumni Magazine: for alumni, faculty, staff, students and anyone that is a UofL Cardinal fan.

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39 SUMMER 2018 freshman class, a tradition that she intends to continue at Uof L. "The students' educational experience is our number one priority. I want them to know there's somebody that they can reach out to if they need some- thing," she said. "The other good thing about it is that if they reach out to me as a last resort, it means they have run into road- blocks and that gives an incen- tive for everybody else to make sure they don't reach me. It sets a positive pressure." "She is exceptionally gifted at making people feel welcome," Sirisha Bendapudi said. "That's authentic, too. She genuinely does want a close relationship with everyone she meets, and she has never met a stranger. You could be in a room of 500 people and she can instantly make you feel like the only person there." VIM AND VIGOR While Bendapudi can certainly energize a crowd — and the individ- uals within it — she's not a performer. She doesn't turn her charis- ma off when she steps away from the spotlight. Her enthusiasm is ingrained within, said Michael Wade Smith, Bendapudi's chief of staff at Kansas who followed her to Uof L. "As everyone at Louisville is noticing now, she's captivating and energetic; she's authentic and real," he said. "This is a cool human being." "She is what you see," her husband, Venkat Bendapudi, said. "Ei- ther in the house, outside the house, just with me or just by herself." Smith has seen time and time again how Bendapudi's blend of liveliness and drive has benefited those she meets. Take Smith's own case for example: While he was teaching high school as part of Teach for America, he was introduced to Bendapudi at an alum- ni event. At the time, he was considering returning to school for an MBA, and Bendapudi had just been named dean of the School of Business at the University of Kansas. The two chatted, but Smith was pretty set on not returning to Kansas for graduate school. "She got my number that night, and she called me to recruit me about every six weeks for two years," he said. "Neeli made it impossible to make any other decision." Smith returned to Kansas for his MBA, and Bendapudi then hired him as chief marketing officer for the business school. When she became provost, he followed her to that office, even- tually becoming chief of staff. "When you meet Neeli, she im- mediately figures out what you care about, what's interesting about you and she elevates and amplifies it in an incredible way that gives people confidence, that makes them work harder, that makes them work smarter and stronger," he said. "She motivates people to just increase what they thought they were capable of. It's truly unlike anything I've ever seen." Bendapudi is at Uof L because she believes in the mission of higher education, Smith said. Perhaps she also is here because un- derneath her vivacity, Bendapudi has a serious competitive side. When she sees that change is possible, she is determined to make it happen. She plans to engage that competitiveness for the betterment of the university and its people. "The leader's job at every level is to look at the people reporting to you and say, 'Am I doing everything I can to make you be your best, and do your best and live up to your potential?'." she said. "But it's not just one-way. I also expect people to push me, to hold me to my word, to believe in me, to believe the best of me. If they think I'm doing something that's not right, I expect they would tell me." Bendapudi acknowledges the past issues that have plagued the university and does not shy away from tackling those issues head-on and being open in sharing her plans. "Talk is cheap," she said. "To me, what will matter is not what we say, but how we act. Do we really stand for transparency? Are we all truly doing our best to put the university first, what's right for the university? That to me is the key. "What could be more noble than really investing in the future of humanity? Because who we educate here, from Louisville, we give to the world." Bendapudi with students.

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