Q&A with Harvie Wilkinson, new head of UK's MBA program

Harvie Wilkinson took charge of the Gatton College of Business and Economics MBA program this year.
Harvie Wilkinson took charge of the Gatton College of Business and Economics MBA program this year. Photo courtesy University of Kentucky

Many Lexington business executives know Harvie Wilkinson from his finance positions at Keeneland or his years practicing law at Stoll Keenon Ogden before that. The public knows him from his time leading the Fayette County Board of Education. Now, tomorrow's area business leaders are getting to know him as the head of the University of Kentucky's MBA program.

Wilkinson, a UK alumnus, took over for retiring leader Mary Lee Kerr, who revamped the program in the past decade to make it a one-year experience at the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

The Herald-Leader caught up with Wilkinson recently to learn about his goals for the program and its role in the community. Questions and answers have been edited.

Question: What are your priorities as you take over the leadership of the program?

Answer: Our goal is to continue to make the Gatton MBA programs relevant in terms of delivering high-performing graduates to the business world. In particular, and this goes for both the 11-month, full-time program and our part-time evening program, we want to increase our focus on the so-called "soft" skills: leadership, communication, team building, ethics and a global perspective.

We also are placing a priority on broadening the visibility of the MBA programs across the commonwealth and beyond. And, we continue to put an emphasis on improving the overall diversity of the students in our 11-month program, in terms of gender, race, cultural background, international students, undergraduate majors and work experience.

Q: What do you see as the biggest asset to the Gatton College in expanding the reputation and ranking of the MBA program?

A: Our biggest asset clearly is our MBA faculty. The breadth and depth of expertise and experience, as well as their sincere commitment to the program.

Another important strength is Project Connect, which enables students in the 11-month program to gain hands-on, real-world experience working in teams with regional companies.

One more asset in our evening program is the experience and diversity of our students, which truly enriches the program. Faculty members often comment on the stimulating classroom discussions which can arise. In a sense, it sometimes is like the students teaching the students.

Q: By the same token, what do you see as the biggest obstacle?

A: One of the obstacles we are addressing in the 11-month program is to get our message out to businesses that we have highly qualified, high-achieving students who will make valuable employees, even though many of them are relatively young and lack work experience.

We are working very hard to recruit more experienced, seasoned students to the full-time program. We are confident that our success in this area will increase as we enhance our brand within the state and across the nation.

Q: How would you rate the program's involvement with area business executives?

A: We definitely are working to expand the Gatton MBA program's involvement with area business leaders. For one thing, we need to engage executives and listen to them to find out just what it is they are looking for in a potential employee. To this end, we are in the process of forming an MBA advisory council to help us in collecting this input and staying current.

We firmly believe that the stronger our connections are with area business leaders, the better our programs will be. These executives also can be a wonderful resource for helping steer their own employees toward our programs and investing in their continued educational development.

Additionally, we have launched a speakers bureau and a mentoring program, which certainly enriches the students' overall experience in the programs."