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One-on-One with Craig White

Craig White, Dean of the UNM Anderson School of Management. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Chicken-fried steak.

It’s the stuff of dreams for Anderson School of Management Dean Craig White, but he’s had to mostly give it up for health reasons.

White was not quite 48 when he had a heart attack in his University of New Mexico office two years ago after the classic symptoms of dizziness, chest pressure and an indigestion-like feeling.

Within 20 minutes, White was across the street at University of New Mexico Hospital getting stents put in his heart.

Genetics might have played a role, but he suspects it also was the diet he favored while living in Texas.

“It’s not a very healthy place,” said White, who got his accounting degrees at two Texas universities and worked in the tax department of the Fort Worth office of Price Waterhouse. “… we’d go out every day and get barbecue. It was great. And Tex-Mex and just all this super-heavy stuff. And I like chicken-fried steak with lots of gravy.”

Those days are over, although he still indulges now and then. But White has stepped up his exercise routine, which involves regular visits to the gym and sessions with a personal trainer.

And he’s gained some perspective on things.

“Just getting older… you’re not immortal,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re appreciating things immediately. You never know what could happen.”

Tell me what you were like growing up.

I was a pretty good kid. I did well in school. But I wasn’t “Mr. Athlete” or anything. I enjoyed history and civics and government classes. My government teacher asked me to go out on a date with her daughter. I think she liked me because I was the only one who liked her class.

So you’re an accountant. Were you always good at numbers?

No. Not really. I like math OK, but it’s funny, accounting, really at its root, is numbers, but it isn’t high-level math like calculus. I got into calculus in high school and I thought it was too advanced at first and I was going to leave the class, and when I told the teacher, she asked, “What are you going to do, go hang out with the thugs?” So I stayed in the class and ended up getting a B. So, it didn’t come like super-naturally to me, the numbers. But what … accounting really is, is more business judgment, understanding transactions, which I really like. I like the economics of things and the kind of underlying value proposition … you know, why is this a good deal for this other person? Why is this a good deal for us? What’s the exchange that’s going on? If you understand that, that’s what you need to understand accounting.

What parts of your personality do you think make you drawn to your work?

I like ambiguity, which is good in academics. You have to be able to deal with stuff where there is not some set answer. You have to be able to work with other people to come to some consensus and collaboration.

Are you talking about students or faculty?

Faculty. That’s one of the things that is a great challenge, but it’s very rewarding as well, because you’re dealing with a lot of really smart people who are tenured faculty members. So the trick of administration isn’t like, “We’re going to do this.” It’s more like, “How are we going to work through this together? What do we want to be doing?”

Tell me some of the things that are important to you.

Well, I think that my job, school, educating people, working on the faculty, are all things that are very important. Being involved in the community and church are also very important to me.

What was your first job?

I worked at KB Toys in the mall in Lubbock.

What do you do in your free time?

There’s not a ton of free time. Exercise, go to the gym, spend time with my family. When we get the chance, we do fun things. … If I have a couple days off, we have this place up in Colorado, a condo in Summit County, which is beautiful. I love going up there, going river rafting, hiking.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I guess that one of the things that mean the most to me are when former students come back and say to me, “You made a big impact on me.” That always makes me feel wonderful. It’s great to see former students doing well.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I enjoy watching “The Bachelor” with my daughter.

Do you have any personality quirks or superstitions?

People think of accountants as very detail-oriented, and I’m totally not very detailed. I get the work done that I need to do, but like a quirk, I need to see something of how this is of value: Where strategically is this going. What’s the bigger picture?

Do you have pet peeves?

Yeah, I do. People being late to things.

What makes you really happy?

Traveling with my family. Being away from things on a beautiful day.

What’s the most awesome place you’ve traveled to?

I love going to San Diego, that’s one of my favorite places. I love going to China, going to Xiamen University in China. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful place. The campus is right next to the ocean. That’s the first place I taught in China.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’m happy to be at UNM. I’m happy to be at Anderson, to work with my colleagues here.