My WFH Routine: American University in Cairo President Francis Ricciardone
Francis Ricciardone, former diplomat and current president of the American University in Cairo: My Morning / WFH Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Francis Ricciardone, who is currently the president of the American University in Cairo (AUC).
I’m Francis Ricciardone and I’m the president of AUC. I’m someone who is very excited to be where I am, when I am — my career brought me to Egypt in the past and was largely focused on the region, and I have a profound appreciation for the country and the massive potential I see in its people everyday. On the personal front, I’m the father of two daughters, one of whom is an AUC alumna and currently lives in Jordan, and the other currently lives on the US’ east coast. In my family, I am the member with the fewest degrees — I hold a BA, while my wife and one of my daughters have each earned a PhD and my other daughter earned her MA here at AUC.
My day usually begins by 7am, but the exact time depends on when I get to bed because I’m making a more conscious effort to get a solid seven hours of sleep. With everything happening now, I’m beginning to place a lot more emphasis on my physical health. I start my day with a quick peek at my email but I don’t let myself get sucked into that vortex at this point in the day, and then move on to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity; I usually speed-walk between 3 and 6 km in the morning. Then, I like to have a light breakfast and some coffee and get the day rolling.
Enterprise is one of the emails I read early on in the day. My staff knows that in the early morning, I’ll usually forward stories and clips from Enterprise that are of interest to different people. Back when I was US Ambassador to Egypt in the early 2000s, we had our own internal system to keep on top of the news and local media, so Enterprise serves the same purpose to me now, with a much higher degree of curation.
Once I get the emails out of the way, my day is usually filled with meetings. Most of these are on Zoom, but every once in a while my staff and I have physical meetings on campus, which is a great place to do that while safely adhering to social distancing and precautionary measures. We have plenty of outdoor spaces on campus, and we have access to conference rooms designed for large gatherings that can now be used for smaller meetings to ensure social distancing. A lot of our conversations now are centered on preparing for what’s next. We were able to move our spring semester classes online after five or six weeks of in-person instruction, and now we’re considering what our fall semester will look like. All we know now is that it’s going to be between 0 and 100% of regular physical interaction — but there’s no telling where we’ll fall in that range.
As much as we appreciate how far technology has come, there’s something to be said about the organic and spontaneous interactions that happen when you’re physically in the same space as others. I’m also nostalgic for the massive amount of student activity that always kept the AUC campus vibrant and active everyday. The president’s residence, Watson House, being on campus afforded me access to student-led activities on campus, such as charitable events, hosting weddings for orphans, organizing conferences and talks, and all the concerts that happened on campus. These all gave me a chance to talk and interact with our student body.
I have a lot of books in my TBR pile, and a lot of them are about Egypt and Cairo, which is one of my preferred ways of learning about them. The most recent addition to the list is Awlad El Nass, which is the latest book by Reem Bassiouney, one of our professors at the Department of Applied Linguistics here at AUC. I can read Arabic, but it does take me a bit more effort and the help of a dictionary at times, and this is a book I intend to read soon. Some of my other favorites include Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus, and AUC’s centennial book, which I like to flip through sometimes for interesting and quick stories about the university.
Once life goes back to some semblance of normalcy, the one thing I look forward to going back to most is in-person human interaction — and being able to hop on a plane to see my daughter in Jordan and the rest of my family in the US.