SMU’s Dave Lawlor Sees Rapid Growth Ahead

Samantha Bronson, SMU News

A trip at age 17 to visit relatives in the Bay Area changed Dave Lawlor’s life. He was so taken with the sense of opportunity that he decided to relocate from his native Ireland. He stayed for college and built a successful career in finance and operations.

As SMU’s new executive vice president and treasurer, Lawlor believes the University’s post-pandemic growth potential is huge. “We’re in a unique position where we’re almost like a startup in terms of the growth potential, but at the same time we have the experience of being a 112-year-old institution,” Lawlor says.

What does your role encompass at SMU?

I oversee the operations and finances of the University, including human resources, risk management, and facilities. One of my main responsibilities right now is standing SMU up as an independent institution and getting all the big processes in place that come with being independent.

What is your top priority for the University?

The chance to grow as an independent university. A big part of that is the new campus planned for downtown Oakland. We can build on programs that have done well and take them to the next level with world-class facilities, while also recognizing new programmatic needs in the marketplace.

What is your role with the new campus?

I oversee all aspects of it—real estate development, planning of the new building, ensuring the financing plan is approved, and working through any hurdles that come up. Once it’s up and running, I’ll oversee the operations of it.

What keeps you awake at night?

Inflation is a challenge for new construction which we have to navigate very carefully. As a smaller university, our fixed expenses are, and have been for some time, a high percentage of our total costs. Our strategic growth initiatives will be of enormous help in this regard.

What is your management style?

I like to have discussions around where we want to go and the constraints and challenges surrounding that. I believe in having commitment around that vision but letting people do as they see fit toward that objective. We have a lot of creative, capable leaders here.

You’ve been at larger institutions, including Marquette University and UC Davis. What drew you to SMU?

I was intrigued by the idea of working again in higher education, this time for a health sciences university. We’re in a premier location, have a strong reputation, attract strong faculty and students, and our graduates are highly sought after. There are big opportunities here and the University is poised to take advantage of them. We’re really on the cusp of a great time.

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