“Cancer on the Brain” author signs memoirs of baseball, business and beating the odds

Cancer_on_the_BrainUniversity of Texas at Austin alumnus Jay S. Lefevers has written his compelling memoir  titled “Cancer on the Brain” (Emerald Book Company. June, 2012).  He will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum, 10000 Research Blvd., in Austin, 6:30 p.m., Monday, August 6.

The book chronicles a rollercoaster five-year period of Lefevers’ life, during which he coached a rough-and-tumble Little League All-Star team to victory, saw his appraisal company named to the “Inc. 5000” list, and raised three children with his wife – all while battling a brain tumor, surviving multiple operations, and then unexpectedly being diagnosed with lymphoma.

Lefevers  grew up in Austin, attended Westlake High School, and earned his Bachelor of Business Administration  from The  University of Texas at Austin in 1984, and  his Master of Business Administration in finance from Baylor University in 1986.

“More than anything else,” Lefevers said, “my life-threatening health challenges taught me the absolute necessity of being your own strongest healthcare advocate. I hope ‘Cancer on the Brain’

Jay Lefevers, BBA '84

Jay Lefevers, BBA '84

can help people see that if you don’t fight for the care you or your loved ones deserve, it can be a matter of life or death.

“I went from being a husband, father, businessman, baseball coach, and runner who thought he had all his ducks in a row, to being someone who woke up every morning in survival mode, with a tumor in my head the size of a plum and a growing incapacity to walk,” said Lefevers.  “I was fighting for my life, but also fighting to be able to provide for my family and my business – on which 10-15 employees depended for their livelihood.  At the same time, I didn’t want my physical problems to affect the chances of the inner city Little League team I was coaching – young boys and girls from our community who were battling their own hardships on and off the ball field.”

Lefevers, 50, founded his real estate company in Phoenix in 1992.  That company, now called Lefevers Viewpoint Group, was named to Inc. magazine’s “Inc. 5000” list in 2008 – recognized as being one of the fastest growing companies in America. An inveterate entrepreneur, Lefevers has often invested in new businesses, and commercial buildings, and since 2010 has been an investor in Hollywood films such as 2011’s “Another  Happy Day” starring Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore.

Lefevers  and his wife Lyn reside in Phoenix and have three college-age children: Briana, Adam, and Olivia.  “Cancer on the Brain” is his first book.

Suiting up for Wall Street, UT Alumna Shares Her Memoirs

Suits_coverNina Godiwalla’s memoir of working on Wall Street begins with a sweaty walk to work through New York City, catching her heel in a grate, begging for help from a nearby blood-soaked fishmonger and eventually arriving at the JP Morgan office only to discover that she was at the wrong building.

Little did she know that temperamental high heels would be the least of her troubles in the years ahead.

Godiwalla, BBA ’97, chronicles the rest of her harrowing finance career in her book, “Suits: A Woman on Wall Street” (2011, Atlas & Co. Publishers). Described by The New York Times as “The Devil Wears Prada” for investment banking, “Suits” details Godiwalla’s experiences at Morgan Stanley, where, as a second-generation Indian American woman from Texas, she fought daily to overcome her outsider’s position.

Godiwalla saw tremendous success on Wall Street, but found herself struggling with the consequences of her ambition and the choices it forced her to make. Critics praised the book as “heartwarming, heartbreaking” and “a must-read for anyone aspiring to a career in high-finance.”

What made you decide to write a book about your life on Wall Street?Nina_Godiwalla_3x4[1]

One of the courses I took [for my master’s degree in liberal arts] was a creative writing course and I wrote one short story about my experience on Wall Street and one short story about my family. [My professor] loved the writing. We ended up pulling [short stories] together to become a thesis for my degree. There was never an intentional “I’m going to sit down and write about this.” It was more that I had someone telling me that I had a lot of potential. The story was worth hearing and it was different. 

Growing up, did you consider yourself to be a good writer?

Before that I had a very big insecurity about my writing. I actually once failed a class with a writing component. I just avoided writing. What I didn’t realize until later is there is a big difference between research-type writing, where you’re just passing on information, and creative writing, where it’s really about story and narrative. I think we all just take for granted the word “writing.”

Did you keep a journal while you worked on Wall Street, or did you start completely fresh for this book?

I never went to the experience thinking that I would write about it, so I did have to start fresh. I kept a long document that had these notes, stories I remembered. If I had kept detailed notes of everything, it would have been harder to write that book because there would have been so much information. This was just what was memorable enough about the experience. If it didn’t stick in my mind, it didn’t get in the book.

Did you ask other people about their memories to help fill in the gaps?

At first I started to try that, but when you’re writing a memoir you start to realize that everyone remembers things a little bit differently. So then I started to get confused, specifically with a lot of the family stories. Everyone had a different version, but that wasn’t what I remembered and so in the end I just decided that it would be what I remembered.

Do you think the essence of a memoir is really more about that personal feeling rather than trying to get a 100 percent completely accurate retelling of events?

The only way you’re going to get that is if it’s recorded and everyone can go back and look and see exactly what happened. I think there’s a continuum of everyone’s idea of what you can do with memoir, but to me it’s really how you remember it, to the extent that you’re not completely making stuff up. It’s your interpretation of the situation; I think everyone interprets and remembers life differently.

