Tallman Trask III is problem solver. He serves as the executive vice president and chief fiscal and administrative officer of Duke University. Almost 20 years ago, he was recruited by then Duke President Nan Keohane who called him out of the blue. The third-generation Californian had been performing similar duties at University of Washington.
At Duke, he’s responsible for most of the fiscal and physical planning of the university, the second largest private employer in North Carolina with more than 39,000 full-time employees.
In 1997, Tallman commissioned a campus master plan which would set a framework for the location, architecture and “Duke-ness” of future buildings.
He has spearheaded several building projects including the renovation of the historic West Union Building, Baldwin Auditorium and Perkins Library; the expansion and upgrade of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens; construction of the Nasher Art Museum, two residential complexes, a four-part engineering complex, and several research buildings; and major additions to the Washington Duke Inn and to the divinity, business, and law schools.
Tallman navigated Duke through the financial crisis of 2008, when the endowment declined by 25 percent in one year. It’s now at its highest point, $7 billion.
He’s also credited with leading the university’s effort to revitalize downtown Durham. Duke is an initial and major tenant in American Tobacco, a mixed-use redevelopment featuring commercial, residential, and office spaces in former tobacco warehouses. When Tallman arrived at Duke, the university leased about 30,000 square feet of office space in the Bull City’s downtown. Now, it leases more than a million square feet.
Bob Ashley, editor of The Herald-Sun, says Tallman is an important part of Duke’s leadership team. “His fingerprints are all over the building boom there. He’s a very savvy strategic thinker.”
Mr. Ashley wrote a column about Tallman for The Herald-Sun in 2013 when the Durham Boy Scouts named Tallman the “Terry Sanford Citizen of the Year.” Mr. Ashley wrote, “Trask’s role and Duke’s in general, have not had nearly the public recognition that I’ve long thought they merit.”
Mr. Ashley calls him an “indispensable player” in the transformation of downtown Durham.
“He sees the big picture in very insightful ways,” Mr. Ashley says. “He has a command of the small details.”
Under Tallman’s leadership, Duke invested $7 million in the Durham Performing Arts Center, which enabled DPAC to build a bigger stage, making it the perfect venue for the American Dance Festival and major Broadway shows.
Scott Selig, associate vice president of capital assets and real estate at Duke University, says Tallman will always undersell himself. “He’s not going to boast about himself. He’ll pretend he’s looking at his iPhone, when he’s listening.”
“He’s generally the smartest person in the room,” says Mr. Selig. “Sometimes he sits quietly. He waits while others talk it out.”
“The most important thing about Tallman is that he always does things for the long haul,” Mr. Selig says. “He wants it done right every time. He’s building a university for a hundred years, not the next decade.”
It’s no wonder that Tallman was appointed to the RTI board when he arrived at Duke. That was his introduction to Research Triangle Park. He chairs the RTF’s finance and investment committee. He’s also working on the master plan of the new development of the Park’s Town Center.
“We want the Park to be more of a complete place rather than a series of large isolated corporate entities that close up at night,” Tallman says. “As Bob Geolas likes to point out, ‘It’s 8,000- acres, where you can’t get Starbucks.’”
“One of things we are trying to do is get the three universities re-engaged in the Park in a way they have not been recently…We are working hard to be more cooperative and the Park is the logical place for it to occur.”