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October 23, 2014


During the earlier years of his career, Jerry Cochran made his mark through his work to advance our Schools of the Health Sciences — meeting a wide range of challenges in a succession of increasingly important positions. In fact, when he and I first met in 1986, he was the interim dean of the School of Pharmacy and I was the interim dean of the School of Law. Because our now-widely-admired School of Pharmacy had been targeted for closing in what proved to be a misguided planning process, the path traveled by Jerry was more perilous than mine.

Not long after that, he initiated a career change, enrolling in our School of Law. There, he became my student and, not surprisingly, a very good one. After earning that degree, he began building a practice with one of the region’s largest and most respected law firms, now known as Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney.

However, in the summer of 1995, when I was elected interim chancellor, Jerry reached out to let me know that he would like to return to Pitt. He made clear that he was prepared to make that move even though my own interim appointment was time-limited. He also offered a simple, but telling, pledge: that if I found a place for him on my senior team, I would never regret that decision. Has he ever lived up to that promise!

Over the course of our 19-year partnership, Jerry dramatically changed and enhanced the business culture of the University. Once viewed as a “soft touch” in the broader business community, we now are respected as a formidable force by outside vendors, who are expected to deliver high quality at a reasonable cost.

Even more important, day after day, the employees in the many units reporting to Jerry work hard to advance our shared mission and have made Pitt a better place, while also adding to the quality of our lives. They have made our campuses more beautiful, our buildings more functional, and our streets and sidewalks more safe. They have provided the “essentials of life” —  housing and food — to our students. They have found ways, in an increasingly difficult environment, to maintain an attractive employee benefits program, and they have dealt effectively with an ever-growing array of complex regulations.

One illustration, though it deals with just a single dimension of his far more expansive work, provides a clear sense of Jerry’s impact as our chief business officer. Over the course of an 18-year period beginning in the summer of 1995, Pitt invested more than $1 billion to add 3.6 million gross square feet of new space. Our Facilities Management division not only has managed those projects and many others but has maintained this vastly expanded physical plant with a staff that is just about the same size as the facilities group that existed in 1995.

Leading a part of the University that includes units devoted to business, environmental health and safety, facilities, food services, housing, human resources, parking and transportation, public safety and retail was not the only portfolio assumed by Jerry. Instead, he also served as our general counsel for nine years. I appointed him to that position largely at the urging of the principal consumers of legal services within the University. These “internal clients” had been impressed with his leadership of that office during an earlier, interim assignment. Employing his unique set of talents, displaying extraordinary stamina and working with the outstanding team of “direct reports” that he assembled, Jerry built a truly enviable record of accomplishment from both positions, as our chief business officer and our chief legal officer.

A number of years ago, the chair of our board’s budget committee asked our chief financial officer to explain the dramatic and disciplined turnaround in Pitt’s financial condition. Without hesitating, he said, “That’s easy. We have a chancellor and provost who do not mind saying, ‘No,’ and we have an executive vice chancellor who actually enjoys it.”

A strong, savvy and fearless advocate, Jerry was dubbed “the University’s rottweiler” by our late board chair J Connolly. In many ways, Jerry earned that title, which was bestowed with respect by a leader who knew something about “fighting the good fight” himself. Standing alone, however, that label fails to convey a complete picture. It must also be emphasized that Jerry always put the University of Pittsburgh first, took great pride in the impact generated through our teaching and research, and was the ultimate team player.

Given its mission, any university is measured principally by the strength of its academic programs. However, particularly in a time of dwindling resources, no university can hope to achieve its full academic potential unless its business units also are functioning at the highest level.

Jerry Cochran made that aspiration a reality at the University of Pittsburgh. His many distinctive contributions have helped fuel our record of remarkable progress, and those who study or work at Pitt, as well as those who depend upon or care about the University, will benefit from his efforts for many, many years to come.

Mark A. Nordenberg

Chancellor Emeritus


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