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Demetrios Boutris ’83 Is Cultivating Leadership

As Demetrios Boutris ’83 concludes his eight years of service on the Cal Alumni Association’s board of directors, we reflect on his impact as a leader and mentor within the Cal community.

May 29, 2024
by Josephine Thornton
Demetrios Boutris with his dog, Fritz Demetrios Boutris ’83 with Fritz, his longhaired dachshund, in Central Park. / Courtesy of Demetrios Boutris

Demetri Boutris ’83 has served as a corporate lawyer, businessman, and governmental advisor, and on several public and private boards. From Clinton’s presidential campaign to real-estate finance, Boutris has been busy. Despite this, he always finds time for the community that raised him, such as by serving on the Cal Alumni Association (CAA) Board of Directors for the past eight years. As his tenure on the board concludes, CAA sat down with Boutris to reflect on his leadership and legacy. 

Cal Alumni Association (CAA): Tell us a bit about your childhood.

Demetrios Boutris (DB): As an immigrant from Athens, Greece, to San Diego, raised in a single-parent, working-class household, I learned the value of resilience, grit, and a positive demeanor in the face of adversity. My father imbued me with a sense of possibilities in California and in America. I was fortunate enough to have a good public school education, learn English, and work odd jobs. 

CAA: How did you first hear about UC Berkeley?

DB: My journey to UC Berkeley began with a serendipitous encounter with the Cal Alumni Association at San Diego High School. I was thinking about staying close to home and attending San Diego State University, but a fellow from CAA was recruiting at my high school. Also, my first cousin, whom I looked up to (and still do, he’s a wonderful role model!) was at UC Berkeley and I was inspired to apply. 

CAA: What was your experience like as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley? What kinds of impact did it have?

DB: With the support of Pell Grants and CAA Scholarships, the path to UC Berkeley became not only a dream but a tangible reality. My undergraduate years at UC Berkeley were a profound journey of growth and discovery, both inside and outside of the classroom. I initially struggled academically during my freshman year but I found my footing with the help of tutors at CAA who took an interest in me, as well as help from my cousin, who, as an upperclassman, encouraged me. So, I embraced the academic and social challenges that came my way and Berkeley broadened my horizons. As I became engaged in economics and political science, I also met students, both undergrad and graduate, from all over the world as I took my meals at International House. This enriched my experience, fostering a sense of global citizenship, camaraderie, and lots of heated debates about public policy, national security, and current affairs of the time. 

I loved the Berkeley experience so much that when I was lucky enough to be admitted to Boalt Hall for grad school, I was elated. But, Professor Ben Ward, the mentor to so many of us in the Econ Department, had insisted that I put in at least one application to an East Coast grad school, and, when I got into Harvard, he encouraged me to stretch my geography and challenge myself in a new place. I don’t think I would have had the courage to go East without his mentorship and the preparation of my Berkeley undergrad years. So, my work in Berkeley and then in Cambridge sparked a path toward a career first in law and then in government and public service.

Demetrios Boutris at the Greek Independence Day parade in New York City
Greek Independence Day parade in New York City. / Courtesy of Demetrios Boutris

CAA: What professional paths did you pursue after graduating from UC Berkeley?

DB: I was fortunate enough to work for excellent law firms as a corporate lawyer in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I learned how to advocate, persuade, and serve clients from tremendous senior lawyers there —many of whom were Boalt Law graduates. I often thought “Gee, I should have stayed at Cal for law school,” as had my older cousin whom I idolized and who became leader of the California Tax Bar. 

As I practiced law, the “Berkeley bug” of public affairs and policy that I caught in my undergrad years kept growing. So, I started helping both California and national campaigns for people who inspired me. I was lucky enough to work in the Clinton ’92 campaign, so I was asked to work in the Clinton White House in the US Trade Office. Later in my career, after a stint on Wall Street, I helped a friend who became Governor of California, Gray Davis, who asked me to be his Counsel and then to run a State Department. My UC Berkeley skills in policy, debate, and positive engagement came to good use!

