University Co-op welcomes new CEO

Janelle Polcyn

When George Mitchell announced his retirement after 28 years of serving as the CEO of the University Co-op, the board of directors searched for his replacement and found someone close to home.

Cheryl Phifer graduated from UT in 1983 from the McCombs School of Business and was in Austin working as a regional vice president of Barnes and Noble when a recruiting agency presented her with the opportunity.

“What I really like about the Co-op is we are giving back to the students, the faculty and the staff at the University, and we get to make decisions about how we are going to do that,” Phifer said. “One of the things that I’ve found universally is everyone here is really attracted to that mission — to give back.”

Phifer, who assumed her new role Feb. 1, said she loves getting to know people, giving back to the University and getting to be part of preparing the Co-op for the future. 

“She has a vision for the Co-op and is supporting the staff through some of these operational procedures to help us achieve that shared vision,” said Leslie Smith, vice president of merchandising and marketing. “What we are excited about is having a leader that is looking toward the future and that makes a big difference for how we all operate. It’s so nice to have someone we can make plans and rally around.” 

The board of directors interviewed several candidates for the position. Steven Goode, law professor and eight-year member of the board of directors, said he saw immediately that Phifer was the best person for the job. 

“She was not only far and away from the others, she was the only choice,” Goode said. “I’ve seen a lot [of changes] in terms of the internal organization and focus of the Co-op. I think students will start to see the visible changes in the fall when they come back to the school.”

Goode said Phifer has an extraordinary background in retail and understands the book business, which will help the Co-op and the student community as the textbook business in particular continues to change.

In just three months, Phifer has already started moving forward with the company and looking at how it can give more back to the UT community.

“No one loves a big idea more than Mr. Mitchell,” Smith said. “I think he has been excited to see we are continuing to come up with creative and fun and engaging ideas, … and Cheryl is fostering that. It is a continuation of what Mr. Mitchell is passionate about.”