UAA Alumni Association Board Member
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Fun Fact: His accomplished bird dog Mickey, a black Lab, often sits co-pilot on car trips
Alaskans may swagger a bit in the knowledge that our great state is vast, gorgeous and chock-full of possibility. But as much as we value our elbow room, we also like to stay connected—with each other and with the rest of the world. For the ease with which we’re able to do just that, we may owe a tip of the hat to Jeff Roe, a key player in Alaska’s telecommunication industry for the last 30 years.
Currently the vice president for business development with GCI, Jeff has held many titles throughout his career, from telecomm entrepreneur to chief operating officer. He’s also in the business of connecting alumni and community as a five-year board member for the UAA Alumni Association (UAAAA), where he’s also served as president.
“I joined it not so much because I enjoy being on a board, but because I felt I could help the university,” he says. A move back to the lower 48 in the ’90s gave him some perspective on the importance of university-community connections. He’s excited to help reveal more of UAA’s “well-kept secrets” to the greater community through his advocacy efforts with UAAAA. “There’s a lot here. And there’s a lot here this community needs to embrace and should embrace.”
So what brought Jeff to UAA as a student? With an undergraduate business degree from University of Michigan, he’d always planned to build on that solid foundation with a graduate degree. Business opportunities drew him to Alaska in the late ’70s. “I felt [an M.B.A.] was going to be important for my career,” he says and then with a laugh: “Frankly, UAA was the only place to go. Fortunately, it was a good program.” The program offered him the flexibility to continue in his career and take care of his family while still attending evening classes.
Jeff earned his M.B.A. in 1984 and recalls the sharp contrast between the ’70s technology of his undergraduate years and ’80s technology he encountered as a graduate student. The use of personal computers was changing the way students learned and interacted with the university. It was quite a leap from the days when he bought his first calculator. Some adults don’t remember as many details about their first car as Jeff, revealing himself as a true technophile, remembers about his first bit of advanced personal computing technology: “My first calculator cost $72. It was Texas Instruments, rechargeable, because it used a lot of power with LED lights instead of an LCD display. It would add and subtract, but no square roots.” Leap ahead 30 years and he’s immersed in the changing technology and business of telecommunications.
Three years after earning his M.B.A., Jeff founded Pacific Dataport Inc., a satellite common carrier communications company that provided service to remote Alaska customers. GCI later purchased the company, but a drive through downtown Anchorage serves as a reminder of this entrepreneurial venture. He says of his former company’s still-vital presence, “The small satellite dish you see up on top of the Frontier Building is the Anchorage hub.”
Jeff went on to work for Teleport Communications Group, GST Telecommunications, AT&T Alascom, Alaska DigiTel and GCI and says he enjoys the adrenaline rush of keeping pace with rapidly changing technology and business in telecommunications. “I like to be ahead of the curve, away from the crowd. I don’t mind the risks if they’re risks I think I understand.”
When he has time to relax, Jeff has faithful bird dog Mickey by his side who is always on board for a hunting trip. Like many Alaskans, he’s found a great way to enjoy the long winter—taking to the snow as both a cross-country and downhill skier. He’s also a frequent traveler and visitor to the Seattle area where his two daughters both live, and he enjoys being able to spend time with his three grandsons.
In the last year, UAA has been working hard to improve the way in which it engages alumni and as both a UAAAA board member and alum, Jeff is pleased with the forward progress. A College of Fellows member since he returned to Alaska in 2002, he believes in and supports the great programs and students at UAA.
“My hope is that we who have put ourselves in voluntary positions with the alumni association can successfully bring the community a lot closer to the school,” he says. UAAAA has been working closely with the Chancellor’s Task Force on Alumni Relations to do just that and Jeff is hoping to inspire a new generation of alumni leaders. Anchorage is rightfully UAA-town, he says. “If you’re not talking to a student, you’re talking to the parent of a student.”
Jeff believes UAAAA has been a catalyst for change in the way UAA values alumni. “If we can successfully implement the changes the task force has proposed, then I will look back with extreme pride,” he says. “I view this as a very positive thing.”