Janet ismail

A Conversation with Zuhair Khan


Promoting UT System Initiatives and Chancellor’s Centurions to Effect Positive Change

Zuhair Khan’s story is a real-life version of a great American narrative. He is the son of Pakistani immigrants who came to the United States as students in search of better opportunities.Khan's mother and father experienced "the dividends education could play in peoples' lives," and instilled in thier son a thirst for learning that is matched by his drive to help “create economic opportunity for the broadest group of people."

He’s in a great position to do so. Khan, who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Honors and Finance and a Bachelor of Arts in History in 2010, is a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. In this role, he advises senior administration officials on a broad range of policy issues, including housing finance reform, access to capital for small businesses, and corporate governance. His work allows him to put to use the skills he developed in private equity and investment banking to help with challenges and opportunities facing the economy and financial markets.

As an active UT alumnus, Khan understands that The University of Texas System has an important role to play in providing greater opportunities for economic advancement and prosperity, including better preparing young people for a college-level education. This recognition prompted Khan to join the Chancellor’s Centurions. In doing so, he accepts his own responsibility—his obligation—to promote UT System initiatives and to encourage his peers to do the same.

You are passionate about closing “opportunity gaps” among different groups of people. How can the UT System help in this effort?

While Texas is undoubtedly a great state, it faces great inequality. In tackling this challenge, the University of Texas System is among the greatest enablers of social mobility in the state. To that end, I very much support Chancellor Bill McRaven’s vision and his Quantum Leaps, which I think will help the UT System make major contributions to humanity.

I am the proud product of a Texas public education from elementary school through college. However, I also recognize that the quality of our public K-12 education is uneven. As such, I am especially drawn to the Texas Prospect Initiative—which endeavors to strengthen the relationship between pre-K through 12 education and UT institutions. My experiences have taught me that education is the single, greatest means of providing opportunities for economic advancement.

You are a member of the Chancellor’s Centurions. What do you think is the key purpose of this group?

We Centurions, as I see it, are the next generation of advocates and leaders for higher education in the state of Texas. My key purpose is to encourage UT alumni or advocates who live outside Texas to engage with the UT System or any of the UT institutions.

I think our role is important because I believe the UT Austin mantra is true: what starts here changes the world. And that’s true at UT campuses across Texas, too. From the quality of research being done, to the number of students who are educated, to the breadth and depth of scientists and scholars of humanities—we have the potential to make great strides in meeting challenges that face us and, in doing so, improve lives here in Texas, the United States and, around the world.

In what ways can you help the Centurions program grow?

There are pockets of very talented and passionate alumni that I’ve gotten to know and talk to in New York, Chicago and Washington. I would like to see these alumni outside of Texas connected to each other and UT in a more systematic way. 

I would also like to see more mentoring relationships emerge. Several people on the Chancellor’s Council Executive Committee have been mentors to me and I think that gave me the confidence to pursue the opportunities I did. I would like to find mentors for future Centurions and I would like our Centurions, in turn, to become mentors for others.

You serve on the McCombs Business School’s BBA/MPA Alumni Advisory Board and FAP Advisory Council. How do you think your experience enriches the education of current and future students?

A lot of my involvement at McCombs is trying to narrow that feedback loop between UT Austin and those who have graduated. I believe that process happens organically when more recent alumni are spending time with faculty and student which has certainly been the format we have followed on the FAP Advisory Council. Also, one of my dreams for UT Austin has been the creation of a dual undergraduate degree program in engineering and business which would not only represent a highly complementary education but leverage two very strong programs

I also want to clarify: I am a big believer in academic independence, but that needs to be leavened with feedback from recent graduates. We live in a very competitive global economy and to be competitive, higher education cannot afford to ignore the labor-market , especially in business education. I also don’t believe that we have to sacrifice the humanities or a liberal arts education in order to do so.

Finally, what attracted you to a business career and UT Austin?

At a young age, I overheard my father talking to a stockbroker. I became intrigued with the stock market and started investing—I think this was at around age 13. It was during the time of the dot.com boom here in Austin and around the country, so I had some early luck. I was quickly humbled though when the bubble burst—I learned it isn’t that easy!

I got accepted to UT Austin and my first plan was to graduate in two or three years. Once I got on campus, though, I realized that that was a mistake. I ended up getting involved on campus. I found a home there.

Post note:   Khan’s involvement, in fact, would earn him the first Rising Star Leadership Award from the McCombs BBA/MPA Advisory Board. His accomplishments included having been an officer in five McCombs student organizations and hosting a weekly radio show. Khan was also selected as a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. At UT, Khan was a Texas Cowboy and a member for the Friar Society. Prior to his current role at the U.S. Treasury, Khan worked in private equity investing in Chicago and investment banking in New York. In Chicago, he served as a pro bono economic growth advisor to the City of Chicago. He is a member of the Atlantic Council and is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

Read more about Chancellor McRaven's vision and Quantum Leaps for the UT System 2015-2020 at https://www.utsystem.edu/offices/chancellor/chancellors-vision-ut-system.