New Alumni Council President

Image of John McLenaghan

The new president of the Alumni Council outlines his priorities.

Like many of his generation, John McLenaghan had little time to engage with his alma mater while he was in the thick of his career, firstly with the Reserve Bank and then at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, where he worked for over 30 years.

McLenaghan was fully occupied leading the IMF’s statistics department and global missions to help struggling nations get on an even keel, together with the demands of raising children with his wife. “I didn’t even have much contact with Australians in Washington outside the IMF,” he says.

In the late 1990s, toward the end of his time with the IMF, he came across a copy of the SUGUNA newsletter, the alumni magazine of University graduates living in North America. “A little light turned on, it sparked my interest,” says McLenaghan, who put himself on the mailing list for the University Gazette (the predecessor of SAM).

One thing led to another: he went to a SUGUNA conference in San Diego in 2002 where he met an eclectic mix of Sydney alumni, and then found himself hosting the next conference in Washington. These two-day events provided a diverse range of presentations, ranging from medical research to art history and archaeology. The conferences were enhanced by social and sporting events, and sightseeing.

When McLenaghan and his wife returned to Sydney in 2004, he was asked to represent SUGUNA back home. With his family grown up and working as a consultant, he had more time on his hands to re-engage with the University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Economics in 1959.

In 2006 he was appointed to the Alumni Council as a Vice-Chancellor’s nominee, and following a stint as Deputy President, this year McLenaghan was appointed President. He relishes the challenges of the role, the chance to meet graduates of all ages and backgrounds, and channel his natural enthusiasm into inspiring them about their alma mater (Indeed, the AM he received in 2009 referred to his history of academic involvement.)

As President he faces a busy schedule of Council meetings and alumni functions. But the satisfaction of working with other committed volunteers is enhanced by the people he gets to meet. Over the past few months McLenaghan has met with the Chancellor, lunched with “golden graduates”, who gained their degrees up to 1962, and attended a dinner for former alumni Olympians and those bound for the Games in London.

McLenaghan says there are several priorities for the period ahead. “One significant challenge, reflecting the growth of overseas student numbers (nearly 24 per cent of the total student population), is the need to engage with the rapid increase in overseas alumni, especially in Asia. New alumni chapters have already emerged, notably in China,” he says.

For many Australian graduates, the culture of alumni relations and fundraising arms are a newish experience, a bit like trying on a new coat. For McLenaghan, however, it’s more like slipping on an old cardigan. After raising four children through the American education system, he is very comfortable with the emphasis on nourishing student engagement with their institution.

“The tradition of private philanthropy in America showed me how important it is for universities to maintain and foster links with their alumni.

“That spirit is an intangible asset and it’s an asset we can add a lot of value to.”