Episode 273: Exploring Leadership Lessons from Award-Winning Walton College Students Kennedy Blair and Jackson Walton

May 1 , 2024  |  By Brent Williams

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This week on the podcast, Brent connects with two remarkable Walton College seniors, Kennedy Blair and Jackson Walton. Both students are distinguished by their academic excellence and leadership, having earned prestigious awards; Kennedy with the Sam M. Walton College of Business Student Leadership Award, and Jackson with the Doyle Z. Williams Student Leadership Award. During the episode, Kennedy shares her journey from being an undecided business major to discovering her passion for accounting and securing a job after graduation at Credera in Chicago. Jackson discusses his path from Truman, Arkansas to becoming a finance and political science major and plans to join Walmart's Accounting and Finance Development Program after graduation. Both students highlight their extensive involvement in campus activities and mentorship roles, emphasizing how these experiences have shaped their leadership skills and prepared them for their future careers. They also provide advice for future incoming students who would be interested in leveraging their time in the best way at the Walton College.

Podcast Episode

Episode Transcript

Kennedy Blair  0:00  
A quote that I have lived by forever by Maya Angelou was success is liking yourself liking what you do and liking how you do it.

Brent Williams  0:08  
Welcome to the be epic podcast, brought to you by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. I'm your host, Brett Williams. Together, we'll explore the dynamic landscape of business, and uncover the strategies, insights and stories that drive business today. Well, today is a special occasion I have with me two graduating seniors from the Walton College that I'm excited for you all to get to know. First is Kennedy Blair. And we'll talk a little bit more about Kennedy's background in the near future. And then we have Jackson Walton and but Jackson and Kennedy are both award winners for the for our senior class. Kennedy is the winner of the Sam M. Walton College of Business Student Leadership Award. And I want to talk a little bit about that in a moment as well. And Jackson is the Doyle Z. Williams Student Leadership Award. So both of you have clearly not only been outstanding in your academics, but you've also shown leadership in various ways throughout your time here. So thank you both for coming. Well, let me start. Kennedy, I'm gonna start with you. And then and then go to Jackson. And we're just going to bounce back and forth here just a little bit. But before we get too deep into what you've done while you're at Walton, tell us a little bit about you where you're from, what's your background, what you've been studying. 

Kennedy Blair  1:41  
Yeah, I'm from Fayetteville. So if you're familiar with the area graduated at the big high school right across the street, lived here my whole life and liked it enough to stay another four years just with the college and knowing I wanted to study business. This was the perfect place for me and got here was an undecided business major, took a couple classes and fell in love with accounting and been happy studying numbers ever since.

Brent Williams  2:07  
All right. Jackson, how about you? 

Jackson Walton  2:09  
Yeah, I'm from Truman, Arkansas. So over East close to Jonesboro, decided that Arkansas was home and I wanted to stay here. So came up here to the hidden gem, well, not so much hidden anymore. But Northwest Arkansas, where opportunity is abundant and where there's a fantastic business school and just super glad to be here. I'm studying finance and political science. And with a minor in economics, so.

Brent Williams  2:33  
Okay. And both of you have great jobs lined up, which is like the primary objective, right, that's first and foremost. So Jackson, tell us a little bit about what you're going to do next. 

Jackson Walton  2:44  
Yeah, I will be joining the Walmart accounting and finance development program, specifically within the the finance sector of that, starting in August, after I interned with them last summer. 

Brent Williams  2:55  
Tremendous. And that's a rotational program that you'll get to see various aspects of the finance organization at Walmart, right?

Jackson Walton  3:02  
Right. Two whole years of four different rotations six months each, six months each throughout different sectors of the business and different organizations and things like that. 

Brent Williams  3:12  
Okay. And you interned with that group last summer?

Jackson Walton  3:15  
I did, yes sir.

Brent Williams  3:16  
Okay. Well, Kennedy, I know you're not staying in Northwest Arkansas. Tell us about what you're doing next. 

Kennedy Blair  3:24  
Yeah, I'm moving up to Chicago a little bit colder than it is here in Arkansas, to be a management consultant for Credera. I interned with them last summer, fell in love with, you know, the business side of management consulting and all that. So I'm really excited to go back there and move up to the windy city and buy a coat.

Brent Williams  3:45  
Well, let's talk a little bit about your time at Walton, because I think about the two of you and your your two people that have, in my opinion have sort of made the most of the experience here. You're involved in many things. So Kennedy, I'll I'll probably I'll start with you. Because both of you are Leadership Award winners. And for us what that means is, it's just, you've not only you've probably started off being involved in various organizations and opportunities at Walton, and throughout your four years here, you've evolved into leadership roles, but tell us some about the types of things that you engaged in outside the classroom while you're here. 

