MD Anderson 2020 Interview Project
Chapter 02: MD Anderson:  A Match Between Professional Skillset and Institutional Needs


Chapter 02: MD Anderson: A Match Between Professional Skillset and Institutional Needs



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Mr. Coffee talks about how his background and training led to a productive career that aligns with MD Anderson's core values.

Lee Coffee Jr., M. Ed., Oral History Interview, June 30, 2021


Nina Nevill

Yes, absolutely. I am still processing, of course, but I guess I’d like to know, then, with your passion for diversity, and that obviously having evolved into a career in leadership, earlier on, what opportunities did MD Anderson have to offer for you to fulfill this path?

Lee Coffee Jr., M. Ed.

Well, I brought the toolkit with me. Because again, I acquired it in the United States military. I left the military 20 years ago. I retired after 24 years of active federal service. So, I retired in the year 2001. When I joined MD Anderson in March of 2009, I had already been a practitioner in the world of diversity for over 20 years. One of the tools I brought with me is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a master practitioner because of diversity of psychological thought, it’s just as critical when you think about people who are very, very structured in how they approach a task versus somebody who might be a little more flexible. And just those two dimensions sometimes can cause people to get into conflict. So, coming into the institution, there was a program called Managing Across Differences that was a part of the MD Anderson programming. And when I was hired, I was asked to take that program from good to great and to help flesh it out a little bit more, provide some updated concepts, if there were some, that dealt with, how do we, again, manage people as equitably and as equally as possible? And so, that would be what I brought to the institution and how I was able to basically use my skills that I had been acquiring over the last 20 years.

The beauty of the leadership at MD Anderson at the team that I was on, at the time, Employee Development, as well as the Office of Institutional Diversity, the beauty of the experience is they gave me the autonomy to do what I did best. And I think that’s real critical when an organization says, “We’re going to look for top talent,” then they hire that talent, do they give that talent the autonomy to do what they hired that person to do? And MD Anderson leadership that were in the communities that I was serving in provided me with those opportunities.

Nina Nevill

Do you believe that your inclination to bring your previous experiences forward with you to MD Anderson is one of the reasons that you were recruited?

Lee Coffee Jr., M. Ed.

No doubt about it. I mean, that was a part of the recruiting email, if you will, that I was—there was something called, I don’t know if you’re familiar with, they were pretty prominent as a recruiting agency. I was working for a company called American International Group, or AIG, in the mid-90s, I mean, 2006 to 2009, and I had just upgraded my resume and Ladders, just like many on job boards, posted different job offerings and MD Anderson was looking for a diversity trainer. So, that was a part of the position description. And when I applied, I was working as a diversity trainer, and a leadership trainer at American International Group. So, it was a perfect match based on my skillset and the institution’s needs. And when I applied for the job, a week and a half later, they called me and asked me would I accept an offer that was several thousand dollars less than I was making at AIG, but for me, it was about the opportunity to make meaning, and have a meaningful role. And I loved the core values that MD Anderson at the time had, because it was caring, integrity, and discovery, and the bullets that went with that aligned with my personal life values.

Nina Nevill

Who are some of the key people who you saw as mentors or advisors during your first years at MD Anderson?

Lee Coffee Jr., M. Ed.

Dr. Harry Gibbs, who started the diversity program at MD Anderson, [Pat Mayors?], who was a manager. The person who hired me, Diana Anderson, a great leader, great manager, all three of those people made sure that I had the tools so that I could be successful, made sure that I knew that they cared about my personal and professional development and growth, as well as Susan Gilbert, who was here as a part of the leadership within the Office of Institutional Diversity. So, those were the four key people that played a role in making sure that I knew who the key stakeholders were for our department, what my role was, and giving me the opportunity to use my skills and grow my skills at the time.

Nina Nevill

It sounds like those are exactly the kind of people that you want in your corner when you’re starting in a new job or a new institution.

Lee Coffee Jr., M. Ed.

Sure. And because I don’t want to be remiss, and certainly we can never always remember everybody but as our team grew, within a year, I was integrated into a team and dotted line to a person named Cathy Schaefer, who I’ve always told her, she’s the best boss west of the Mississippi. And [Mickey Donnelly?]. Those were people that I worked for from pretty much 2010 up until around 2018, 2019.



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The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

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Chapter 02: MD Anderson:  A Match Between Professional Skillset and Institutional Needs