Later, after I was in business in Sacramento and was involved with several startup businesses, another friend became Governor of New York. He asked me to run an Authority New York. Each step of my journey in public service has been guided by what I learned as an immigrant kid from San Diego who got schooled at UC Berkeley: honest inquiry, dedication to the facts, listening to people—especially those I disagree with and doing what all Berkeley students do, try to effect positive results. 

Demetrios Boutris
Boutris in Midtown Manhattan. / Courtesy of Demetrios Boutris

CAA: You’ve been actively involved in various capacities in the Cal Alumni Association board for over eight  years, on the Executive, Finance, and Governance committees, and as a two-term Vice President. What has that experience taught you?

DB: My tenure on the Cal Alumni Association board has been a profound lesson on the power of community and the enduring spirit of Berkeley and its people. Serving alongside tremendous fellow alumni on the Board and dedicated CAA staff, I have been humbled to witness the wonderful work of CAA, first and foremost with the scholarship programs for Cal students! Also seeing CAA staff deliver programs and services to the alumni and campus has been an inspiration, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CAA: You’ve worked at some of the highest levels of law and government and you serve the CAA board. How do you keep that same energy and enthusiasm for serving students?

DB: My passion for serving students stems from a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of education, and in particular, the public higher education system in California, with its legacy of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr., the community colleges, Cal State University, and the University of California campuses. This higher-education jewel has been a driving economic and social engine for California, America, and the world. And Berkeley, especially in its undergraduate programs, is at the very apex of making global citizens who are upwardly mobile. Each interaction with our brilliant, active, questioning, and affable students reaffirms my optimism for their boundless potential and fuels the dedication of my colleagues on the CAA Board and staff to creatie opportunities for student success.

Boutris with his wife Mika and older son Ari at the Metropolitan Opera
Boutris with his wife Mika and older son Ari at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, in New York City. / Courtesy of Demetrios Boutris
Demetrios Boutris and Mike Chang
Boutris and his wife Mika Chang, a pianist, in Carnegie Hall. / Courtesy of Demetrios Boutris

CAA: When you look at the students now do you see yourself? Why or why not?

DB: In the faces of today’s students, I see some reflections of my own journey and my fellow Board members’ journeys. The challenges of Berkeley are enormous at the academic, social, and personal levels for students, but these young people are better prepared, more resilient, and more dedicated. I know that CAA and campus leadership are in awe of our student’s abilities, and we remain dedicated to helping them achieve the excellence promised by Berkeley.

Boutris’ fellow board members reflect on the impact and legacy that he leaves on the Cal Alumni Association Board and on the broader Cal community. 

“As Executive Director of the Cal Alumni Association, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to CAA Board member Demetrios Boutris for his outstanding leadership over the past eight years. Demetri is the model of a servant leader and his incomparable commitment to the mission of CAA and UC Berkeley has profoundly benefited the Cal alumni community. Thank you, Demetri, and Go Bears!”
—Susie Crumpler, Executive Director of the Cal Alumni Association

“Congratulations to Demetri Boutris for his eight-year service on the Cal Alumni Association Board. He has been a dynamic and creative leader whose compassion for supporting the underserved knows no bounds.”
—Clothilde (Cloey) Hewlett ’76, J.D. ’79, Commissioner of California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, former Executive Director of the Cal Alumni Association

“Demetri is truly a Golden Bear. He lives the values we associate with our University; inclusion, kindness, care for cause, and seeking to understand the intellectual basis for all things. He leaves the CAA Board with a legacy of thoughtful leadership, always showing how we can carefully but thoroughly understand different and divergent views. His calm and empathetic approach to problem-solving was an example he constantly taught to everyone. He will always be admired for presenting his views and counsel in a way that was engaging and could be debated; but showed everyone it was always about understanding, not conflict. His legacy is one of quiet confidence, candor with fact, and learning as a path to growth.”
—Greg Ginsburg ’84, MBA, Cal Alumni Association board member 

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