Kennedy Blair  4:28  
Yeah, I've been taught by my parents and my dad, specifically, of when you're looking to get involved in things, find things that match your passion. So that's really what I've tried to do is look at myself and see, what do I love? And what are the aspects of things that I love and how do I serve then that organization that kind of fits that mold? And so, I've gotten involved in Walton ambassadors, and I was an FBC peer mentor. So those really deal with connecting with people FBC was connecting with current freshmen. How do I get them involved on campus and kind of up to date with being a college kid and how to succeed at that. And then ambassadors have allowed me to connect with people that are touring the college. So prospective juniors or seniors in high school and their families that come up to Arkansas, some of them have never even been in the state before. And so it's really cool to get to make that connection with them. So that's kind of the connecting side of me that loves to be involved in both of those things. And then I've got to spend the last two years on leadership for Leadership Walton, I served as the member outreach position, my junior year, and then President my senior year. So that's been really cool to give back to an organization that meant so much to me, and my kind of finding my place that every college kid does when they get here, I found my place in there. And again, like my dad always says, you know, be passionate about the organization that then you go and be in leadership for serve that organization. So I feel like that's been a great opportunity for me as well. 

Brent Williams  5:55  
Well, I do think that you have taken that passion and applied it, and I know your dad, he's a passionate guy as well. 

Kennedy Blair  6:03  
He is, yes. 

Brent Williams  6:04  
Jackson what's your story been while you've been here? 

Jackson Walton  6:07  
Yeah, I sort of made the goal when coming over freshman year to hit the ground running. And I've been involved in various parts of the campus, student government, within the Freshman Leadership Forum, the Office of Financial Affairs, and then the Razorback Action Group. The Inner Fraternity Council, as the vice president for finance this past year, just recently finished up that term. And then within Walton specifically, I was a honors peer mentor, and then lead peer mentor, serving on the Walton honors executive board, and then also held a deputy director manager role with the Arvest fixed income class, my junior year, so.

Brent Williams  6:47  
quite the resume from both of you. Oh, one thing you have in common is peer mentoring. Right. And, you know, that is, that's actually a really important piece of, of the experience, I think, for freshmen. Because it's you, I'm sure you started there as a sophomore, if I'm right, talk a little bit about your motivation for doing that. And kind of like what that whole process look like.

Kennedy Blair  7:13  
Yeah. My freshman business connection class, my freshman year was my only truly kind of in person class. And so I loved that class, it was at 8am on a Tuesday, and like, what other class would get a college kid excited to go to one of those, but I loved it. Autumn Parker was my teacher. And she was incredible. And I just really bought into the skills that I was learning. And I was like, I feel very strongly about the things that are being taught. And I could use these to my advantage. And so I had such a great experience with the class that I reached out and Autumn connected me and said, Hey, you should be a peer mentor, actually ended up getting to be her peer mentor in her class again, which was kind of a fun, full circle moment that I was her student and then her peer mentor in her class.

Brent Williams  7:56  
So similar for you, Jackson in some way?

Jackson Walton  7:59  
Yeah, I found a quick love for mentorship. I didn't know that I had that until joining the Walton Honors Peer Mentor Program, I had a great mentor and Meghan Mikulski, and she really showed me what being a supporter was and how to take someone in that might be you know, obviously below you or younger than you and to grow and cultivate and develop them and into a future leader and truly did just just fall in love with that and decided to join the Peer Mentor Program. And consistently throughout campus, I've I've just really, really enjoyed getting to sit down and have coffee with younger students who are, you know, worried about a certain class are worried about getting involved or things like that. And so I've worked to to be diligent in that because of so many others that have been poured into me, I feel like I sort of owe that debt to the younger generation behind me.

Brent Williams  8:49  
What's what's interesting is I'm listening to both of you, both of you are receiving a Leadership Award at the end of your college career. What I've heard from both of you is service that I and peer mentoring is an act of service. So how do you always you've kind of started to develop yourselves in that way, as a leader? How do you see that connection between service and leadership?

Kennedy Blair  9:18  
I think just going back to finding like your passion and finding things that you're genuinely excited about, and then to use that excitement to pour back into it, I did a project in a upper level marketing management class with Molly Rapert where we did a values project and one of my core values is meaningful work. And so something that's important to me is, if it is important to me, and I feel passionate about it, I go all in and so finding things in this service kind of way I could serve I guess, that are passionate to me make me a better leader, I think because I feel so strongly about whatever I'm leading or being involved in.

