Weili Cheng, Executive Director of the Association of Yale Alumni

Weili Cheng is the executive director of the Yale Alumni Association (YAA). In that role, she is responsible for
overseeing the strategy and direction of the organization, its operations and programs. Ms. Cheng came to Yale
from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, a subsidiary of Marriott International, Inc., where she was senior vice
president and deputy general counsel responsible for oversight of all legal matters relating to the company’s
operations, which include hotels, residential, and club properties around the world. As a member of The Ritz-
Carlton Executive Committee, she also played an active role in shaping the company’s global business strategies
and policies across the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
Prior to joining The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in 2007, Ms. Cheng served for 22 years in the Law Department
of Marriott, as well as vice president and assistant general counsel for the international lodging operations
division of Marriott. She held several leadership roles, including spearheading the company’s China entry
strategy, serving as chair of the company’s casino oversight committee and participating as a member of various
corporate committees relating to strategic planning, diversity and women’s issues. Before her tenure at
Marriott, she was a trial attorney and an attorney-advisor at the United States Department of Justice and an
attorney in private practice.
Ms. Cheng has a long history of service to her alma mater. She graduated from Yale with a B.A. in philosophy.
Shortly after graduating, she became actively involved as a Yale volunteer and remained deeply involved serving
on the YAA Board of Governors and as chair from 1992 to 1994 — the youngest and first female graduate of Yale
College to hold that position. She has been president of the Yale Club of Washington, D.C., chair of her Class
Council, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of the Yale Library Associates. Since 1994, she
has served on the board of directors of Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., which publishes the Yale Alumni
Magazine. For her service to Yale, Ms. Cheng was awarded the Yale Medal in 1997. She and her husband, Brad
Dobeck, are also Yale parents; their son, Stephen, graduated from Yale College in 2010.

On her greatest accomplishments:

I am most proud of my family: my 40-year marriage and our son. I am also proud that I am a breast cancer survivor. In 2000, when the doctor told my husband and me that I had cancer, our first thought was of our 12 year old son – how would he cope with the news? The doctor advised us to tell him the truth and he handled it well. The lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation were no fun but I learned a lot. My cancer “adventure” has helped me to be more empathetic and patient. It has also been a reminder to try to slow down, which I don’t do often enough!
As an aside, I was diagnosed just before I was scheduled to fly to Honolulu to close a hotel deal. I am from Hawaii, and this deal held special significance for me.  I was disappointed not to go to the closing. However, a cancer diagnosis establishes clear priorities. As I reflect on my career, I am proud of my contributions to Marriott’s growth internationally, particularly with respect to Ritz-Carlton. I am also proud of my transition from a corporate to a university setting.

What she does, in her own words:

I oversee the direction, strategy and operations of an office that connects Yale alumni to each other and to the university. The office supports alumni groups – 180 Yale clubs, 40 shared interest groups, and 70 classes. We work with alumni volunteers to provide in-person and online activities and programs. These offer intellectual engagement, service opportunities, and career skills-building and networking. These range from reunions to travel to conferences, webinars, lectures and workshops.

The best and worst parts of her job:

The best: I see and make a lot of friends! I am in touch with college friends and have the chance to build and renew friendships. The worst is that I am not at home as much as I would like to be. I work in New Haven, CT, and my husband and residence are in Arlington, VA:

On advice:

Many people are afraid of failure. I have realized in the last few years, however, that I’m more concerned with regret. Throughout my life, when encountering opportunities, I have asked myself “Would I regret not
pursuing this opportunity?” I was given three pieces of excellent advice that would apply to all fields and careers.

  • As I was growing up, my father always told me “Education is important because no one can take it away from you!”
  • When I was in law school, I worked for a lawyer during the summer. He told me “You may be smart but there will always be someone who works harder than you.” This piece of advice helped me to develop a strong work ethic.
  • When I was a trial attorney with the Department of Justice, an opposing counsel, who had been incredibly obnoxious and rude in the courtroom but who was friendly and courteous outside the courtroom, told me that “I always try to be nice to everyone because I never know when and under what circumstances our paths will cross again.”

On something unexpected about her work:

In the corporate/business world where I spent my legal career, there is a distinction between business and personal. In the world of alumni relations, there is no such distinction; it is all personal. I am impressed by how much Yale alumni care about their alma mater. They do not hesitate to express their opinions, both positive and negative. Either way, they care, often with passion.

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