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Qubein ups ante

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By Leslie Williams

HIGH POINT, N.C.: — On his first day as president of High Point University, Nido Qubein announced a plan to raise $10 million in 60 days, a claim that raised more than a few eyebrows.

Not only did he meet his goal, but he raised $20 million in only 29 days.

Now, Qubein is putting that money to work, transforming the small school into a state-of-the-art academic institution.

The university was bringing in about $3 million before his arrival, he says, but has raised $60 million since he started in January of 2005, all without a formal fundraising campaign.

And two in three of those contributors are first-time donors to the university, says Qubein.

To date, the school has used the money raised to construct 11 new buildings and renovate 13 others.

Qubein’s vision is to create a school where every student “receives an extraordinary education in a fun environment with caring people,” he says.

To do that, he plans to raise and spend another $40 million, for a total of $100 million in 30 months, to create, among other things, new schools of business and communications, and to convert the campus to a wireless environment.

“The uniqueness here is I hit the ground running,” he says, attributing equal credit to his team at the university. “So, instantly, we made things happen.”

But before the board of directors at the school asked him in 2004 to become president, the job “wasn’t on his radar screen,” says Qubein.

The son of a Jordanian father and a Lebanese mother, Qubein came to America in 1966, a college-bound 17-year-old with $50 in his pocket.

Nido Qubein

Job: President, High Point University; chairman, Business Life, Great Harvest Bread Co., McNeill Lehman, Southern National Bank Corp.

Born: 1948, near Amman, Jordan

Family: Wife, Mariana; children, Ramsey, Deena, Cristina, Michael

Education: B.A., human relations, High Point College; M.B.A., University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Hobbies: reading, traveling, skiing

Currently reading: “Service America,” by Carl Albrecht and Ron Zemke; “Strategic Organizational Change,” by Michael Beitler; “Results Rule,” by Randy Pennington

Inspiration: “My mother probably played the single greatest role in my life.”

“As far as education, I say that but by the grace of God and the mercy of others I’ve made my life,” he says.But Qubein scorns the phrase “giving back,” because, he says, it denotes debt.“You don’t give because you owe,” he says. “You give because you have joy and gratitude in your heart.”

Qubein’s tuition bills were paid by an anonymous benefactor, whose identity is unknown to Qubein to this day.

The story of how he made his way through school, as an undergraduate at what was then High Point College, and as a graduate student at University of North Carolina at Greensboro nearby, fits with his career as a motivational speaker and university president.

Qubein started his first business in 1973 when he began producing leadership materials for schools and camps.

He worked 17-hour days, he says, selling his materials by mail to customers in 30 countries, and eventually added speaking engagements, scheduling about 200 a year by 1977.

He now operates an international consulting firm, Creative Services, that was born out of a demand for extended services like workshops, and serves as chairman of four national corporations.

“My days at work are very demanding,” he says of his regular schedule of 12-hour days. “There is no wasted second of them.”

And he is quick to dispel the notion that he spends most of that time raising money, claiming he spends 15 minutes of his day, at most, stumping for funds.

“Barely a week passes by now that somebody doesn’t call and say, ‘Hey, we want to be a part of what you’re doing,” he says.  “Investors want to see results. People can see buildings going up. They can see the renovations.”

He also points to the increase in enrollment at the university, where this year’s incoming freshman class is one-third larger than last year’s.

“Every graph we have is going in one direction — just up,” he says.

But while that kind of success takes hard work, Qubein says he still makes it home in time for dinner every night, choosing to create balance in his life, a priority he is trying to pass along to his students through an elective class he teaches called the President’s Seminar on Life Skills.

“I came here,” Qubein says, “with a heart full of hope and a soul destined to grow.”

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