Jackson Walton  10:00  
I really do feel that service and leadership are go hand in hand, they, I think you to be a good leader, you have to, you have to serve others. And I think that they, they sort of cultivate one another and thrive off of one another. And so when you are, you know, maybe serving a younger class below you and teaching them about how to get involved in campus or something like that, I think you are also leading them while serving them. And I those both have been crucial elements of my enriching experience of the Walton College and have proven beneficial to me, and I've had so much opportunity to both serve and lead, and just really, really appreciative of that.

Brent Williams  10:39  
How, you know, the Walton College is one of the biggest business schools in the country. But I think you all particularly have, while while it is big, you've almost kind of made it small in certain ways. And what I mean by that is you've formed connections. So, you know, you mentioned some of the things that you've done and been involved in, but just any other thoughts about how you went about that? Were you really intentional, as you started in that way, or did that evolve for you in some way,

Kennedy Blair  11:11  
I think I made a really big effort with my professors. Starting off with online classes, it was kind of a thing where they'd say, okay, class is over, and then all of a sudden attendance, or the numbers would drop all the way down to zero. And I that made me want to connect with them more, because they were pouring effort into virtual classes. And so I wanted to take the extra step and connect with them, when I know that they were also lacking that kind of connection with their students. And so I just kind of started staying after go into their virtual office hours and learning about them. And then that kind of put me in a position to get involved with the advisors and like, talk to them. And I think it's important to remember that the people around you are people and not you know, just faculty numbers, or Blackboard instructors, whatever. And so to be able to connect with them, I feel like has allowed me to go and like, just foster all these different connections. And so I think the buy in of who's around you, and connecting with everyone, as meaningful and as authentic as possible is, has been a huge thing for me.

Jackson Walton  12:12  
I heavily agree with Kennedy's response there. I tell people that our prospective students that speak with me about possibly coming up here, especially from small towns, and they're often anxious about the big community, right, it's a big leap to go from a high school of 300, to, you know, a business college of 1000s. And, and the university of 10s of 1000s. And I tell them all the time, it is a big community that feels like a small community, you can make your small community within it. And I really do mean that. And similar to what Kennedy said, you know, sitting in class and sparking that conversation with with the person sitting next to you and keeping that relationship all semester, doing the little things like that, you know, reaching out and fist bumping someone that you the halfway know, I think that's huge for college and the Walton College and the University have, have just offered me so many opportunities to do that to meet people to, I guess you could say network, and those relationships have been key to making a guy from a small town able to be comfortable at the university. And like I said, while ago, some of the, you know, my favorite memories on the wall in college are just walking from class to class and being able to, you know, stop and talk to someone on the sidewalk. And yeah, maybe not late to class, I wouldn't ever do that. Just great relationships, and I've been so, so thankful for that. 

Kennedy Blair  13:32  
Always make everybody feel like if somebody is like a big mantra,

Brent Williams  13:35  
Absolutely. You know, we we didn't state this upfront, but you were a part of a class that join you came to the University fall of 2020. Right. You know, and you alluded to this Kennedy, right, in the way that we were having to do classes, what was what was that like? And has that shaped? I think it probably shaped your experience some in some way. Because you had to seek out connection it sounded like, 

Kennedy Blair  14:04  
Yeah, I think it's made me realize that I'm, as an adult, very excited to go back to in person work. The adults a little bit older than me probably feel the opposite. But yeah, definitely taking the extra step to make those connections. And, you know, like Jackson was saying, between classes, maybe instead of physically smiling at somebody, you do the little smile with a mask on where you raised your eyes up. But taking those extra little steps to make you know, the people that were sitting six feet away from you or the professor's online. That was I feel like what really kind of drove that connection aspect especially to because I mean, I feel like I I love making connections and so being virtual was hard, but also like that was just another way to communicate with people for me.

Jackson Walton  14:52  
I think bluntly, it was very difficult to, as I said while ago come from a small town and jump into such a big college and only interaction you have is with your roommates and people on a Zoom video screen. But I think it also helped me in the in the way that I sort of had to learn to meet people. And to get involved in things in different ways, I sort of had to work a little bit harder during that difficult time. And because of that, I learned valuable skills of making those connections and speaking with people and going a little bit of an extra mile that you really don't have to sometimes sometimes or things like that, you know, during COVID, it would have been the easy thing to sort of sit back and you know, stay in the dorm and be friends with your roommates and things like that. But making that conscious effort to reach out to people. While it was difficult. I think it's proven beneficial to me in the long run. And like Kennedy said, I'm a connection person. And I love that in person face to face talk. And I think it prepared me for that greatly.

