Building Legacies: Who is Chuck Lillis?
The Emerald is continuing its weekly series on names of buildings this week with Lillis Hall. Last week, we looked into the history of Gerlinger Hall’s namesake, Irene Gerlinger. That story is available here.
Lillis Hall has is one of most recognizable buildings on University of Oregon’s campus. Photos of Lillis are often found in UO’s promotional material, and has even been featured as the backdrop of ESPN’s College Gameday program. The building opened in 2003 after an extensive rebuild and refurbishing of the business complex, and received a silver LEED certification.
Lillis Hall was dedicated to Chuck and Gwen Lillis for their $14 million contribution to the construction of the business school. The Emerald spoke on the phone with Dr. Chuck Lillis, the chairman of the UO Board of Trustees, a 1972 UO graduate and an accomplished businessman. He and his wife are proud to have their family name on the building.
“The building that was there before was really terrible, so it was easy to do much better than what was there before,” Lillis said. “I think the building has withstood its 10 or 12 years of life very well.”
Lillis recalled a special moment of pride when his grandchildren first saw the building:
“We had all of our grandchildren up here recently, all eight of them, and we were touring the campus and one of our granddaughters who is 13 was standing at the Lillis Building and she looked at it and said, ‘Papa, my name is on that building!’”
Not only is Dr. Lillis linked financially to the UO business school, but academically as well. He received his doctorate in 1972 from the UO’s Lundquist College of Business, and co-founded the Financial and Securities Analysis Center within the college. Lillis received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington.
Lillis attributes much of his success to his education, particularly to his graduate school training.
“I learned a powerful, theoretical basis that I could use to understand almost every type of business,” Lillis said. “And it’s hard to do that when you just grow up in one kind of business because you don’t see across these issues.”
Lillis continued, “If you think about it this way, 50 years ago, you got a degree in biology in four years, and we still think you can get a degree in biology or business in four years, but think how much bigger the base of knowledge is in those fields. So it’s to your benefit to amass a lot of knowledge while you’re going to school, and in my case, that argued for graduate school.”
Coming out of graduate school, Lillis got his start in the world of business by working for Dupont and General Electric. At GE, Lillis became director of corporate marketing and research. He gained experience in a variety of industries, including “everything from plastics and financial services and nuclear power and household appliances,” Lillis said. “I worked on every business they had, and of course there aren’t many places you can do that.”
Being able to experience this diverse assortment of jobs at GE was another key stepping stone for him because he was able to recognize the throughlines that made a successful enterprise, regardless of the product.
Lillis took his wealth of knowledge to US West, an early telecommunications company, to become its vice president of marketing in 1985. Two years later he became executive vice president and chief planning officer.
In 1995, he left US West to co-found MediaOne, a successor to US West which sought to convert cable television networks into two-way, high speed data networks. Lillis said it was fascinating for him to work in the worldwide telecommunications industry, but credits a lot of his company’s success to the deregulation of the industry at the time.
Lillis’ advice for business students is to always communicate clearly both orally and in writing, and to work well in a team environment.
“Most of what goes on in business now is a team effort and a lot of people for whatever reason just don’t get comfortable in that environment,” Lillis said. “I think getting as much experiential learning while you’re here is very valuable, and [UO] has certainly been doing that for a number of years and is continuing to do that.”
Now the chairman of the Board of Trustees for UO, Lillis is overjoyed with the direction of the university.
“In the many years I have been associated with the UO, I think things are going as well or better than ever.” Lillis said. “I think that the president is doing a great job. The enormous recent gift by Phil and Penny Knight is a phenomenal transitional gift. The entire support for the university in terms of donors is terrific. I think this is kind of golden time for the UO.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Lillis as Thomas, not Chuck. The error has been corrected.
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