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Going Global with a New Vice President

BU veteran Willis Wang spearheads expanded international mission


Willis Wang, deputy general counsel and assistant secretary, has been named Boston University’s first vice president for global operations.

Willis Wang, deputy general counsel and assistant secretary, has been named Boston University’s first vice president for global operations, a position that embodies the University’s plan to continue reaching beyond a local footprint.

“It’s a strategically critical position as the institution tries to expand its global mission,” says Wang, who was appointed January 4 and two days later accompanied President Robert A. Brown on a trip to India in search of a site for a BU satellite campus. Wang’s focus will be on “how we strengthen our leadership as a global university,” he says, “without jeopardizing our reputation or our brand, without putting people at risk as we increase our activities overseas.

“Instead of reacting as we grow globally, this is meant to be more proactive,” he adds.

BU has numerous study and research programs that take students and faculty from Ecuador to Ethiopia, Zambia to New Zealand, many of which sprang up through grassroots efforts. With this new position, the University administration hopes to create a more systematic approach to developing its overseas efforts.

Joseph Mercurio, executive vice president and Wang’s supervisor, says the president and the Board of Trustees decided that there should be someone at the senior leadership level coordinating the University’s global mission.

He promises that Wang’s position will not create more bureaucratic hurdles for international projects.

“There are regulatory issues in all these foreign countries that as an institution we have to be mindful of,” Mercurio says. “Willis and his group will make sure we know the issues before we launch an initiative.” Wang and Mercurio use words like collaborate, coordinate, facilitate and develop to describe his duties.

While Wang reports to Mercurio, he will also check in with Brown, David Campbell, the University provost, and Karen Antman, the Medical Campus provost and School of Medicine dean, to keep abreast of ongoing academic and research projects abroad.

“How we do this, how it works, I think is going to evolve,” Wang acknowledges.

Launching a campus that grants BU degrees overseas would fall within his realm, he says; overseeing a professor’s two-day research trip abroad would not.

Wang, who will juggle his old responsibilities and his new role, plans to start with a small staff and request help from existing offices, such as legal or payroll, as needs arise.

Travel will be a big part of the new VP’s job, occupying a quarter of his time, Mercurio estimates. Since his appointment, Wang has touched down in India, Dubai, and London.

The 12-year BU veteran has experience collaborating on international projects, including a dental school in Dubai and a potential medical school in Abu Dhabi, both in the United Arab Emirates.

Before joining BU, Wang worked as a lawyer and manager at Molten Metal Technology, Inc., a Waltham technology company that at one point raised $400 million in eight years and struck deals overseas, before a bankruptcy. He also served as an enforcement lawyer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston and in Washington, D.C.

Wang says his work ethic is the same regardless of the project. “I make the effort of trying to understand and listen to a client,” he says, “and try to be a problem solver instead of a roadblock.”

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu.

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