Hawkeye in Dairyland: Steve King comes full circle

An Iowa Hawkeye in Wisconsin Badgerland, Steve King, 62, just celebrated his one-year anniversary as director of the Center for Professional and Executive Development at the University of Wisconsin School of Business. “I do have some Wisconsin roots,” he laughed, noting that he earned his master’s in economics from UW-Oshkosh and also worked in the state’s voc-tech system early in his career.

Once a teacher and educator, King spent the bulk of his career as an executive in areas such as human resources, global account management, and learning development for BMO Harris, Hewitt Associates, and most recently, Baxter Healthcare. 

For the past year, he’s overseen the UW business school’s offerings for non-degree activities — a role he feels uniquely qualified for. “[For 25 years], I was on the other side of the desk buying the very services I now sell.”

The Center for Professional and Executive Development offers programs and certificates to professionals in various fields, and it’s made up of four different groups: the UW Small Business Development Center; the Family Business Center; a custom learning group, which provides custom-built training for organizations wanting specific training curriculums; and the open enrollment program, which makes more than 60 programs available to professionals. 

“Our client base is not students but professionals,” King reiterated, noting a common misconception. The department helps professionals and organizations alike with important transitions — special career moments or corporate expansions — where learning will help. “Our job is to help them become skilled and knowledgeable to transition effectively.” 

On a personal level, King is a driven leader with a desire to help organizations create productive and humane workplaces. “That’s my job,” he said. “I think a lot of leaders, and those that work for them, sometimes dismiss the humanity and only focus on the productivity,” he said, “but places can be deeply productive and humane at the same time.” 

For example, “we’d all like more money,” King said. “But here’s the real question: Do you feel you’re fairly paid? If the answer is yes and the pay is fine, I think people will give you an honest day’s work.”

King learned about humaneness early in life. From kindergarten through the eighth grade, he and his three sisters attended a Catholic orphanage in Davenport, Iowa, although they weren’t orphans. “The school didn’t have enough orphans, so they filled the gap with other kids,” he explained. With many parentless friends, the King kids quickly learned to value what they had. “It was a gift, really, and gave us a lifelong perspective on things,” he said. “None of us seem to place a dramatically high value on things, and we think that [lack of perspective] might be why.”



King’s father was a banker, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom and amateur champion golfer in Iowa. And while his bogey-golf game hasn’t developed as far as hers once did, he has chipped into his bucket list, recently publishing the book Brag, Worry, Wonder, Bet: A Manager’s Guide to Giving Feedback

These days, King is thrilled to be able to focus on learning and development once again. “Now I have the opportunity to wake up every day and do nothing other than what I love to do. I don’t have to deal with recruiting day in and day out, people-soft issues, compensation issues with the board of directors day in and day out. And you know what? That’s a pretty nice way to end a career and wake up every day.” 

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