Alan Ratliff, Servant Leader

In many ways, Alan Ratliff epitomizes what’s possible for someone who comes to Houston from somewhere else. The city opens its arms – and gives great responsibilities – to those willing to put in the work to make this a better place for everyone. Alan, who says he moved four times with his family before he started Kindergarten, landed in Houston after law school, and he’s been making his mark on this city ever since.

Even as a young kid growing up in a lower-middle-class family in St. Louis, Alan was aware that not everyone was “similarly situated”, that some of his friends had greater needs and less stability in their lives, or had less support from their parents. When he was old enough to earn some spending money (teaching piano and mowing lawns), he was glad to share what he had with his friends, buying ice cream or popcorn when they hung out.

This sense of giving back was a natural part of who he was as a kid, but he didn’t specifically seek out traditional volunteer opportunities in high school; rather, he was interested in leadership roles, which were embedded in service activities (which has come to be known in leadership literature as the servant leader style). In addition to double-lettering in two varsity sports at his large public high school (800 students in his graduating class), he was also the Editorial Editor of his school newspaper (and inducted into Quill & Scroll), the lead alto saxophonist in his school’s jazz band, and he served as co-captain of the school’s speech and debate team (and earned one of the four spots on the Greater St. Louis All-Star Debate Team).

Once he got to Baylor, which he says lured him during summer debate camps with “incredible roast beef”, he was immersed in a culture that actively offered students service opportunities. Servant leadership is strong at Baylor and Alan was hooked, joining a number of service committees and boards.

“Do small things every day to make the world a better place.”

He was employed in the campus work-study program as the student assistant to a tenured management and leadership professor, and he had partial scholarships during his first two years at Baylor. Fortunately, with his good grades (and good networking), he earned full tuition for his last two years, and, during his fifth year – as he worked toward his master’s degree –  he served as a teaching fellow lecturing in five accounting classes. He enjoyed serving in this way and sought out ways to stay connected to students.

Teachers have played a significant role in his life, and Alan reflected on the people he knew as a kid who had potential, and who needed help but didn’t get it. He realized he could have a positive impact on helping to build the people of tomorrow. Not by giving a handout but instead by helping out. Right out of college, Alan regularly served as a substitute teacher and worked with students through Junior Achievement and Volunteers in Public Schools.

Never one to shy away from hard work (see above), Alan worked part-time again through the work-study program during law school at SMU as a professor’s assistant and taught CPA review classes on the side. After clerking for a federal judge and settling down in Houston, he joined the Houston Bar Association and he stayed connected to education through the Houston Bar Association’s Lawyers in Public Schools program which provided free substitute teachers in HISD so teachers could attend in-service training (including serving as the second chairperson of the program).

During the 1990s he also served as the first board chair for Baylor’s Young Graduate Foundation, and he served two terms as the board chair of the Federal Bar Association for the Southern District of Texas.

Two of Alan’s mentors and peers, Melanie Gray and Sofia Adrogué, saw his servant leadership qualities and connected him to Chinquapin and Girls Inc. Fortunately for both organizations, he joined their boards more than nineteen years ago, and he took on the chairman role for both at crucial points for each organization. He remains engaged with these organizations because he sees them as a means to deliberately exert pressure to affect positive change, and shift cultural norms making it acceptable for women to be on equal footing with men.

His interest in education and the arts (in addition to piano and saxophone, Alan also used to play the clarinet) drew him to the after-school arts education program run by Theatre Under The Stars (The Humphreys School of Musical Theater and the River School which provides musical theater as therapy for children with special needs and their families), where he has served on the Community Education Committee for nearly 20 years. 

Alan’s connections in the community and his willingness to serve extends to four-legged friends, too. First tapped by former Houston Mayor, Anise Parker, Alan was reappointed by Mayor Sylvester Turner as the Houston BARC Foundation chair for three years of his four years on the board.

On April 9, Girls Inc. will honor Alan with the inaugural “He’s in Her Corner” award at its 25th Strong, Smart, & Bold gala based on his mentoring school-age girls and women peers throughout his career – giving back and paying forward the mentoring he received from women educators and peers throughout his life. The mission of the “He’s In Her Corner” initiative is to encourage all men to be advocates and allies for girls’ empowerment and support Girls Inc. of Greater Houston’s mission to inspire all girls to be Strong, Smart & Bold.

Why girls? Of the ten most impactful people in Alan’s life, he says no less than eight of them are female. From childhood and on into his professional career, he has seen that girls and women do not have the same opportunities he or other men have had and he wants to make sure this changes.


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