Brent Williams  15:51  
Tell me about some favorite professors. While your time and I know that I know you too, right. You've probably connected to a lots of them. I won't, I won't force you to say one but.

Kennedy Blair  16:03  
yeah, I would say Martin Fiscus is the reason I'm an accounting major. He's incredible. Well, Molly connected us in Italy, and we took her consumer behavior over there global consumer. So lots of different ways to, I guess, use professors as well to meet other students or their like minded students. But Martin and Molly are two of my favorites.

Jackson Walton  16:24  
I'll first say I think that every single professor I've had within the Walton College has been diligent about pouring into me, they're they're adamant about teaching. They're they're proud to do it. They're helpful and all that some specific professors to speak that jumped out at me are Dr. Molly, right. But of course, Kennedy just mentioned her, she is my current honors thesis advisor, friend and ally, supporter. I often visit her office and speak with her and Dr. Kim Patrone freshman year was my first in person class with b-law. She proved to be a quick friend and a valuable person to me and my time here and also attended the CIMBA program. There have just been so many Dr. Ali, Dr. Rennie, I could name I can name 20, I promise you I could and if I'm leaving you out, I'm very sorry. Just very, very thankful for all of them. And like I said, we'll go there, they have just diligently supported me and and been behind me. And that's not something you hear about college often. And just how special that is here at the Walton College.

Brent Williams  17:27  
I love to hear that. I love it. In the you've been involved in many things, many leadership positions, you've had internships. One thing we at the Walton College, I believe, is that, you know, learning is this. It's almost iterative, I think, right? You're learning in the classroom. And then I hope through these experiences, either leadership experiences or work experiences you're applying. And then as you're going through this four year process, it's like you're getting more experience, right, you're getting more context, and you know how to put concepts into context, and it improves the learning. That's my view, at least my hope, what's your experience look like in that respect of trying to try to do all these things at once?

Jackson Walton  18:15  
I think that, for me, you know, the, the accounting, one thing is the debits and the credits matter in the 4000 level corporate finance class, right, you have to have that understanding of that. And so those first, especially first two years, are incredibly important for molding yourself into being a good business student in those those higher level 3000 or 4000 level classes. And I think when you when you couple that sort of stair step into, you know, leading to the bigger classes and putting those concepts together and senior year, you're working on homework, and you sort of get that aha moment of, wow, this works together. 

Brent Williams  18:50  

Jackson Walton  18:50  
it's awesome. And it sort of feels rewarding, it's paying off. That makes sense. And you couple, you know, an unmatched education with with so much opportunity to lead and to be involved on campus. I think that that there's no better way to prepare yourself for a business career or for graduate school or anything like that. And they just work hand in hand together.

Kennedy Blair  19:13  
Yeah, I think the upper level courses have been so helpful. I took a seminar class in business analytics, where we got to work alongside a real estate company and give a presentation to their chief executive team of the trends we found the last two years and I would have been able, would not have been able to six be as successful as we were in that project without the lower level, like foundations and concepts that Jackson was saying and then putting it into practice as we get older. And I think something that I as a younger student really didn't appreciate as much as I should was taking those intro classes to every major that you take as a freshman or a sophomore. That's built into the program to kind of see what do you like and what do you not like but as you get older, you get to like Justin was saying have that aha moment of, I'm working on an upper level class. that it's an a business project and I get to combine a marketing concept I learned freshman year with an accounting concept I learned junior year in econ thing I learned sophomore year and combine all these different things into one that then can go and make the business world better from all of my classes that I've taken here. 

Brent Williams  20:19  
So I know what you're doing next. But just as you look more broadly, like, what are you, you both are full of optimism about the future I can tell. So what's your hopes for the future? Well, how do you? What are you hoping to see as your career in life develops? And how do you think Walton has helped set you up for that?

A quote that I have lived by forever by Maya Angelou is success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. And I think I've found that with myself through every step of my college experience, and so that will continue to kind of drive me forward as I leave, you know, to go be an adult for the next 50 plus years of my life. And so I think wherever I end up in years later, I think just looking at myself and seeing, how do I kind of measure that success of liking myself liking what I do, and how I do it, versus kind of like a numbers or money. Really looking at how I feel and how I kind of act as a person in that job not find find that success through that is a big thing for me kind of moving forward in my life, 

love that. 

