After ten years at the College, Vice President for Finance and Administration Fred Puddester will retire this August, President Maud S. Mandel announced in an email to the College community on Jan. 29. The College will conduct a national search for his successor in the meantime.
Then-President Adam Falk hired Puddester in 2011 to be vice president for finance and administration, a new position at the time. Prior to his employment at the College, Puddester served as a senior associate dean for finance and administration at Johns Hopkins’ Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, of which Falk was dean from 2006 to 2010. Puddester worked in the state government of Maryland for 21 years before that, including a role as the state’s secretary of budget and management.
Puddester, who is originally from Boston, said in an interview with the Record that Falk’s offer to come to Williams appealed to him in part because of the College’s location. “I lived in Maryland for 31 years, but I grew up in New England,” he said. “My wife grew up in Vermont, so it was kind of like coming home to us.”
During his time at the College, Puddester has been involved with a wide range of projects, which have evolved and accumulated over time. “When I first came, all the finance-related operations, human resources, the Children’s Center, everything dealing with real estate, Spring Street operations, faculty housing, the mortgage program for faculty, and all of risk management were under my purview,” he said.
Facilities and the Office of Planning, Design and Construction were also eventually transferred to Puddester, who then oversaw the construction and renovation of Weston Field, the new North Science Building, the Center for Development Economics, Garfield House, and other projects. When Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass retired at the end of last year, Puddester also inherited the responsibility for Dining, Campus Safety, the mailroom, and summer conferences.
According to Mandel’s email, Puddester has also been a “crucial connection” between the College and the town community as the College’s liaison to the Town and its Select Board.
Across this range of responsibilities, Puddester said one of the initiatives he is most proud of is the creation of a “robust risk management program.”
“That includes everything from developing business continuity plans, to making sure insurance is correct, to having emergency preparedness,” he said.
These facets of preparation “were part of [the College’s] protocols and procedures as we prepared to accept students this fall during the pandemic,” Puddester said. “I think it’s borne fruit in our response to [COVID-19].”
When the pandemic hit, Puddester said he was ready to confront the College’s operational and logistical challenges head-on. “It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I mean, that probably sounds crazy.” But to Puddester, the fact that “no one’s ever done this before” created an opportunity for learning. “You always run into things that you’ve never done before — that’s how you learn,”he said.
“The fun and interesting thing about all that was we had a team of about 18 staff members who met every single morning at 8 a.m. for the better part of six months, and we addressed these issues as they came,” he continued. “That sense of camaraderie, problem-solving, and just working hard and never giving up was very rewarding.”
Puddester emphasized the quality of the people working alongside him, rather than attributing accomplishments to himself. “The key here is I really don’t do much,” he said. “I hire really good people, and I give them the authority and the responsibility to do their jobs… If there are obstacles in their way, my job is to get those obstacles out of their way, so they can continue to do their work.”
He insisted that his habit of declining compliments is not false modesty. “When I stack the team we have working here at Williams against any of those teams [at Johns Hopkins or in state government], they are just remarkable, and they make me look good,” he said. “It makes it hard for me to take all these compliments, because I know it’s really people complimenting them.”
Nevertheless, Mandel’s email contained complimentary sentiments from a number of people that had worked with Puddester over the years.
“Fred’s devotion to values-based and people-centered management, along with his careful stewardship, are among his greatest gifts to Williams,” Chair of the College’s Board of Trustees Liz Robinson ’90 wrote.
“Fred has been an invaluable partner and mentor in my time as provost,” Provost Dukes Love wrote.
Mandel herself said that she learned a great deal from working with Puddester, especially as she came to the College as a new president. “Having somebody in that role in particular who has the kind of experience and expertise was, for me, hugely helpful as I was learning the ways of Williams, knowing that so much of that side of the shop was in such strong hands,” she said to the Record.
Mandel, who will chair the search for Puddester’s replacement, said she hopes to have someone in place by the time Puddester steps down in August. “There will be a committee, although the details of who’s on that committee is still at the earliest stage,” she said.
Members of the College community, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni, will also be able to provide input on the search through an online portal. “Whatever sort of committee is constituted, we will provide opportunities for people who have an interest in sharing thoughts about the position to inform the process,” Mandel said.
As for what he plans to do in retirement, Puddester said, “The good news is I have seven months to think about it.” He added that he hopes to spend time with his four grandchildren, tend his vegetable and flower gardens, play more golf, and pick up skiing again. “I’m looking to simplify,” he said. “No more 8 a.m. meetings on COVID, and my life will be hopefully much more simple.”