The director of operations of the UI’s Chez Veterans Center knows a thing or two about service himself, having logged 20 years in the U.S. Army, reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and taken multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq with the 3rd Ranger Battalion.
For his post-military career, Andrew Bender jumped at “the opportunity to continue my service supporting the men and women who have given so much to our nation.” It’s a familiar role for Bender, a professor and chair of Illinois State University’s Department of Military Science from 2013-16.
Bender took over in July 2022 at Chez, a seven-year-old “one-stop-shop for veterans’ and military-connected services,” as the UI describes it. He was already on campus at the time, serving as associate director for operations and strategic initiatives at the UI’s Career Center.
A native of Morristown, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree from Buffalo’s Canisius College and a pair of master’s, from Central Michigan and Lewis University in Romeoville, Bender and wife Julie, high school sweethearts, have four daughters.
Bender took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in Beyond the Boardroom, his weekly News-Gazette speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.
— I can’t live without my ... family. They have been with me and followed me around the country and supported me in every endeavor. I wouldn’t have made it far without them.
Also, Mountain Dew. I am totally addicted to Diet Mountain Dew.
— On my office walls, you’ll find … mementos from my Army career and sticky notes with new ideas.
— My philosophy on meetings is ... avoid them when possible. But if there must be a meeting, it needs to have a point and involve the right people.
No one wants to sit in a meeting they think is useless or has no impact on their work.
— I’m frugal in that … I spent most of my life wearing the same thing every day. I brought that with me from the Army and my professional clothing consists of the same items every day.
— The hardest thing about being a leader is … bringing the entire team along the journey to success. Building a shared purpose and understanding is crucial to success, but sometimes hard to communicate.
— The three words I hope my staff would use to describe me are … fair, humorous and visionary.
— If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … whoever owns and operates the Five Guys. I mean, have you had those fries?
— When it comes to a professional role model … I am not sure I have one. There have been greater role models that have impacted me for my entire life and professional career.
I like to think I have been able to learn from all of them in some way and develop my own professional style.
— My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … be honest. We can take risks and make mistakes, but our integrity equals our credibility, which equals our ability to do impactful things.
— As far as how I wind down after work … I am a causal video game player and most days I play a little before dinner just to get into an “at home” mindset.
— The most beneficial college class I took was … Calculus with Dr. Alif at Canisius College. That’s when I knew that I was going to have to work a lot harder than I expected to graduate.
— I’m up and at ‘em every day by … 6:45. I live in Normal, so I have an hour drive to be to work by 8 a.m.
— My exercise routine consists of … me complaining that I am out of shape, then always planning to start next Monday, because it only makes sense to start your routine on a Monday.
— The worst job I ever had was ... operations manager at an Amazon fulfillment center.
— On a 1-to-10 scale, the impact of the pandemic has been a ... 10. It’s changed everything about our lives and how we live them. There is almost nothing that has not felt the impact of COVID.