URMIA Matters

Meet URMIA’s Executive Director

December 02, 2020 Julie Groves and Jenny Whittington Season 2 Episode 2
URMIA Matters
Meet URMIA’s Executive Director
URMIA Matters
Meet URMIA’s Executive Director
Dec 02, 2020 Season 2 Episode 2
Julie Groves and Jenny Whittington

A day in the life of an association manager is diverse and unique but requires a passion for its members and the content the association represents. Join URMIA Board Member and Guest Host Julie L. Groves, director of risk services at Wake Forest University as she interviews Jenny Whittington, executive director at URMIA and learn why Jenny and URMIA are a perfect match!

Show Notes  [member login required] 

Show Notes Transcript

A day in the life of an association manager is diverse and unique but requires a passion for its members and the content the association represents. Join URMIA Board Member and Guest Host Julie L. Groves, director of risk services at Wake Forest University as she interviews Jenny Whittington, executive director at URMIA and learn why Jenny and URMIA are a perfect match!

Show Notes  [member login required] 

Julie: Hi everyone, welcome to URMIA matters. I’m Julie Groves, the director of Risk Services at Wake Forest University, and I’ll be the guest host for today’s very special episode. It’s special because our guest is none other than Jenny Whittington, URMIA’s esteemed Executive Director. Welcome, Jenny! How does it feel to be in the hot seat? 

Jenny: Wow, I’ve been looking forward to this day, to be interviewed by one of my favorite board members ever, so happy to be here and to be the interviewee. Thank you for making this happen, Julie. 

Julie: Thank you for agreeing to be with us today. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to turn the tables a little bit, so why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself.

Jenny: Sure, so I grew up in Northern Indiana, I’ve been a Hoosier most of my entire life. I followed my parents’ footsteps and I came to Indiana University here in Bloomington, Indiana and then I moved to the big city of Chicago, just for a couple years with my sorority sisters from Indiana University. While I was in Chicago I met my husband, he worked at an Indiana electric utility at the time. After a couple years in Chicago I moved to Indianapolis. I lived in the Broad Ripple area for about seven or eight years, in that time I got married and then I had my son, Andrew, in the year 2000, and right around that time my parents had the opportunity to retire in Bloomington, Indiana. So it was very serendipitous because I had just had my son and my husband had a job opportunity in Bloomington, so we all reunited in Bloomington, home of our alma mater, and I’ve been here for about 20 years now.

Julie: Wow. That must be fun to return to your college roots.

Jenny: You never left your college roots, right?

Julie: I’ve never left my college, but somehow I just feel like the parties that went on at Indiana are probably a little more legendary than the ones that occurred at Wake Forest.

Jenny: We did have a reputation, I believe, in the 80s or the 90s as one of the party schools I believe. 

Julie: I don’t think Wake Forest has made that list, but I could be wrong. But yeah, so it is fun to live in the town with your alma maters so you can support your teams.

Jenny: Absolutely. 

Julie: So tell us how you ended up at URMIA. When you were young, did you dream of being executive director for an association? 

Jenny: Not exactly, but when I was young I did, I believed a long time that I wanted to be an art teacher, so when I was at Indiana University I studied a lot of art, and that led me to my major, which was interior design, but by the time I graduated I think I knew I didn’t really love interior design, but I was pretty good with graphics, and I loved the macintosh, and that was my love and

Julie: I remember when that was invented, if that’s dating me, but remember that? 

Jenny: The little baby macs? Yeah.

Julie: Yes, those were so cute. 

Jenny: So when I first moved to Chicago not very many people had that macintosh skill set, so that’s actually how I landed my first job at a consulting firm, so I did graphics for the consultants, and that led me to doing different things, I did a lot of graphics jobs, administrative things right out of college, but then one of my jobs when I moved back to Indianapolis, I was an event planner for an association and I loved that role, I loved working in the association space, the not-for-profit space, and when I first moved to Bloomington I actually worked for a bank and I did a lot of administrative things, but the community, part of my job, was the favorite part of my job, and I learned a lot about banking, met a lot of great people, I learned a lot about Bloomington. It was a great experience for me, but I think it was late in 2004, I saw an ad in the paper for this assistant executive director at a risk management association, so I had to do some research. 

