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Green on Brown

BU People: Elizabeth Green brings an eye for detail to the president’s office

No detail is beneath the attention of Elizabeth Green, executive assistant to President Brown. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

With a job that is often a carefully timed and precisely orchestrated juggling act, Elizabeth Green is the woman behind the public face of Boston University. As executive assistant to President Robert Brown, she meticulously balances his meetings, travel, and speaking engagements. But even with Green’s extensive professional experience, it can be a daunting job.

“It’s only through a constant set of double-checking and triple-checking of materials and other details that makes the process error-free,” says Green. “I don’t think we are quite there yet, but the more systems we have in place, the better off we are.”

“I think the more the staff understands the level of protocol and detail required, the more I can rely on others to help out, but as they say, the buck has to stop somewhere,” she says.

A recent visit by Brown to the Middle East took dozens of hours of planning, including booking plane tickets, discussing the agenda and itinerary with faculty members involved and with overseas contacts, arranging for a driver for Brown once he landed, ensuring that the hotel would be quiet enough to work in, and finding out where the president could grab a bite to eat.

“I do little things like that not because Dr. Brown asks, but because he is so busy. I want him to be successful in preparing for his next appointment,” says Green. “In general, he doesn’t have very much downtime in his schedule, maybe a half hour a day that is not booked.” Brown is predicted to be the most traveled BU president in history by the end of this year.

A busy workday is also a familiar theme for Green’s schedule. She is available day and night for the president, always on her Blackberry and never far from her computer. She considers no task above and beyond her job description, even keeping an eye on her boss’s personal appearance.

“You wouldn’t want him to head up to the podium for a speech and notice that the hem of his jacket has come down. Everything we do is focused on making sure leadership is comfortable and that the message he transmits is reaching the audience,” says Green. “This job may not be for people who are concerned about making someone’s coffee or picking up lunch because it all evaporates once you are working for someone who is trying to advance a greater good.”

A classical pianist since the age of three, Green majored in performing arts at Barnard College during the 1970s, but she soon left music for a more lucrative career as an executive recruiter. After working for several executive consulting firms in New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, she set off to pursue a master’s degree in education and adult development at Lesley University in the late 1980s. She accepted a position as executive assistant to the president of the New England Conservatory, and her career came full circle when that led to a job as dean of the Longy School of Music, where she had studied as a child.

“I think that although the background seems varied, I couldn’t do the job I am doing without the variety of experiences I’ve had,” says Green. She first met Brown while working as a travel and logistics coordinator for former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest. When Vest stepped down as president, she worked for Brown, who was then provost, but the position was short-lived. 

“It was a bit of a surprise for me when having only worked for him for five months, he told me BU was offering him the presidency, and he said, ‘I want you to come with me,’” Green says. “I was flattered, so I jumped on the wagon and here I’ve been for a year.”

Since arriving at BU, she says, she has witnessed Brown “blossom” in the liberal arts environment of the University. “His abilities and expertise were certainly well appreciated at MIT and he had a strong list of supporters,” she says. “Here he has a much more complex organization and his interest in getting people to work together across the different departments and colleges and schools in a dynamic way is exciting to watch. It’s a much richer and deeper academic environment here, and I think he is really enjoying that.”

Green does have one regret about coming to BU — “I don’t have as much time to play the piano,” she says with a smile.

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.