Benchmark for June 2002
Ralph Eads III  

Ralph Eads T’81 loves a challenge, like only applying to the country’s most prestigious and selective colleges “because they were the toughest
to get into.” He chose Duke because “it was what college was supposed to be.” When he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in economics, he headed to Wall Street “because it seemed like the most challenging place to start out.” Eads landed a position at Merrill Lynch and began a 15-year stint in investment banking, then served in various senior executive capacities before being named president of the non-regulated businesses of El Paso Corporation, a Fortune 50 company and the nation’s leading natural gas provider.

At Duke, Eads, a native Texan, was a student assistant under President Terry Sanford and also worked with Joel L. Fleishman, professor of law and public policy studies and director of the Heyman Center for Ethics, Public Policy, and the Professions, on Duke’s Capital Campaign for Arts and Sciences. This experience showed Eads that philanthropy and volunteerism were critical to supporting his Duke education, and it motivates him to give back his time and resources now. “I believe that people are what make a university distinctive, and that classical knowledge is essential to a complete education,” Eads said from his Houston office. “I want to help create a nexus to attract support for areas that may prove challenging from a fundraising perspective, but are at the core of the University.”

Today, Eads is meeting his own challenge. A staunch volunteer and Regional Campaign Council member, he also serves on the Fuqua School of Business’s Board of Visitors with Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brother, close friend, and fellow donor/volunteer Aubrey McClendon T’81. He is a member of the Arts and Sciences Campaign Committee and has served on the Trinity College and Sanford Institute of Public Policy Boards of Visitors. He recently established the Eads Family Professorship in Arts & Sciences and Trinity College, part of the Bass Challenge for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, “because my academic experience at Duke in the humanities was the most substantive.” He created the Eads Family Scholarship Endowment Fund in response to The Duke Endowment Scholarship Challenge to support deserving Trinity undergraduates with financial need. Eads is also a strong proponent of annual giving and unrestricted endowment because this kind of support “helps create the opportunities that set Duke apart.” He and his wife, Lisa, back Duke athletics through the Legacy Fund “to have some fun, and because that’s part of Duke’s appeal; some of my fondest memories are from Cameron.”

Eads works hard to balance his work, his family, and his commitment to Duke. His secret: “surround myself with strong people that make for a great team.” Eads says that Duke is the perfect place to foster leadership and teamwork, and he hopes his five children will one day be a part of it.

No pressure, just a challenge.

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