Julie: Did that sound really boring? That sounds really boring. Did that sound really boring to you?

Jenny: I didn’t really know what risk management was, so I had to do some research and I got on and looked at URMIAs website and I applied for the position through an old fashioned cover letter and resume through the US mail, I’m dating myself, and it took a while.

Julie: That’s how it used to be done.

Jenny: It took a good while, maybe a couple months, and then I got a call on a Sunday afternoon, which I just thought was bizarre because I worked at a bank, nobody worked on Sundays at the bank, so this guy on the phone, his name was Bill Payton, he was from the University of Missouri, he was the then President of URMIA and he said that they wanted to interview me and I was like, great! So I came in for the interview in the next couple weeks and it was here at Indiana University in the Poplars building, and there are legends that Elvis slept there, I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you that story, or you might remember that from that campus tour you had.

Julie: It’s amazing, it’s amazing.

Jenny: Yeah, it’s legendary. So, anyway I interviewed with Bill Payton from University of Missouri, Mary Dewey from University of Vermont and Larry Stephens from Indiana University, and I had a great discussion with them, they told me all about URMIA and I told them how much I loved my prior association job and that very day they called me and they offered me a position at URMIA, and that was, I started on February 15th, 2005. It’s like it was yesterday. 

Julie: Wow, we are so glad that they hired you. 

Jenny: That’s kind. 

Julie: And that is just, it’s been fabulous. So, tell us, so now that you’ve been here for 15 years, over 15 years, tell us what a day in the life of Jenny Whittington looks like.

Jenny: Every day is a little different. I like to start my day early, and people over the years that know me, know that I’m an insomniac, so sometimes you’ll get emails from me in the middle of the night, I apologize for that. When you can’t sleep, you might as well be productive. A typical day for me, I chose the day of Wednesday of this week, so that was the day the previous podcast launched, so I woke up that day and I listened to the podcast that you and Craig McAllister did with Dr. Branco, really enjoyed that, and then I went to the office and I started preparing. We’re doing a board orientation with our new board members later today, so I worked on that board presentation, and then it was a special day, our two student workers, Olivia and Kiersten, had brought up the idea of us having a pre-Thanksgiving luncheon this week to celebrate in such an unusual, extraordinary year. So we, the staff, all gathered, some via zoom and then the people that are here in Bloomington who felt safe, we all gathered around the table and had sushi!

Julie: Oh!

Jenny: For our Thanksgiving.

Julie: Because that’s, I think they had that, the pilgrims for Thanksgiving. 

Jenny: I’m sure they did, yeah it was turkey, sushi… They probably did have salmon, that’s probably not a stretch.

Julie: That’s probably true.

Jenny: So it was a great pre-Thanksgiving dinner, we had a little round robin, told a few Thanksgiving stories. It’s just been such a year, I think we all have to take any kind of bit of celebration that we can. So, Julie, I’d love to hear about a typical day in the life of Julie Groves.

Julie: That’s a really interesting question because obviously I would have answered it very differently before COVID than I would now. Before the pandemic I went everyday to my office on a vibrant college campus, and I generally had a draft plan of what I hope to accomplish that day but as other risk managers know, plans often fall by the wayside, and in fact there were many days where I hardly had time to look at my computer at all, and prior to COVID, besides putting out the fires we’re all familiar with, some of my time was spent working with others on strategic, bigger things, and I think COVID has certainly changed that, for the moment at least. Now, most of my day is spent here at my house on zoom meetings and answering calls and emails and dealing with COVID-related issues, so hopefully we’re going to be coming through the woods on this at any minute, and this is not going to always be the case, but it sure has been an interesting phase of my life, to say the least. 

