Getting to know Yale leaders—Lauren Zucker

Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, joined Yale in 2011 after a career in corporate real estate finance. When asked what her favorite New Haven restaurant is, she declined to answer stating, “Given my role, that is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.” Lauren encourages everyone to try a new eating establishment during Restaurant Week, which begins on April 7. And she did sneak in that there are many new restaurants opening downtown, including Sherkaan Indian Street Food and South Bay.

What was the last book you read or are reading now?
I recently finished “Educated,” a memoir by Tara Westover. I typically read fiction, but this caught my eye. It is the story of a young woman growing up in Idaho who is raised by survivalist parents who don’t believe in any kind of formal education. A spoiler alert:  She teaches herself how to prepare for the ACT and gets admitted to Brigham Young University, eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge. It is a great story about personal struggle, family relationships and overcoming obstacles.

Right now I’m reading a first novel by Nigerian author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ entitled “Stay with Me.” It is set in Nigeria in the 1980s. I don’t always read about personal family conflicts, but again, this book explores these conflicts and deals with issues like sickle cell disease. It’s pure fiction, but it’s a fascinating story set in an interesting time period in Nigeria. I read every night before I go to sleep.  

What do you think is the best advice a manager can receive?
Give constructive feedback. If you really want to invest in people’s careers and help them grow, giving constructive feedback is critical. And it shouldn’t just be done once a year; it should be timely so people can learn from it. The inverse of this is to openly accept feedback, to always be open to constant improvement by learning and listening.

What music are you currently listening to?
Well, I have three children and two of them have recently decided to teach themselves to play guitar. So, I’m listening to whatever they’re playing. Thankfully, they’re pretty quick studies and they’ve improved enough that it is less painful than at the beginning. Plus, they like playing classic rock, which I enjoy. So, it’s actually been quite lovely.

When faced with a challenge on the job, what do you do first?

Pause, take a deep breath and typically seek input. Soliciting different perspectives is usually helpful in coming up with an answer that is hopefully a reasonable response to the situation at hand. Challenges are part of my job description and I have learned to embrace them because they can elicit fresh ideas and innovation.

What would be your ultimate vacation destination?
I have been very fortunate to have traveled extensively, particularly when I lived in Asia for work. Before coming back to the States in 2010, my family and I spent a month in India, which was incredible traveling throughout the country. I just love the culture. I love the food. I loved the beauty. After India, we went to New Zealand for a month. New Zealand is the kind of place where you are driving along and you look out the window and say, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’ And then you turn the corner and you say, “Oh this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.’

Do you think your leadership skills are innate or learned?
In my case, it was definitely something I’ve learned. I have had fantastic mentors throughout my career. I worked in finance for many years and for a long time I was the only female in my department. I succeeded by finding great male mentors who invested in my career and my success and most importantly, led by example. They were hard working, driven, and always available to provide me feedback, guidance, and stretch assignments. When my group expanded, it was important to me to serve as a positive role model and mentor particularly for the younger women in my department. By the time I left, we had many women working in the group.  

What is a favorite childhood memory?
When I was in elementary school, I played little league baseball. I do not recall being very good, or what our team’s record was, but I do remember our sponsor.  It was a local pizzeria. So win or lose, after every game we went to the restaurant for some slices.  No wonder I love New Haven. My affinity for pizza started at a young age!

What advice would you give to someone who is new to Yale?
I think the best thing you can do is try to meet as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out beyond your department. When I first joined Yale, I called up a variety of people to ask if I could meet with them to understand their roles in the university. Everyone was very generous with their time and I gained a greater appreciation of the university as a whole. And don’t forget to explore New Haven. It is a treasure and we are lucky to be able to call it our hometown.

What are you grateful for?
My amazing family. I have a husband who has always been supportive of my career.  My three children are all in high school—9th, 11th and 12th grades—so I am treasuring this last year when we are all still home together. Also, my team here at Yale. We are a relatively small staff with a complicated and robust workload. They work crazy hours and they all embrace an ownership mentality.