Posted on January 26, 2024 by UTSA School of Data Science

Graham Weston's Vision: Bridging Tech and Real Estate, From Rackspace to Transforming San Antonio with Data Science Education
g-weston1a.jpgInterview with Graham Weston

Real estate/urban development and technology seem like wildly different fields; What prompted your move from the tech industry after Rackspace?  Actually, there is a direct connection there. We acquired our first office tower in downtown San Antonio in the 1980s, which we renamed the Weston Centre, and I managed it. Some years later, we hired a trio of Trinity University students to make the Weston Centre the first office building in the city with high-speed internet available to all tenants. Those Trinity students met with me and Morris Miller, an attorney working with me on business development, and told us about an unfunded business idea they had to start a web hosting company. I funded the project. It became Rackspace, and together we built a multi-billion-dollar company into a global brand with thousands of employees here in San Antonio and in Austin, with offices and operations on multiple continents.

Your gift to the UTSA School of Data Science is the largest gift ever to the school. What inspired you to invest in data science and data science education in particular? An important focus of mine, which dates to the era of Mayor Julían Castro and his SA2020 initiative has been building a better downtown and making this a city our kids want to call home. It serves as a talent magnet, attracting others to live and work here. I agreed to serve as one of three tri-chairs of SA2020 and it served as the inspiration for a broader vision of mine to double down on downtown. I think San Antonio might have been the largest city in the U.S. without a vibrant four-year university in its center.

My gift to UTSA accomplished two things: It helped accelerate President Taylor Eighmy’s ambitious plans to expand the Downtown Campus and it created from the ground up a data science school unlike anything any other Texas university offers. Students who graduate from the data science program will go on to start companies, design new applications, embrace AI, and we hope, do it all in San Antonio, preferably downtown San Antonio.

datascience1.jpgIn the past, you’ve described how the School of Data Science will attract talent and resources to San Antonio. What is it about data science that you believe will so profoundly impact the industry and community? Data science will prove to be, or already is, one of the fastest-growing tech sectors. Demand for skilled data scientists will vastly exceed supply for years to come. We are working on the supply side. AI will change everyone’s lives – we believe mostly for the better with the right regulatory guardrails – just as profoundly as other technological advances that have changed everyone’s lives – the internet, smartphones, and high-speed broadband.

What are your hopes, goals, and/or predictions for San Antonio and the SDS in the next five years? I hope for and expect the School of Data Science to become a recognized national leader in the field under its highly recruited director David Mongeau. He was a major get for President Eighmy, UTSA, and the city, and a great example of the kind of brain gain that a data science school and program can bring to San Antonio. Five years from now everyone in Texas who is involved in tech, research and development, or higher ed will know all about UTSA’s School of Data Science.

datascience2.jpgDo you have any advice for SDS students? My advice for students is to pursue their entrepreneurial passions. Take risks. Develop mentor relationships. And by all means, don’t live in an academic bubble. These students will be attending classes in one of the country’s most historic and unique cities. Become civically engaged. Vote in elections. Enjoy the many locally-owned businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. The school is an easy walk to Southtown, which gets more interesting every year, and there is San Pedro Creek on the west end of downtown and a revitalized Hemisfair on the eastern edge. Legacy Park, Travis Park, and Milam Park all offer inviting green spaces with local retail options, lots of pop-up events, and other gatherings that attract students and young professionals. Former Mayor Henry Cisneros recently attended San Antonio Startup Week presented by Geekdom at the Rand Building, and in an appearance on the bigcitysmalltown podcast with Bob Rivard, he said "We are living in the most opportunistic moment in the city’s modern history." Coming from someone so accomplished and someone with such a national perspective as Henry, that’s exciting to hear.

g_weston2.jpgFrom whom or what do you derive inspiration in your personal and/or professional life? I have a saying that is actually mounted and framed in my ranch office: “What we all want is to be a valued member of a winning team on an inspiring mission.”

Whether you are part of a small startup just beginning to turn an idea into a business, or working at an established company like Weston Urban, that’s what we all want. We want to be valued. We want to do important work. We want to associate with other high performing individuals.

I’ve met so many inspiring, brilliant, and talented people in the course of my career in real estate development and in tech, and I come from a family with deep roots in England/Great Britain, Canada, and now Texas. Knowing and appreciating their past accomplishments inspires me to accomplish more in my own time.

What is the last book you read or what is your favorite book? The Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. I’ll probably read his recently published bio of Elon Musk. I go through books quickly.

If you could meet one famous person – living or dead – who would it be and why? Probably Steve Jobs. I wouldn’t have wanted to work under him, but he changed the world.

 

 

— UTSA School of Data Science