Talking Shop with Bill Holland, executive director of SEMO Foundation

Monday, March 8, 2010
Bill Holland is vice president for university advancement and executive director of the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation. (Fred Lynch)

Telephones, Italian meat and Redhawks are just a few words to describe Bill Holland's business interests. A former director of marketing for SBC and John Volpi & Co. meat company in St. Louis, Holland became executive director of the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation in June 2009. Business reporter Brian Blackwell recently visited with Holland to learn more about his past experiences with various companies and his view of what challenges lie ahead for the foundation.

Q: You're busy man, but when you have free time, what do you like to do?

A: I like to do home improvement projects, play golf and spend time with my kids and wife. I play as much golf as I can, which is about once every two weeks. We're very fortunate to have great courses here. It's just a great, great time. I've never gotten a hole in one but I have gotten a hole in three. I was at Bent Creek last fall. My first shot was in the lake, so there's a one-stroke penalty out. But I hit it in the hole on my third shot. I had a nice par that day.

Q: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?

A: I would want to be a governmental leader because I believe very strongly we have an obligation to help our communities and give back. I'd love to be governor or mayor where I could bring a community together and solve a problem. I think that communities need to continually strive to improve themselves in order to grow. We all have an obligation to get involved and help solve problems, whether it's on a local or national basis.

Q: What was the experience with Volpi like?

A: That was a wonderful experience, being able to work with my wife's family. It exposed me to an industry that is full of creativity. You get to meet people you [otherwise] never would have the opportunity to interface with.

Q: And what did you take away from that experience?

A: To be successful you have to have passion about your job and you have to be willing to be very hands-on. The food industry is not one where you can just sit back and direct people. It's a very active, vibrant, hands-on community.

Q: What is the future of the food industry?

A: People will always eat and people will always gravitate toward eating well. So more and more people are doing more high-end cooking in their high-end foods. Because of that I think the Volpi product will grow in the future.

Q: You're active in the area chamber of commerce and meet a wealth of businessmen and -women here. Compared to St. Louis, what is the business community like in the Cape Girardeau area?

A: This is a very supportive business community. Like any business community it's very competitive. But as evidenced by the chamber, this community is there to support each other. They respect one another. That's the greatest compliment to this business community.

Q: Your grandmother and sister both attended Southeast Missouri State University. How special was coming on board at the university?

A: It's a real thrill. My grandmother always told me about her days in Cape Girardeau going to school. I remember when my sister went to school here. SEMO is very special. I believe very much in the mission of the university and the people. This is truly a hidden gem in education. From the quality of the programs to the facilities and the commitment of the administration staff, that's what makes it very special. It makes coming to work very energizing, knowing you're promoting a goal.

Q: Technology has changed, including the way the university gets its message across. What has that been like for you?

A: One of the biggest challenges is how get a message out in this fractured world.

If I had the answer to that I'd be world famous. It's the ultimate business challenge. You have to be attuned to the opportunities. You need to have people in place to respond appropriately and quickly. And you have to maintain consistency in your message. One example is we're working throughout the community through Twitter and Facebook to increase our alumni involvement. We have more than 1,000 friends on our Facebook page and it's only been active within the last year. The way we have to look at new media is, we have to put ourselves in the mind of the user. Whether it's a prospective student, an alum or a current student, we have to use that medium effectively.

Q: Did you ever think you'd be incorporating Facebook and Twitter?

A: Yes. Before I took this job I kept challenging the guys here that we have to stay ahead of this curve because people were starting to communicate differently in other ways than e-mail. Our attention spans have become shortened. I've got wonderful people to support this.

Q: What is it like, fundraising in an environment like the one we're in business-wise?

A: It's very challenging. Fundraising is difficult but not impossible. The overall economy impacts our funding and everything we do. We continually have to strive for a better way to do things. We have to continually work with friends and donors to communicate what the mission of the university is. And we also have to work with donors to think of what legacy they'd like to have.

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