Jenny: Yeah, I think the zoom fatigue is real, but it really has helped us stay connected, to see each other and the amount of things that we can do electronically is amazing. For years I wanted our board meetings, the ones that we do on teleconference or on zoom, we really encouraged everybody to use their camera, but people were not very willing to do it, but now we’re all so used to it’s really helpful  … it is. So maybe there were some positive things there that will come out of this.

Julie: Yeah, I think we’ll find that as we get through this and on the other side, that there will be things that we do now that we never did before that will be positive and there’ll be changes we make going forward. So, tell me what you think some of URMIAs greatest strengths are.

Jenny: I think that URMIA has the most amazing group of human beings. I’ve always said that I feel really super fortunate to work with and for people who are so passionate about what they do, that they give back to their profession everyday. Not only our leadership group, but every single member of URMIA cares so much about what they do, and I’ve always thought that higher education was such a tremendous space to work in. We get to be around these campuses that are just phenomenally beautiful. I love getting out and seeing campuses and hoping that day does return, but they're idyllic, and you have this group of young people who are so amazing, our two student workers remind me of it every week. They’re just so optimistic, they’re our future. I think that URMIAs greatest strength hands-down is our people. They just care so much about each other and our affiliate members are a great group of people too, I think they care a lot about higher education because they’re protecting the assets just like the risk managers are, and they give so much of their time, I’ve always been amazed at how willing people are to give their advice, their counsel, they’re so generous with that. So, I’d love to hear what you think URMIAs greatest strengths are.

Julie: I really agree with you, I think our members are incredible, there is always such a willingness, to share knowledge, resources, and experience and people, I think, really want to help their colleagues, and as you said it’s not just with our institutional members, but it’s also true for the affiliates, they are always so giving with their resources and I think I would say that these other strengths I think URMIA has is our URMIA staff. I think you all are a great asset. You work very hard to make sure that this organization meets the needs of its members and we really appreciate all the hard work.

Jenny: Oh, that’s very kind. We do, we have a great team. Terrific. Thank you for saying that.

Julie: Yeah, that’s true. If you could change one thing about URMIA, what would it be? 

Jenny: So I’ve given this some thought, and over the years URMIA has thought about changing their name a few times because URMIA, while it rolls off my tongue, it’s a hard word to say. So I, if I could change one thing, I would change our name to HERM. It’s a little bit shorter, it’s a little bit easier to pronounce, but I haven’t really had the opportunity to sell this idea, so maybe this podcast will go viral and then by the end of 2021, we’ll be HERM, higher education risk management. 

Julie: So, do you think after 50 years it would be hard to rebrand an organization with a completely different name? What if we start calling, your name has been Jenny for all these years, would that be hard? 

Jenny: I’ve heard that argument, and that’s exactly why the consultants told us back in 2006 to keep URMIA, but maybe we could just change it, change the tagline. Maybe we could just be URMIA, buy say higher education risk management. It’s definitely shorter than University Risk Management and Insurance Association. 

Julie: That is true. We’ll take that under consideration and we’ll see how, if this becomes a movement, Jenny, and if it does then we’ll have this podcast for that.

Jenny: Thanks, Julie for that opportunity.

Julie: Sure, anytime. I want you to have a time for your platform, so that’s fine. Is there anything that’s really surprised you about URMIA, besides the fact that it’s name is not HERM?

Jenny: A lot of things have surprised me over the years. I’ve already alluded to the generosity of time that our members give, really just the not-for-profit space just surprises me day in and day out. The amount of good people want to do. During the virtual conference we had run the campaign for people to donate to a charity like we always do when we have an in person conference, we pick a charity and we do URMIAcares, we raise funds. But this year I was really touched. A lot of people made their own donations and then in the end URMIA itself made a $1,000 donation to Feeding America. That’s real money that’s feeding real people, so I love those kinds of surprises. 

