prez2prof-logo2.jpgLong before I went to visit the former president of Mozambique, Joachim Chissano, I talked to a few people about how to prepare for the next phase of my life. My wife was one of those advisers, of course. Eventually, I talked to my children about it, but they seemed to have problems understanding why I could not continue in my current life. My grandson asked, “Grandpa, why don’t you want to be president any more?” My daughter and granddaughter expressed some sadness about leaving the president’s house, and that same probing grandson wanted to know what was going to happen to Miss Ervine, the housekeeper at the president’s house on campus.

Okay, I was not getting far with them. When you are making a change in your life, you soon realize that you are also making a change in other people’s lives – and most of your close acquaintances would rather see you not screw around with a great thing by changing it! I ended conversations with all family members except my wife. I simply told the others, “Plan on coming and getting all of this stuff out of the house that your mother and I have been carrying around for the last 20 years!” My son, the packrat, realized I was serious, and showed up to collect his belongings shortly after I moved into a nearby condo. Little by little I realized that in order to move forward, I had to define this transition, at least temporarily, as being about “me.”

Then it dawned on me: I am going from being an executive to being a non-executive. Others have done the same. I thought how great it would be to meet and discuss a variety of issues with others who had transitioned to another kind of life when their executive roles ended. I had been observing Bill Clinton with considerable awe and admiration at how he had moved on from the greatest executive position of all. I admired his international role in health, poverty, conflict, and world affairs with the cooperation of seemingly incompatible forces. He had inspired those who have money to give and share and make future commitments. What about all the other former heads of state around the world?

In 2008 we were in the middle of a national presidential election and several topics were being hotly debated: war, crime, health care, and immigration. Heads of states of other countries try to stay out of their neighbors’ politics, but that is not necessarily true of former heads of state. The thought of former executives like myself led to an “aha!” phenomenon. What about Vicente Fox, the very articulate former president of Mexico? Surely he would have some ideas about what was going on in the U.S., particularly with regard to immigration. I decided that one of the things I wanted to do in my new life was to provide a venue in which students, faculty, and the community could hear from these former leaders.

With Vicente Fox at his home in Mexico

With Vicente Fox at his ranch in San Francisco del Rincón

In late spring 2008, through his agency in New York, I contacted former president Fox on his ranch outside of Leon, Mexico and asked to meet with him to discuss an interesting idea. From contacts with his agency the former president knew that I wanted him to give a lecture. With an assistant I traveled to Mexico and spent a day with the former president at his think tank and library on his ranch, Centro Fox. I explained the notion of creating a new speakers series with former heads of state. I wanted him, not a former president of the U.S., to be the inaugural speaker. I hoped he would speak frankly about immigration and meet with students and community representatives in small and large group sessions. I also wanted each former president to hold phone interviews providing a preview of his or her views up to a week before the public lecture.

Vicente Fox in Detroit

Vicente Fox in Detroit

On September 12, 2008, Vicente Fox, former president of the republic of Mexico, became the inaugural speaker in the new lecture series titled Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society (FOCIS). He spent a full day on campus meeting with students, faculty, and members of the Detroit community to talk about immigration, among many other topics. A new phase of my life was launched.