Eight questions with Kimberly Whitler

The UVA Darden School of Business professor of marketing on lessons learned, careers switched and basketball hopes dashed

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? Wow, that’s really tough as a first question – I’ve been influenced by a lot of people. Deb Henretta from Procter & Gamble said “Anybody can make something simple complicated. It takes somebody really smart to make something complicated simple.” That has stuck with me forever – as you go up the ladder, the next level up the rung likes information in a simpler fashion than you do.

My father, who was running a bank during the S&L crisis in the 80s, said: “Democracy doesn’t work in a crisis. People need orders from the leader.” Sitting around a table looking at his functional heads, it was clear to him they were frozen by the news that the bank had lost millions overnight. In that moment, they needed direction to get them to move beyond paralysis to action – and a belief that they could survive the crisis.

What is your favorite place in the world to visit? Arizona.

What is hardest thing you’ve ever done? Getting into the USAFA. Getting into and out of a PhD program in my 40s (I wouldn’t advise going into a PhD program in your 40s – very hard.)

What are you currently reading? The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon

What person do you most admire? Can’t limit myself to just one! First, my parents – I have a loving Tiger Mom and a father who believes strongly in individual responsibility and accountability. Second, Ronald Reagan, whose policies unleashed tremendous growth. And of course Deb Henretta, my mentor from P&G who taught me a lot about marketing, and Chris Puto my mentor from academia.

What is your favorite quote? It’s a cliché, but one of my first bosses kept saying “If it’s to be, it’s up to you,” which was based on the “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” quote.

Whether you are an objectivist, a self-determinist, an Adam Smith acolyte, or believe in Duckworth’s “grit,” the notion of individual drive to make things happen is something I try to own. It’s a philosophy based on an internal locus of control and a belief that we own our destiny, rather than believing that it is largely created and shaped by externalities. I learned this from my father, from key educators in my life, and try to live accordingly. “Go make it happen.”

What is your secret vice? UVA Basketball. Yes, I know that we were the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed, but I admire the commitment to holistic player development – character, person, player.

If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be? I have already switched careers – going from a GM/CMO role to professor – and have loved both professions.

Being a college professor of graduate students is amazing: you are around high-energy, exceptionally bright young people; you get to work on projects you want with people you like; and you set your own schedule (within reason). Since I made this switch recently, I wouldn’t shift to any other profession.


Eight questions with… is an occasional series where we ask marketers to share a little of their professional and personal insights. To suggest someone you’d like us to ask eight questions – or to answer them yourself! – go to https://arketi.com/8questions.

By Rory Carlton – June 14, 2018

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