Interim Spotlight: Bill Walker
Interim Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications, University of Arizona
What is your interim assignment, and could you tell us a little bit about it?
I was, up until just two weeks ago, the interim Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications at the University of Arizona. My assignment began in January 2017, and was originally supposed to end in June. The University extended the length of my assignment, which I was happy to do, and so I served in the interim role through December 2017.
Are there any nearby destinations of interest that you intend or have had the chance to explore?
My previous exposure to Arizona had been very limited, but in the year I spent at the University of Arizona I had the chance to explore several interesting places. My temporary home base of Tucson was itself a fascinating place, a vibrant and authentic southwestern city that captured the essence of southern Arizona. The desert and the mountains surrounding it have a natural beauty I have not seen anywhere else.
I also spent enough time in Phoenix to appreciate its energy as a thriving city, and as one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. And on several occasions I traveled to northern Arizona for meetings in Flagstaff, a charming college town in the Coconino National Forest. During those trips I explored Sedona, and back in the southern part of the state spent many weekends enjoying the Saguaro National Park, bicycling on the extensive trails along the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers, and hiking in the Catalina Mountains.
What’s been new in regard to culture that is different from your previous institution?
The University of Arizona is very distinctive in the ways it pursues its mission, and the culture of the university plays a major role in that. The U of A is perhaps best known nationally as a major research university, particularly in the sciences, but it is very much a student-centered institution. It is a place where you can see every day the influences of the Hispanic and Native American cultures. It is also a place where shared governance and interdisciplinary thinking are in the fabric of the organization. Those cultural attributes have enriched my work in marketing and communications planning.
How is it being the “new kid” on the block? Do you find you’re treated differently now than you were at the beginning of your assignment? How about after the extension?
My whole career has been a series of starting marketing and communications programs from scratch everywhere I’ve worked, so I’ve been accustomed to being the new kid in town for a long time. At the U of A I made a point early on of making face-to-face connections with as many people as possible, and that helped me to establish myself and make clear the task I’ve undertaken.
After the first six-month phase of my assignment, the new President appointed me to his senior leadership team, with the new title of Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications, with the high-level administrative duties that go with the title. While I had already been treated as a colleague by the other senior administrators, being at the table as part of the small circle that works daily with the President on guiding the direction of the university reinforced the importance of the work I was doing and facilitated the engagement we needed on the part of the administrative and academic leadership.
What’s the best recommendation you have to another new member thinking about taking on their first interim assignment?
Manage your time wisely. We all know how precious time is when you’re in any demanding position, but it is even more so when you’re in a position for a finite period. I knew even before I arrived that my time at the U of A would pass quickly, but it has passed even more rapidly than I could have imagined. Make sure to always be aware of your priorities when allocating your time for meetings, conversations and production.
Also, immerse yourself in the life and culture of the institution. You will learn most of what you need to know by focusing on high-priority activity during the workday, but take advantage of serendipitous opportunities to see the institution through informal contacts with the people around you. Talk to the students and faculty members and staff members you encounter along the way. Go to the concerts and museums and sporting events.