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John Mack, Assistant Vice Chancellor of ITS Infrastructure & Operations, is leaving UNC-Chapel Hill on June 1 for new opportunities at Cornell University. Cornell recruited both him and his wife, Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian. We asked John Mack to share reflections from his four years at ITS.

John Mack
John Mack

What will you be doing at Cornell?

I’ll participate as a member of a special adviser administrative team, outside of central IT, taking an expansive view of the use of technology at Cornell’s campuses and to help establish strategic visions in areas where digital transformation is warranted. It is likely that I will be asked to take on other duties as assigned.

You have been in IT operations for most of your career. What concerns do you have with this change in your leadership journey? 

I don’t have any concerns. I will lean in, confront the reality and adjust appropriately.

The weather in New York is colder than in North Carolina. What is your secret to adapting to different temperatures?

My secret is to lean into it, confront the reality and adjust for comfort.

What would you say was your most significant accomplishment at UNC-Chapel Hill?

The question reminds me of Gordon MacKenzie’s book “Orbiting the Giant Hairball.” Despite the socio-political and sometimes unsettling environment that I was hired into, I am fortunate to have seen ITS change under new leadership, which enabled us to accomplish a lot. Most notably:

  • Infrastructure & Operations led the campus disaster recovery/business continuity planning with the creation of a consolidated list of service recovery plans for 36 critical services.
  • The establishment of the cloud operations team led to augmented support and consultation with the research community, and contributions to several high visibility projects.
  • Our campaign on continuous service improvements and reduction of technical debt led to several successful PeopleSoft infrastructure process changes and Oracle performance improvements.

The fact is we did not rest on the laurels of past achievements. As Gordon MacKenzie would see it, we rose above the level of talking and dreaming to deliver value.

What defines your legacy?

I was hired to deliver value, not to establish a legacy. If the spirit of continuous service improvement prevails, then anything that I personally implemented should be overwritten in the short or long term. What made sense a year or two ago may not necessarily be appropriate tomorrow.

What will you miss the most at UNC-Chapel Hill?

Many of the social dinners, performing arts and sporting events on campus gave me and my family a sense of community, and interacting with other Carolinians outside of the office was spiritually uplifting. I will miss those positive interactions.

What was a funny moment for you at ITS?

When I lost the chili cook-off. My chili is the best.

Is there anyone at UNC-Chapel Hill who you would like to thank?

It is a long list, but I hope it is sufficient to say that I learned from everyone in ITS who I interacted with during my short four years. I am especially proud to have witnessed creative thinking, deep technical acumen and passion for customer support.

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