Global Leadership SerIES - IES Abroad Vienna Alum Richard Landers on Investing in the Future

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This Global Leadership Series story highlights an IES Abroad icon in his own right. Richard Landers (IES Abroad Vienna | 1968-69) has been an influential contributor to IES Abroad through his philanthropic efforts over the years. With his objective set on investing in the future, Richard has helped globalize students’ lives, careers, and cultural palettes. As an advocate for IES Abroad scholarships for over a decade, Richard emphasizes that study abroad “opened his eyes to the breadth and richness of the BIG world,” adding to his personal and professional development. We interviewed Richard to learn about his passions and intentions with study abroad, and how they each influence his connection to students. 

A Champion for Study Abroad and Sustainability

Richard Landers has long been a proponent of studying abroad. He has contributed to IES Abroad's scholarship initiatives for more than a decade, including funding a scholarship for students majoring in sustainability who wish to participate in the IES Abroad Freiburg Environmental Studies & Sustainability Program. His contributions have led to assisting countless numbers of students on this program. He attributes his time as a student in Vienna to “opening his eyes to the breadth and richness of the BIG world,” as he puts it, which has been crucial to his personal and professional life. His own experience, on the other hand, would not have been feasible without the support of generous, forward-thinking individuals.

He believes that both of those truths, namely the significance of the study abroad experience and its cost issues, are just as true today as they were in 1968, based on what he has heard from today's IES Abroad students. He is convinced that his support for IES Abroad scholarships is his modest way of repaying the generosity that enabled him to participate in this life-changing experience.

The Global Good Commitment virtually checks all of his philanthropy “boxes” so it’s hard to prioritize a single one. However, way up at the top of that list is the objective of helping students—our future leaders—really understand that a sustainable ecosystem is an existential requirement that can only be achieved through truly international collaboration. This means simultaneously educating students to the profound implications of 8+ billion homo sapiens aspiring to a middle-class, U.S. lifestyle and giving them experience that are addressing these challenges from someone else’s economic, political, and social perspective.  

Impactful Experiences Abroad…and at Home

To Richard, there is no single experience during his study abroad that has impacted his life, instead a collective series of life decisions that include jumping from Bay-Area California to Vienna in 1968, which was almost like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Overnight—or at least over a few months—he experienced the reality that—surprising as it was—people living in other places ate different foods, dressed differently, washed their clothes differently, heated their homes differently, read different newspapers, actually went to operas, and in general had different—and sometimes better—solutions to life than U.S. suburbanites. 

Having focused most of his career working in energy in the government and private and higher education fields, we were curious to know how that happened and what has been most rewarding on this career path. Richard explains he has always been interested in longer-term policy and strategy questions and, almost subconsciously, found jobs that had those responsibilities. In this respect, the initial assignments he had as a Foreign Service Officer were very influential in shaping his professional career. 

With an academic background in economics and business administration, these were primarily in trade and investment policy and then, in the wake of the 1972 OPEC-driven restructuring of the global oil industry, energy policy. Energy policy posed a series of challenges that were economically and politically complex, truly global in scope, and demanded long-term thinking, all of which were really engaging. At the end of his assignment at State, that is when he decided to stick with the energy topic rather than a foreign service career and segued from government to working in the energy industry, first as a manager, then consultant, and finally investor. Richard’s involvement in energy-related philanthropy builds quite directly on his government and business experience, although his objectives have shifted and are now energy sustainability and in particular encouraging colleges and universities to prioritize sustainability as a core educational objective. Finding ways to do that has proved more challenging than Richard expected, and he has been delighted—verging on ecstatic—about the strategic, thoughtful way that IES Abroad has approached the development of its sustainability curriculum.

Advice for Future Students 

We wondered what advice Richard had for students starting to prepare to study abroad this coming semester. His guess, “Most of today’s IES Abroad students have much more international knowledge than I did in 1968, so I probably shouldn’t even offer advice.” That said, his first suggestion for students is to take the Sustainable Living course if it is offered at their study abroad Center, even if they are not environmental studies majors.

If anyone knows firsthand how important it is, as you navigate life, to understand it beyond the substantive course content, it’s Richard and IES Abroad has designed a course for students interested in experiential learning opportunities to help with this.

Richard recommends that students be intentional as they navigate their time abroad in noticing and thinking about differences in the way their host community approaches key needs and challenges from the standard U.S. solutions. He concludes with, “If my experiences in Vienna, both the 1960's and 2020's versions, hold up, you will find that there are a lot of good ideas out there, some of which probably represent a step up from how we do things in the United States.”

Thank you, Richard, for your generosity and your wisdom to see into the future and beyond.

“…you will find that there are a lot of good ideas out there, some of which probably represent a step up from how we do things in the United States.”
Richard Landers | IES Abroad Vienna | 1968-69

Learn more about Richard:

Richard is a founding Partner of energy vertical private equity firm GFI Energy Ventures, now a unit of Oaktree Capital Management, and its strategy consultancy predecessor, Venture Associates. As a private equity investor, Richard served as the director of numerous energy technology, software, and services companies, in both private and public sectors. He previously held senior planning and strategy positions in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. with Southern California Gas Company and its holding company, Pacific Enterprises. He was a former Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. State Department with special responsibilities for international energy matters and an active participant in the development of emerging markets for natural gas and electricity. He is currently active in the philanthropic support of public education reform and environmental sustainability. He is a member of the board of directors of San Francisco-based Sustainable Conservation. He received his BA from Claremont McKenna College and MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

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