UA Vice Chancellor Chris Wyrick Has No Reservations About Fundraising

Chris Wyrick spent six months as head of the Razorback Foundation before being picked in April by Chancellor G. David Gearhart to take over as vice chancellor for advancement after the discovery of millions of dollars in overspending by his predecessor, Brad Choate.

Wyrick came to the UA as an associate athletic director in 2008. Prior stops included South Carolina, Vanderbilt and his alma mater, North Carolina State. Wyrick takes over a division in the planning stages of a major capital fundraising campaign.

Q: You didn’t take the traditional path to a vice chancellor position. How did you wind up here?

A: When I talk to the deans I’m very upfront in saying this is the only opportunity I’ve ever been presented in my life where I genuinely told the person who was trying to hire me that I wasn’t sure I was right. I told Dave [Gearhart] that twice in some very candid conversations. But I think any time you’re going into a campaign and you’re already in the initial planning stages, it would be very difficult to bring someone in from the outside with no institutional knowledge and relationships. … I feel like the relationships that I’d built in athletics, the fact I was already engaged with stakeholders, was helpful. The goal is the same. You’re selling something. You’re placing a call of action to people, asking them to become engaged.

What exactly were your reservations about taking the position?

Well, I had finally gotten what I’d worked so hard to have when I was named the head of the Razorback Foundation. That type of position had been my goal for years. The second piece was … this image of academia and the idea of people that are schooled to advance to a vice chancellor position. That’s not the path I took. I wondered if people would give the hire credibility. That’s a question I had to ask the chancellor. The good news is, he is so respected, that if he says it’s OK, people are going to believe it. And they have. I was blown away at the announcement press conference by how many people were there. [NFL player] Ryan Mallett was there. Mrs. [Johnelle] Hunt was there. Mrs. [Marilyn] Bogle was there. That was humbling, and my first hint that people are buying into this. Now I can’t let them down.

What is your message to donors as you gear up for the next major campaign?

There’s no doubt the comprehensive message is doing what we can do to help make this a Top 50 research institution. That’s the goal in front of us. So what does it take to get there? That’s what we are working on, and no matter who you talk to, that’s the goal. ... We can help make it happen. It’s just going to take some creative thinking and some muscle.

Are you the creative thinking and the muscle?

Ha. I don’t think I’m either. I’m the messenger. I’m the facilitator. ... I just have to line it up so it all makes sense. I love that. That’s the creative part. Hopefully you saw that in the Razorback Foundation the six months we were there, the thing I really enjoy doing is branding. I want the campaign to be high-energy. I want it to be creative. I want it to be something people haven’t seen before. … We’re raising more money than we’ve ever raised in the history of the university. So there’s a lot of good. There’s certainly some bad, but there’s a lot of good and we need to focus on that.

Speaking of the bad, how confident are you that the division’s overspending can be curbed?

I don’t know a tremendous amount about the past budget. I’m certainly paying a lot of attention to the upcoming fiscal year. We’re starting from scratch and zero-basing every budget. We want to spend smart, but not be cheap. We are the University of Arkansas. We are the flagship entity. We need to be very conscious of what we are spending our money on, but we also need to represent our brand the right way. There is a fine line there. … It does cost money to make money. But it doesn’t have to be an exorbitant amount. We’ve got total cooperation from everywhere on campus. Everybody is involved in taking a look at how we’re doing this. That’s healthy.