It seems like an ideal fit. Small-town politician. Big-time retailing experience. A Berkeley alumnus. A man with an appetite for challenge.
Frank Brandes took over as executive director of the financially troubled, organizationally frayed Associated Students of the University of California last spring.
Already the former mayor of Pleasanton and a long-time manager for Sears Roebuck appears in his element.
Walking through the profitable "Golden Bear Wear" section of the ASUC store, Brandes gathers up a few misplaced sweatshirts as he talks.
He doesn't say anything, but it's clear he doesn't want the scattered merchandise captured by the visiting photographer.
As the executive director of the ASUC, Brandes is not a UC employee.
He runs the $20 million-a-year commercial business independently operated by the ASUC--including retail shops, text book sales, and the management of the Martin Luther Kink Jr. Student Union building, the Golden Bear food concessions, and a mountain lodge at Norden.
He also oversees the administrative and accounting activities of the student government, which encompasses more than 100 authorized student groups funded by student fees.
When he came on, the commercial operation was nearly bankrupt and the ASUC's independence from the University was under review. (See accompanying story at left).
"I did a lot of evaluating before I took this job.
"I talked with a lot of people," he says, acknowledging that he walked into an organization in need of help.
That's what appealed to him. "This is the biggest challenge in my business and political career combined," he says. Brandes served on the Pleasanton City Council during its growth years of the late '70s and '80s.
He is a man who actively enjoys politics and doesn't shy away from controversy.
Brandes remains a member of the Alameda County Fair Board of Directors.
He makes it clear, however, that his role with student government is strictly non-partisan. "The job of myself and my staff is to counsel and advise.
"We avoid internal politics," he says.
His role in turning around the commercial operation, however, is hands-on all the way.
And although Brandes says he is learning to adjust to the difference between the University culture and the corporate style he's used to, his out-front approach left some employees and others feeling a bit uneasy.
"The ASUC's problems didn't occur overnight, and I have to curb my anxiety to solve them overnight," he says, but he quickly adds that he expects visible progress each month.
The operation should be profitable by the end of the fiscal year, says Brandes.
Right off the bat, he says, it was clear ASUC operations needed better relationships with their customers.
"We need to emphasize that these are student-owned and student-operated," and when they make a profit, that profits students, says Brandes.
Renamed "The Bear Student Store" with a snazzy new logo, the retail operation has already expanded its convenience store, adding health and beauty items to the snack-food offerings.
"Our prices are extremely competitive," adds Brandes.
In an effort to sell more textbooks, Brandes opened Heller Lounge to book sales during Welcome Week and the first two weeks of school, is expanding the "Golden Bear Wear" product line, and Compaq computers are now being sold.
"The ASUC's reputation should match that of Cal's faculty, staff, and students.
"It should be the best possible," says Brandes, who graduated from Berkeley in 1967 with an undergraduate degree in business.