Jonathan Barry, Wisconsin Dept. of Workforce Development
IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Jonathan Barry, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Business Address: 201 E. Washington Ave., Madison WI 53707
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Barbara Mathison
Board Membership: Tyrol Basin Corp.; past: UW System Board of Regents, Wisconsin State Technical College System Board
Education: B.S., UW-Madison
Jonathan, how long have your worked for the DWD, and what does a deputy secretary at a state agency do?
One year. I'm the COO of this 1,650-person agency. The “man behind the curtain,” if you will.
Outside of politicians, who has influenced your career the most, and in what way?
W.T. "Bill" Graham. Besides hiring me to be president of his fast-growing company, The WT Rogers Corp., he affirmed that complete honesty in business is the only way to sustained success.
You’ve done many interesting things, in addition to your recent “hobby” of raising grass-fed beef. What was a career high point?
Ironically, losing the primary race for governor in 1986 opened a whole new and satisfying life beyond elective politics ... in business, with family, and in community service.
Losing as winning – great philosophy. Now, in your current role, what is a long-range goal that you’d like to claim as your legacy in the department?
As part of a reform-minded administration, and with a great team at DWD, rebuild our workforce development system where young people early understand and can fulfill their range of career choices, where workers may affordably and timely access skills training throughout their careers, and where employers will again prefer Wisconsin for doing business because of our consistently high-quality-educated, motivated, and skilled workforce.
You speak of young people’s career aspirations and knowing they have choices. When you were in high school, what were your career aspirations?
I wanted to be a writer.
I guess I am, sort of.
Your very first paycheck: From where, how much, and what did you do with it?
My first “paycheck,” as a Milwaukee Sentinel newsboy, went toward buying a big basket for my bicycle so that I could carry all the papers for my route in one load.
I’ve already mentioned raising beef, but please tell us more about your farming interests.
The core of my being is in my little farm in southwest Dane County where I have lived and worked the land for better than 42 years. It's a passion and, I feel, my responsibility to do something with the land each and every day. Be it preventing erosion, protecting the streams, improving the woodlots, building the soils, building buildings, building fences, breeding livestock, plowing, planting, harvesting, making the wood for winter and, seemingly always, haying. Also, certainly, planting flowers.
Are you able to leave the farm for other-world travel, in addition to your job demands?
There's a whole world right on the farm, but we do love the mountains of Montana (Mom's home ground) and, every couple of years, bareboat sail chartering in the Caribbean.
And then there is Tyrol Basin, and your contributions to that area.
I'm proud of the great and going community that I and my partners have built at Tyrol Basin. Over nearly 25 years, we have introduced many youth to the sport of skiing and boarding and made lots of people happy. This is Wisconsin. We have winter, and fun is an attitude!
Do you read for pleasure – any time for that?
Yes, constantly, and I'll read almost anything – from dense tomes to supermarket paperbacks.
Examples of books you’ve read recently, to give us a feel for your favorite genres?
Last four titles: Lyndon Johnson the Passage of Power by Robert Caro; The Amateur by Edward Klein; Barack Obama, The Story by David Maraniss; and Zero Day by David Baldacci.
Jonathan, we see an emerging picture of a farmer-at-heart, businessperson, and community-minded man immersed in servant leadership. Can you suggest three words that you’d choose to describe the man behind the curtain?
Barb says I'm charming, intense, and Irish. I'll go with that.
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