Campus Spotlight: Eddie Daniels

Building relationships through business operations

For Eddie Daniels, assistant vice president of UF’s Business Services Division, relationships are the core of all business operations.

Prior to transitioning to the role last summer, Daniels was executive director of the J. Wayne Reitz Union—a central gathering place for students and members of the UF community—for 12 years. He led the union through its noteworthy renovation and expansion project, which outfitted the space with new lounges, study areas, meeting rooms, dance studios, a game room and more, and he has delighted in students’ use of the updated facility since it reopened in February 2016. Daniels has been deeply involved with college unions and student affairs for the majority of his career.

Now as the head of Business Services, which is part of the Division of Business Affairs, Daniels is responsible for overseeing Gator Dining Services, the UF Bookstore, Gator 1 Central and ID Card Services, Vending Services, and Mail and Document Services for the university. We recently sat down with him to learn more about his time directing the Reitz Union as well as his future plans for Business Services.

Why were you interested in joining UF almost 13 years ago?

I had been living in Connecticut (working at the University of Connecticut) and wanting to get back to the Southeast when I found the job for executive director of the Reitz Union at UF. Especially in the Southeast, but also nationally, the Reitz Union has a very positive reputation among the college union and student affairs communities. It was also certainly an attraction that the University of Florida is a great institution, so it was a no brainer. I was fortunate to be the successful candidate.

How have your first six months in your new role been? What have you been focusing on?

It has been a positive transition. I’m focused now on learning the new role. We have a good team of professionals who have been extremely helpful with the transition and with passing on information. Having been on campus for a while, I’m now interacting with a lot of the same people in a more direct way. With the staff of the Bookstore and dining services, for example, the relationships were already there.

How would you describe Business Services’ role at UF?

The Business Services Division oversees and manages essential services for students and the community. Nourishment and nutrition, books and other educational materials for their studies, and ID card services are examples of “essential services” needed by students to be successful. We have many business relationships that are contractual—for example, Aramark for dining and Follett for the Bookstore. We partner with third-party vendors to ensure the needs of the university and our customers are met.

There’s the formal contract management piece, but it’s all about relationships. We’re establishing relationships so there’s a give and take between the university and contractors in meeting the needs of campus with a high level of service. An essential part of that is communicating to contractors the things they are doing well and things that can be improved.

We also oversee pouring rights (which currently belong to Pepsi), vending, the Gator 1 Card office—an integral part of campus life—and Mail and Document Services, which includes printing services and passports.

What do you enjoy about being on a college campus?

The environment is vibrant and stimulating. Though there are lots of nontraditional students, students who are 18 to 22 years old are the largest part of the undergraduate population and interacting with them is a positive and rewarding experience. I can’t think of anything I would rather have been doing for the last 30 years. I truly enjoy being in an environment focused on learning.

What are your goals for the division in the coming months and years?

I’d like to find ways to get more students engaged in the Business Services side of university operations. We have a food services advisory committee, which four students are part of, and I would like to have even more students involved. I’m also looking at other ways to have students engaged. There used to be a bookstore advisory committee and I’d like to look into reviving that. There are great opportunities and learning experiences that students can have here particularly if they’re interested in business or hospitality, so I’m looking to provide more opportunities for engagement.

Since our responsibility is to provide essential services, we need to know how we’re doing. So I’m also looking to enhance our systems of gathering feedback from our customer base so that we can enhance what we’re doing well and improve areas where we’re not doing as well as we’d like. Of course the most important part of gathering information is what you do with that information once you get it. One way we’re making these efforts more robust is creating a marketing and communications position in Business Services to support us in figuring out the best strategies for gathering and utilizing feedback.

How would you describe your leadership style or philosophy?

Situational leadership is a leadership model that was popular a few years back. In this model, the leader does an assessment of the area (people) he or she is overseeing, makes observations as to existing skill levels, job knowledge, motivation level, etc., and adapts his or her leadership style based on that information. If a group is highly skilled, you don’t need to do a lot of directing. If not, you may need to do more coaching and focus on training.

I like to use the phrase “participatory management.” I have a need to have the people around me engaged. I like thinking through things together as a team; it is very productive in terms of the outcomes of what people contribute. If they’re invested—meaning if they know their opinions and ideas matter and they’re being heard—people are more productive and engaged in setting goals and achieving them.