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VIProfile: Randy Boyd


Sitting across the table from me in his eighth floor corner office in Andy Holt Tower on the eve of his first year anniversary as interim president of the University of Tennessee, Randy Boyd is not the slightest bit coy about his love of the job and his desire to continue in the position.

“I had committed to public service,” he said. “I had a different path in mind. That didn’t work out. This was an opportunity to serve my state and live in my hometown and be near my granddaughter. Every day is different. There is no typical day. I love the differing and varying challenges. I’m enjoying the work. I can’t think of a better place to make an impact.”

“There is no better way to serve your state than through the University of Tennessee,” he continued. “We have extension offices in all 95 counties. We have four major campuses. We have 51,000 students. We train 70% of the state’s dentists and doctors. We’re a non profit trusted thought leader, and we’ve been around for 225 years.

We have the ability to take on grand challenges like few organizations in the state.” Boyd, who describes himself as a “higher education philanthropist,” stressed that “higher education is not a brand new thing to me.”

The University of Tennessee website summarizes his accomplishments in business and in higher education:

“He is the founder and chairman of Radio Systems Corp., a Knoxville-based business with more than 800 employees and offices in six countries that produce pet related products under the brand names PetSafe, Invisible Fence and SportDOG. He also serves as chairman of Boyd Sports and is the owner of the Tennessee Smokies, Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Reds and Elizabethton Twins.

Boyd served as chair of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. He is founder and co chair of the Governor’s Rural Taskforce. He also served as Gov. Bill Haslam’s adviser for higher education and was the architect for Tennessee Promise, Drive to 55 and Tennessee Achieves—initiatives aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees to 55 percent by 2025 and decreasing financial hardship for Tennesseans pursuing degrees.

Boyd also supports the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Boyd Venture Challenge seed grant program for student entrepreneurs, both through the Haslam College of Business at UT Knoxville.

Boyd is the first in his family to graduate from college. He earned a bachelor’s of science degree in business with an emphasis on industrial management from UT Knoxville. He also earned a master’s degree in liberal studies with a focus on foreign policy from the University of Oklahoma.”

In reflecting on his path to the presidency of the UT system, Boyd credits the Boy Scouts for the opportunity to develop leadership skills and for his motivation to “make a difference.”

“I think where I first learned leadership was in Scouts,” he said. “Scouting is a safe place to fail. As a scoutmaster for 17 years, I taught the Boy Scout code: ‘Leave every place better than you found it.’ It’s a metaphor for life. At UT I feel like I can accomplish that better than anywhere. We have the ability to shape the future of the state.”

“At the university, we have programs that teach the academic side of leadership,” he continued, “but we also give students opportunities to lead. It’s like learning to throw free throws. Sometimes you just have to toe the line and take some shots.” Boyd describes the university’s status as a land grant university as a “special designation.”

“We’re here to provide a ladder up to the middle class and the working class,” he said. “We don’t want to be ranked higher due to our exclusivity. We’ll measure our success by our inclusivity, by providing greater access to more people across the state, across the country and across the world. We’re here primarily to serve the state of Tennessee, but bringing students in from other states and other countries brings more talent to the state.”

One of Boyd’s favorite things about his position is “getting to know people in the University of Tennessee family.” “”It’s a big family,” he said. “There are a lot of stakeholders, and there’s a lot of passion for the cause. With this job, comes the responsibility to serve all these stakeholders well.”

“We need to create a culture of ‘one UT,’” he continued. “Too often we work in silos. We need to get people all across the state to think of us as ‘one UT.’ We are all good individually, but together we can all be great.”

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