What I’ve Learned: Chancellor Dan Klaich ’72
The University of Nevada, Reno has played so many roles in my life that it is difficult to overstate the impact. I am a product of this University. I met my wife, Denise, here and three of my four children also graduated from here. Reno is my home town and I appreciate how important the University is to the quality of life that we all enjoy. A significant part of my hopes and dreams for this community is tied up in the University and, in a broader sense, all of the institutions of higher education in our state.
In terms of what I’ve learned, I don’t think there is any substitute for hard work. I work very hard and I expect people around me to do the same. I don’t take myself very seriously, but I take my job very, very seriously. I like to enjoy myself and enjoy life. I laugh a lot. I prefer to be kind to people, and I think people return that kindness. There is no excuse for bad manners or harshness. I think people tend, from time to time, to mistake a good and decent person for a weak person. I believe that a strong leader can and should still be a decent and polite person.
I don’t believe that any of us can be truly successful in any kind of professional endeavor unless we are successful and happy in our personal and private lives. For that reason, there is nothing more important to me than my family and, foremost, my wife. It sets a tone for loyalty, respect and love that carries over into everything a person does. People know that and see that in you, and deal with you accordingly.
The concept of returning something of what you have received from the University is misunderstood. Most of us aren’t millionaires and can’t make those large naming gifts for buildings, but we can all make a difference. We can mentor a high school student and tell that young man or woman why it is important to get an education. We can volunteer at an alumni event and we can pay our dues. It goes back to the basic notion that we all can give according to what we have and we all have something to give.
When I look at the students at the University today, I see unbelievably bright, gifted, and articulate men and women. This last year, I also saw engaged men and women as the students got angry about the budget. It was actually a throwback to my years at Nevada in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when we got fired up about everything, regardless of whether it was important or not. My advice, particularly to young men and women, is to get engaged and stay engaged. We all can either make our futures or let our futures happen to us. We can chart our course or just float down the river. I choose, with hard work and luck, to try to chart my course. That means being involved and not taking anything for granted and I think everyone needs to do that.
Beyond that, I think many of us got the best advice to pass along from our parents. They instilled common values of respect, honesty and hard work. If we truly treat people the way we would like for them to treat us, generally good things happen. It’s trite but true, and it works.
Right now, I‘ve got the greatest job in the world. I have the ability to influence policy on higher education which is what I believe is the key to the future of our state. This couldn’t be a more incredible opportunity. A lot of people ask me why I would want to be chancellor now considering the issues, the budget and the economy. Why not? If education was ever critical to our state, now is the time. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation economic downturn that exposed the weaknesses in our economy because we have not diversified it to the extent that we should and could. How are we going to do that? Education—from kindergarten through post-doctorate. We are not going to wish or luck ourselves into a better future. We are going to educate ourselves and our children into a brighter and a more diversified economy. That takes all of us committing to that effort to make it happen. As Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I consider it the best of times.
Reno born and raised
I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital and was raised in the house where my mother still lives. I have lived in Reno my entire life except for a couple of stints out-of-state at professional schools. I graduated from Reno High School in 1968; the University of Nevada, Reno in 1972 with a degree in accounting; received my juris doctorate in 1975 from the University of Washington; and a master’s in taxation from New York University in 1978.
My first full-time job was as an attorney at Reno’s Woodburn law firm (now Woodburn and Wedge), which had a broad practice. My first two bosses were Dick Blakey and Procter Hug, Jr. ’53 (business administration). They were probably two of the most influential people in my life—at least in my legal and ethical life—along with my dad, Dr. Nick Klaich, a veterinarian who founded the Klaich Animal Hospital.
Dick Blakey was probably one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. He encouraged me to go to graduate school to study taxation, which turned out to be a significant career choice. Mr. Blakey was also one of the best lawyers I’ve ever known. He had a combination of common sense, wisdom and attention to detail that I think are so important.
