Cover Story

Winning Combination

(story continued)

When he left SEQUUS he turned another page in his professional life, taking his first official break from the workforce in 36 years. These days Arvanitidis and his wife, Athena, spend summers in Greece and enjoy skiing in California’s Sierra Mountains in the winter. He still does some consultation work, which might mean providing direction to a startup company looking to develop new business strategies or a young person inquiring about grad school or a career.

“There’s a stage in life when you have an opportunity to explore, a window that is open that will soon close,” he says. “You shouldn’t have any bounds. I’m a firm believer that to succeed today, you should like what you are doing.”

He also believes in the importance of giving back. In 2006 he endowed a scholarship in the College of Science and Engineering for electrical and computer engineering students. The scholarship is named in memory of Frank Wood, S.J., a longtime professor in the college who was a mentor to Arvanitidis.

“The heart and soul of electrical engineering was Father Frank Wood,” he says. “I felt that with what Fr. Wood did for my life and the lives of others, it would be nice to have an endowment in his name that will be around for a long time.”

It was Fr. Wood who encouraged Arvanitidis to go to graduate school, a concept that was not on his radar in his early academic life.

“My exposure to grad schools was limited,” he says. “I didn’t have any notion of going. But Fr. Wood took me under his wing. He was the guy who really gave me the perspective and understanding of graduate school.”

Being named Alumnus of the Year is a great honor, Arvanitidis says. “I am very grateful for what SU did for me,” he says. “Not just going to school here, but the mentoring that was provided. This is very humbling.”


Professional Achievement

Rufus Yerxa, ’76 JD

Rufus Yerxa’s law school education has led him in unexpected but exciting directions, from U.S. ambassador to a high-ranking post with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland. But Yerxa has never forgotten his legal roots, sowed by law professors whose impact has stayed with him for more than 30 years.

There’s Tom Holdych—now professor emeritus—who shared what Yerxa calls his “powerful intellect” on contracts and constitutional law. John Weaver, “who managed somehow to pound the rule against perpetuities so far into my brain that I still dream about it.” And then there’s Professor Sheldon Frankel, whose lessons on taxes proved especially relevant in Yerxa’s future professional pursuits. “He dazzled me with his knowledge … and I didn’t realize at the time how his knowledge of the U.S. tax system would stand me in good stead when I went to work for the House Ways and Means Committee.”

“The early generation of professors at the law school were a remarkable group of men and women who taught me a great deal about how to think like a lawyer,” he says, “and how to get to the real core of a problem and how to create a rational intellectual framework for solving legal issues.”

How does a law grad from Seattle end up working for the WTO, a position he’s had at the organization’s Geneva headquarters since 2002?

Years before, Yerxa worked as a trade negotiator and government trade specialist. While serving as a U.S. negotiator for the Uruguay Round WTO agreement, he received an unexpected call.

“I was actually working in the private sector in Washington, D.C., when a call came in from the new director general of the WTO offering me the deputy position,” Yerxa says. “After intensive family discussions, we collectively decided to accept.”

As one of four deputy director generals with the WTO, which deals with rules regarding trade issues among nations, Yerxa holds the second-ranking position in the organization. It’s a multidimensional role: he serves as a key policy adviser to the director general, assists governments in various negotiations and oversees the 800-person WTO Secretariat’s daily operations. Since joining the WTO he’s had a hand in other areas surrounding legal affairs, dispute settlement, trade remedies and tariff negotiations. Currently, Yerxa says his focus is industrial tariff negotiations and intellectual property matters. But it doesn’t end there. Yerxa supervises nearly half the Secretariat’s staff and he chairs the Secretariat’s Appointments and Promotion Board, among other roles. The WTO notwithstanding, Yerxa’s resume is impressive. He’s been a senior trade official in both Republican and Democratic administrations, holding posts including as ambassador, permanent representative to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and deputy trade representative in Washington, D.C.

When asked what he is most proud of, in a career full of professional touchstones, Yerxa points to his family.

“The two things in my life that give me the most satisfaction and joy are my successful marriage to a wonderful woman and my two fantastic children,” he says. “But on a professional side, I would say it is my many years of working to strengthen and enhance a truly multilateral, rules-based trading system, one which has the aspiration of treating all nations fairly based on the core principle of nondiscrimination. I know there are many critics of the WTO, but they perhaps don’t realize that its strongest advocates are small and vulnerable countries that would otherwise face a far more mercantilist world.”

A holistic approach to legal education well prepared Yerxa for his ability to change professions.

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Great job Professor Stephenson. To this day, I remember the business plan that we had to put together. It was for a young couple thinking about starting a business to manufacture wood play structures - kind of like Rainbow Play structures. Even at that time, I felt it was such a win/win project - we got to learn a lot about consulting and building a business plan and they got free business advice. Who knows if they found the advice valuable but I found the experience very valuable!
(4/16/2009 8:59:03 AM, Bonnie Ferguson Nichols )

Please extend my congratulations to Nick Arvanitidis. He was a good friend of my brother Joe Bossi who died three years ago. They were SU classmates and stayed friends after graduation. Like Nick Joe earned his PhD in engineering at Stanford. I don't know how often they saw one another but Joe would tell me about Nick whenever they had been in contact. Reading of Nick reminds me of those days of friendship when we were all working our way through SU and wondering where our futures would take us. His took him in some very successful directions and it is appropriate SU honor him in this way. Congratulations!
(4/4/2009 12:32:08 PM, Fr. Steve Bossi, CSP )


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