Jackson Walton  21:29  
My biggest goal for the future is to make impact. I want to see someone that I can help I want to be of benefit to society, right, do more good than harm. And I really do enjoy being able to see that impact, right? Like when you when you can help someone and see them have have a better life or get out of a struggling situation. I think that is the most rewarding thing ever. And obviously a good thing to do, right, you're helping someone. And so I think my future ideally is making an impact on on individuals and, and being a good force in this world. And being positive and, and working to solve problems that that, you know, help individuals and help people that that need it. And I think that my time at Walton College has really solidified the idea that I can be of impact I can I can help others, right. Through the Peer Mentor Program, or through Student Government, I've seen myself do things that I otherwise might not have even thought possible, right? I've seen younger students come to, to join groups or to excel in classes because of not just me, but because partly because I was able to help them or mentor them. And I think the goal was to make impact. And I think the Walton College has set me up in a good spot. And with an understanding that I can do that.

Brent Williams  22:46  
Well, and the way we make impact is through you, through the two of you and through all of those that you're going to graduate with, you know, in in the way that not exclusively, but a way you're going to do that is through business. You know, and I believe that, that business, the companies that you're going to work for do a lot of good, you know, in the way that they deliver services, in Kennedy's case, to help other businesses and, and Walmart's case, delivering goods and services, to yeah, to people all over the world. And so it's a it's a meaningful thing to be to be spending your life doing and be excited about. All right now ask you to look back. So as as you're graduating, you know, we're already preparing for the next freshmen class that's coming in. And they're coming in in a bit of a different circumstance, it's not fall of 2020 fortunately, but as you look back at your four years, and if you were to sit down with one of our incoming freshmen and say, to get the most out of the Walton College and set yourself up for success, what would be your piece of advice you would give to them?

Jackson Walton  23:59  
I'm going to say say yes, do not burn yourself out, right? It's it's difficult to when you have so much stuff on your plate, but when you are sitting in class next to someone that you don't know at all, you they look different than you they, they they might come from a different background than you and chances are, they probably do. Say hi to them, meet them, get to know them. And some of my best friends, some of my my closest people that I have in my life now come from vastly different backgrounds, they come from that, you know, asking someone for a pencil in class or something like that, and, you know, keeping up with them and so, really work to get those relationships to do that sort of thing. And also, you'll you'll do a lot of that relationship building through involvement on campus right? So join that club if you if you're halfway interested in something there's a there's a club for it, I promise you and if there's not make one, build that resume but but really just just jump in, get involved and don't be afraid to say hi to someone if you're nervous about it, know that they're probably nervous about it too, but would probably like to talk to you And so I think that is key to an enriching college experience. Awesome.

Kennedy Blair  25:04  
I think going off of that, too, like making everybody feel like it's somebody, whether that's the person sitting next to you that has a pencil when you need it, or your professor or the advisors, in your advising appointment, just anybody that you see that is here, take the time to get to know them and make them feel special. That's a huge part of me, I love making others feel special. And so being able to encourage someone else to do that, I mean, just by living, living and attending and saying hi, and going to class, like, that's how I've gotten to be where I am now. And so just encouraging everyone that it can be so small as if you maybe didn't do well on a test, go to that office hour with your teacher, because you may make a personal connection with them. And they may really want to see you succeed and really help you outside of class to get you there, or a friend that you want to work with them in a group project, or you have to respond to four peers, you know, video and public speaking, whatever the situation is, you could meet that person become best friends, and maybe go work together one day, at your own startup company with the two of you. So I think it's just the domino effect that you can have just by being kind and making everyone feel known and seen and valued. Just is tremendous. So that would be mine.

Brent Williams  26:23  
I hope every incoming Walton College freshman gets to hear those those two messages. I couldn't be more proud of both of you. And I'm not only proud of you, but I'm thankful and grateful for you. You have not only get the most out of this experience to make you better, you've made us better. That's really, really clear. And so I'm excited about the impact that both of you are going to make. I know you're going to be the type of alumni that give back to the Walton College in some way in the future, and I can't wait to see you both at graduation and just a couple of weeks. Congratulations on a college career. Really well done. 

Jackson Walton  27:05  
Thank you. 

Kennedy Blair  27:05  
Thank you. 

Brent Williams  27:07  
On behalf of the Walton College Thank you for listening this captivating conversation. We will be taking a break from the epic podcast this summer and have exciting updates for the fall. To stay connected. Listen to previous episodes, and to never miss future episodes. Simply search be epic on your preferred podcast service.

Brent D. Williams

Dr. Brent D. Williams serves as the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and holder of the Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair.

With a deep commitment to fostering excellence in business education and thought leadership, Dr. Williams brings a wealth of experience to his role, shaping the future of the college and its impact on students and the business community. A native Arkansan, Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas, specializing in supply chain management.

As the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Dr. Williams is focused on advancing the college toward its vision of being a catalyst for transforming the lives of its students and a thought leader in business.