Charlie Figari held back tears as he thanked a crowd gathered to wish him well in retirement, with an oversized tissue at his side — actually, it was a tablecloth.
After 28 years, 10 months, and a day of service, Figari stepped down as the vice president and chief Auxiliary Enterprises officer at UTHealth Houston and said goodbye to the department that handles a number of business operations at the university, including parking and shuttle services, the recreation center, and UT Housing. Photos from the event an be viewed on Flickr.
Friends and former colleagues drove across the state and flew across the country to thank Figari for his work and honor his legacy. In his post at Auxiliary Enterprises, Figari had an impact on nearly every student, faculty, and staff member.
“I love this job,” Figari said, with the tablecloth to his left to use as a “tissue.” “I don’t know what I’d do without the mentors I’ve found at UTHealth Houston, and for the people who allowed me to be part of their families. I have so many people to thank, and not just people who are vendors or who are associated with the university.”
The tablecloth was a gag gift from Andrew Casas, senior vice president of UTHealth Houston and chief operating officer of UT Physicians; but it was only one of many. UTHealth Houston leaders presented Figari with mementos and tokens to signify Figari’s legacy at the institution.
Casas also presented Figari with a $1 bill. Auxiliary Enterprises acts as a landlord and leasing agent to tenants renting space in UTHealth Houston-owned facilities.
“In 2002, the clinical enterprise included 450 doctors in clinics mostly in the UT Health Science Center Professional Building,” Casas said. “I wanted to purchase a nuclear camera so we could do some special imaging. We looked for pricing but the best interest rate we found was 12%. Charlie lent us the money for about 5%, but I realized recently that there was a $1 buyout in the lease, and I never gave you the dollar. Now, we truly own the equipment.”
Michael Tramonte, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Finance and Business Services, presented him with a penny. Since Figari began his tenure in 1993, the department’s net revenues have grown almost 850%.
“You know where every penny is in Auxiliary Enterprises,” Tramonte said. “I could always count on Charlie’s calculations. We have been blessed to have someone with your conscientiousness in that role. You treated Auxiliary Enterprises as your own business, and you worked as hard as if it was your own. You made it your own, and I thank you for that.”
Auxiliary Enterprises is an enterprise fund, meaning it does not receive state funds like most units of the university; rather, its operating budget is driven exclusively by the revenue generated by its business activities. Any surplus at the end of the year is then available to support university operations, including student scholarships.
“Of the many things I respect Charlie for, none ranks higher for me than his love and support of students,” said Kevin Dillon, MBA, CPA, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer. “It has never been a job for Charlie. I can’t count the times he found ways to help students, with an event or to advance a student-led initiative. Charlie is a boundary-less kind of guy. He doesn’t worry what his business card says. He sees a problem and moves towards it, to find a solution.”
Eric Solberg presented Figari with a rock. The senior vice president for academic and research affairs is also the faculty sponsor of the Student InterCouncil, the UTHealth Houston student governance association.
“I want to thank you for your partnership with the SIC, and the support you have given to each of our six schools,” Solberg said. “You’ve been a rock, so I brought you one — a small one to put in your shoe to remind yourself of the rock you’ve been to UTHealth Houston for 28 years.”
One of the primary revenue streams for Auxiliary Enterprises is parking fees. Figari is known as a stickler for parking fees, something celebrated by Robert “Safety Bob” Emery, vice president for Safety, Health, Environment and Risk Management (SHERM) at UTHealth Houston.
Emery presented Figari with a colorful framed art piece made of decades of parking tags.
“If I had one word to describe Charlie, it would be ‘passionate,’” Emery said. “Charlie is passionate about his team, about helping students, and about the services his department provides — but most importantly, Charlie is passionate about parking. There is no free parking.”
Colleagues also praised Figari for his willingness to step in and help during natural disasters and other crises.
“Charlie, you and I have been through a fire, floods, freezes, hurricanes, and the pandemic,” said Pauline Habetz, director of recreational and intramural programs at the Auxiliary Enterprises Recreation Center. “Your leadership through all these challenges was always steadfast, and you and the Auxiliary Enterprises family could always be relied on to do what was needed to get the jobs done.”
Prior to joining UTHealth Houston in 1993, Figari spent 20 years in computer and technology services at CompTalk, Incorporated, a computer service bureau. There, he served as the principal owner until the company was sold to Houston Data Center, and then he stayed on as vice president of marketing.
Figari is a veteran of the United States Air Force, and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Houston in 1970.