Procter Hug is quite simply one of the most remarkable human beings that Nevada has ever produced. His record of public service to the state is virtually unparalleled. There are many generations of Hugs who have gone to the University here and contributed to the community. In addition to his deep love and respect for public service, I learned the importance of compassion from Judge Hug. Judge Hug was also a mentor—something he did his entire life. He enjoyed taking us young, impressionable people and sharing with us in a way that made us better. The world is full of really smart and bright people, but the world is not full of people who take the time to share their gifts so that they live beyond them. Judge Hug always had the time to share. Many leaders throughout this community and state have been touched by him in that way.
I next moved to the firm of Walther, Key, Maupin, Oats, Cox, Lee & Klaich, primarily a business and tax firm. It was there that I became lifelong friends with Keith Lee ’65 (physics), another former student body president as was his father, as was Procter Hug and his father.
Keith was a trusted and close adviser to one of the most successful Nevada politicians of my generation, Richard Bryan ’59 (prelegal). I was working in a voluntary capacity for the University, helping with the formation of the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation in the early ’80s. A vacancy occurred on the Board of Regents and Keith introduced me to then Governor Bryan. The governor appointed me to the Board of Regents on April Fool’s Day, 1983.
I served on the Board of Regents for 14 years. At that point, my association with the system became cemented. I’d been off the Board of Regents for five to six years. I was ready to make a change when Jim Rogers was looking for a chief counsel for the system. A former colleague and good friend, Jill Derby, was still on the Board of Regents. She thought I might be a good fit for the job and encouraged me to apply. I met Jim Rogers the day he hired me. We hit it off immediately. While working for him, he continued to give me more responsibilities. Ultimately, looking back, he was grooming me, hoping that I would someday take this job.
Luck doesn’t happen without a lot of other things going on. I do believe that many things in life happen for reasons that can’t be immediately discerned, but mostly because you work hard enough to put yourself in a position to be where you are at the right place at right time.
From a conversation with Chancellor Dan Klaich in July 2009 with director of foundation operations Crystal Parrish. Klaich, a 1972 accounting graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, is the 10th chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Klaich served in private legal practice for almost 30 years prior to joining NSHE. He served on the Board of Regents from 1983 to 1997, including two terms as board chair. He joined the Chancellor’s Office in October 2004, serving as NSHE’s executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer until his appointment as chancellor in July 2009. He received his juris doctorate in 1975 from the University of Washington and a master’s in taxation from New York University in 1978. His wife, Denise, graduated from Nevada in 1973 with a degree in elementary education. They have four children—Kelly Klaich Roper ’98 (history) ‘05M.Ed., Mitch Klaich ’02 (marketing), Michon Klaich Colovich ’03 (journalism), and Erin Klaich Kitchen (graduated from University of Texas and Harvard Law School).
On working with Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers has a reputation as being this tough, harsh, over-the-top individual and it’s all true. But, he has a heart of gold and his heart is in education. Whenever he and I disagreed, which we did a lot, it never occurred to me that his motivation was other than for what’s best for education and ultimately what’s best for Nevada. He loves this state with every fiber of his being.
Ultimately, Rogers was the best partner I could have worked with because he delegated a lot. When he delegated responsibility, he delegated authority. Once he delegated something, he supported me. You can’t ask for more than that. When you look back at five years of Jim Rogers, you’ll find many opinions about him as you talk to people and those opinions will not be bland. One thing I don’t think people will disagree about is that Rogers put higher education on the table of discussion in Nevada. He made us a player, and through his efforts bought a seat at the table of policy discussion. That’s something of which I intend to take full advantage.
That is why this is a great job. I get to meet wonderful and interesting people. I get to be around really smart young people who keep me young, keep me thinking, and remind me that they are going to be better than I am and thank goodness for that.
Occasionally the student newspaper, The Sagebrush, calls me to ask about the wild and crazy times when we were college kids. I guess it’s because of the times we went to college. Of course we all did the crazy things, but we all graduated in four years. We married our college sweethearts and we’re still married 36 years later. Our kids are here in the state. We’ve established businesses in the state. We’re all contributing to the state. We are invested in this community because it’s ours. It’s ours if it’s in Las Vegas or Elko or Tonopah or Reno or Sparks. I think ultimately that’s why we’ll get by all of our differences and all of our issues because this is who we are—Nevadans. It doesn’t make a difference whether you wear red or blue.