Julie: That’s great. Do you have any favorite memories you want to share with us? 

Jenny: Oh, so many great memories. I actually, during this pandemic 

Julie: We could be here all day sharing memories

Jenny: During the pandemic I find myself looking at my old photos and on social media I get these memories that pop up and it was pretty challenging to get through the month of September because I have 15 years worth of conferences that a lot of URMIA members do as well. We’ve gotten to travel to these wonderful places and experience wonderful venues and just wonderful memories of being together, but absolutely the best memory was the year 2017 and just leading up to the conference we had at disney world. Julie knows that I’m a huge disney fan, and most people who know me know that I’m a huge disney fan, but Chauncey Fagler and Steve Bryant and Keely Sims and I all got to experience like the best three days of my life doing the site visit to Orlando, because everybody knows Orlando is an entertainment Mecca, but we ate and drank and entertainer our way through Orlando. We got to be VIPs at the Universal Studios and do the Harry Potter attractions that were pretty new back then. We had a solo voyage on soaring, a special reception at Epcot just for us. We got to go to disney several times that year. We got to do the behind the scenes tour, just the whole disney experience. I loved just being a part of that and felt really fortunate to work for an organization that went to disney and I’m always encouraging going back to disney, os that could be the other part of the viral

Julie: Yes, I would second that. I hope that goes viral as well.

Jenny: Let’s bring disney back. I know there are some members who didn’t appreciate the disney experience quite as much as you and I did but there’s something there for everyone, but you have to look really.

Julie: You do, you do. Yes. Yeah, so we’ll try to get that movement started.

Jenny: So how about you? 

Julie: I think the disney conference is probably, ranks up there as my favorite conference. That was really… not just because we were at disney but I thought some of the sessions we had, particularly with a risk manager from disney, I thought that was very interesting. So, it was fun, but it was very educational. I think the hotel for the Salt Lake City conference was amazing and I’ll always remember that, but I think my most favorite memories from URMIA center around the opening reception nights and the gala events because that’s when everybody can be together and just have a lot of fun and so I really applaud you all. I think you did a great job with our virtual conference in September, but I look forward to the day when we can all be back.

Jenny: Yep, we’ve started working on Seattle. We’re pretty excited about it. We want to stay as positive and optimistic and hope that everything comes together in early 2021 that sets us up to have an in person conference in Seattle, but yeah I too, I miss everybody, I miss seeing everybody and just exchanging those sidebar conversations that you have when you’re with people. Going back to the disney conference, those disney institute sessions, they were so positive they really talked about a level of customer service that I think we all aspire to. They reach a little bit higher and further than everybody else and it shows in what they do and I think our members do the same thing. I think they reach higher and they try harder to say yes and to find solutions to risk management problems. Julie, this has been such a pleasure! Thank you for asking me to be interviewed.

Julie: Well, is there anything else you want to share? Anything else you want to share with our listeners before we sign off?

Jenny: Oh, just that I feel fortunate everyday to work for URMIA. As I’ve been working from home during the pandemic my husband, he just commented to me yesterday “you have a lot of fun on your conference calls”. He says you laugh a lot, and I’m like, I think that’s the highest compliment you can give me. 

Julie: That is true, that is a fabulous compliment. So, I have one last question I want to ask you, before we sign off, okay, after working with us for so long, would you ever want to switch careers and become a risk manager?

Jenny: Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. I’ve often said I could play a risk manager on tv, but I don’t know if I could be one day in and day out. I would consider it. I think what you guys do is so interesting because it’s always different. No day is the same, and just the exposure to working with students, like I said earlier, they’re just so amazing and creative and positive, I think that would always be fun.

Julie: Okay, you all heard it here first, Jenny is considering a career change, so let her know if you have… We don’t want her to leave! If you have any job openings, let her know. Well, thank you Jenny so much for being here today, it was great to have a chance to chat with you, and we appreciate you spending a little time in the hotseat, and this wraps another episode of URMIA matters.