Why did you choose to start the book the way you did, with your horrible walk to work on the first day of your internship?

For an East Coast reader, who’s so comfortable with all these things, they don’t have a sense for how different it is. For a New Yorker that’s just like, “Well, this is normal.” I was trying to give people an idea of how different the world I was coming from was, when you’re coming out of a suburb or something. I became part of that New York scene, but it very much wasn’t where I was from and it was all very new to me. I wanted to paint that picture for a start.

You share fairly intimate—and not always flattering—moments in the book, both personal and professional. How did your family and former coworkers respond?

I think from my colleagues, it was amusing because it was a very intense experience. Some of them were bad memories, some of them were just kind of funny to rehash and think about. My family was surprised that something like this was going to get published. They are fairly private, so they don’t really want information about them out there. At the same time, they saw the bigger picture and what the story is about. I think their first reaction was surprise. Then after that it was, “Yes. Go for it,” and “Hope it does well.”

In your opinion what is the bigger picture and the point of the book?

This process helped me redefine my idea of success. Part of the back story about my family is giving people an idea of how my idea of success and the American dream was formed; the epitome of it was being on Wall Street. I had to rethink my whole life’s idea of what success is, and that was a turning point for me.

One of the things for me was that there was kind of a silencing amongst women. I would see so many women have that embarrassing story, a story they’re not so proud of. I felt I kind of carried this story around like a secret. Here I am later, this very comfortable businesswoman, in control of situations, and I kind of cringe every time I remembered that experience. I saw a lot of women who had that shame. I wanted to bring a voice to that type of experience because I think so many people go through that early in their career. I wanted people to be more empowered if they were to go through a situation like that.

After nearly a decade working for Fortune 500 companies, Godiwalla founded MindWorks, which trains professionals in meditation, creating positive corporate culture and stress management.

What's on Your Nightstand, Tom Gilligan?

For Thomas Gilligan, recently appointed dean of the McCombs School of Business, reading is like breathing.

“I’m not sure I can think of myself as existing apart from reading—it’s an integral part of life,” Gilligan says. “Reading was a big salvation for me when I went into military service right out of high school. It’s the way I educated myself before I ever went to college.”

Prior to joining academia, Gilligan served as a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was a staff economist for President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Keep reading to find out what’s on his nightstand this winter. Continue reading

Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston

Renowned as FDR’s favorite warship, the cruiser USS Houston faced a bitter battle in the far Pacific after Pearl Harbor. With no hope for reinforcement, its crew saw a deadly rain of fire from Japanese bombers.

James D. Hornfischer (MBA ’98; JD ’01) brings to life the terror of nighttime naval battles and the valiant effort of the crew as they miraculously escaped disaster—until their luck ran out in the Sunda Strait. The Houston was finally sunk and its survivors taken prisoner.

Hornfischer’s account doesn’t stop there. Through journals, testimony, and historical documents, he recounts the more than three years the crew spent in the brutal jungle POW camps.

Hornsfischer lives with his family in Austin. His first book, “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” won the 2004 Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature.

“Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors” was published by Bantam in 2007.

Reprinted with permission from the January/February 2009 issue of The Alcalde.

Q&A with Warren Buffett Biographer Alice Schroeder

“The Snowball” (Bantam, 2008), by McCombs School of Business alumna Alice Schroeder, is an in-depth portrait of renowned investor Warren Buffett. It currently sits at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.

Schroeder first met Warren Buffett when she published research on Berkshire Hathaway; her grasp of the subject and insight so impressed him that he offered her access to his files and to himself.

Read about Buffett’s reaction to the book and what it was like for Schroeder to work with “The Oracle of Omaha.”

What do you hope readers will learn from your book?
“The Snowball” tells you, not how to become the world’s richest man, but how to be smarter about managing your own time, money and relationships. It is the story of a man who started out obsessed with money and was nearly hopeless at dealing with people — and who, through experience and effort, became expert at relationships and created a life rich with meaning by giving back to others.

“The Snowball” was your first book. Had a project like this always been one of your goals, or did it just strike you as being the right thing at the right time?
In 2002 Warren started encouraging me to write a book. I’ve always gravitated toward challenging projects that teach me something new. It was nearly 18 months later that I came up with the idea, after another writer approached me to collaborate on a different book. It helped that Warren believed in me — but I also believed in myself. You’ve got to if you want to accomplish much in this world.

You’ve said that Mr. Buffett didn’t have a single edit for you, which seems like quite the endorsement. What has been his response to the book? What about the people you interviewed?
Warren told me to use the less flattering version whenever his version differed from somebody else’s. It was courageous of him. Since then, he has said that the book is good and well-written. But, as would be true of anyone, parts of it don’t match his image of himself, and parts of it were painful for him to read. As one of his friends put it, the book took off all of Warren’s clothes and one layer of his skin. This same friend also gave the book very high accolades. Many of Warren’s friends and family have contacted me to say how much they like the book and how well I captured him.

What advice would you give aspiring authors/writers?
Devoted readers make good writers. And great books are written by people who have something important to say. So if you find your subject of passion, it will help you hone your craft.

Alice Schroeder is appearing at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, Nov. 1.