When 46-year-old Tony Zeiss was hired as president of Central Piedmont Community College in 1992, Observer reporter Pam Kelley went to Pueblo, Colo., where Zeiss was leading a much smaller community college.
What she discovered will surprise no one in Charlotte.
“He can’t sit still for two minutes,” one colleague said.
“I think he eats too many sugar cookies,” said another.
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Said a third: “The only thing is, he’s kept such a pace he’s running us ragged.”
Zeiss spent the next 23 years in Charlotte running people ragged and not sitting still. By the time he announced Thursday that he will retire in July, Zeiss had turned CPCC into one of the nation’s leading community colleges. Under his direction, the school’s annual budget nearly quintupled, to $202 million. It serves about 70,000 students a year on six campuses and is regarded as a national leader in workforce development.
Zeiss experienced a bumpy beginning at CPCC. Many faculty and staff members instantly found his management style to be autocratic and insensitive. They publicly suggested he wasn’t the right person for the job.
But within two years, Zeiss was embarking on the biggest expansion in the school’s history. He lobbied for a bond package that helped finance four new suburban campuses, allowing the school to follow the region’s growth. It was the first of more than a half-billion dollars in bonds voters approved for CPCC during Zeiss’s tenure.
He focused incessantly on the needs of employers, and he made sure his school was preparing students to enter the workforce. He partnered tightly with companies to understand their needs and meet them.
“He has remained true to the core mission of CP. No institution has an ear to the ground as closely attuned to the workforce development needs of employers as does CP, and Tony Zeiss is the reason for that,” Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan told the Observer editorial board Thursday. CPCC’s excellence in workforce training consistently serves as an asset that helps the Chamber recruit firms to Charlotte, Morgan said.
Zeiss spearheaded the creation of the Global Vision Leaders Group, which brings together some 170 local business leaders quarterly to develop economic development strategies. He has expanded partnerships with hospitals and health-care companies, as well as apprenticeships that have helped generate direct European investment into the Charlotte region.
The same passion that drove him professionally also fed his civic involvement, from the Chamber to the Rotary Club to the Trail of History along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
Tony Zeiss never did anything halfway. Now he has earned a rest, whether he’ll take it or not.
“I’ve wondered why God gave me this position,” Zeiss told the editorial board. “But I’m glad he did. It’s been a wonderful privilege.”
The privilege was Charlotte’s, Dr. Zeiss.