Where Are They Now: Harry Campbell

Jan. 30, 2013

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Following an ultra-successful business career, Harry Campbell has finally found what he believes is his true calling. A former Vanderbilt distance runner, who still holds the school record in the 10,000 meters, Campbell has successfully transitioned from the corporate world to philanthropy.

A 1983 Vanderbilt graduate with degrees in East Asian history and economics, Campbell began his career at Proctor & Gamble after receiving his MBA from Indiana.

In 1992, Campbell moved from Arkansas to Kansas City to work for Sprint, and he's remained in area since that time. Campbell would later leave Sprint to explore entrepreneurial opportunities as a co-owner of a sports marketing firm and later as a CEO of an Internet start-up. After leaving those companies, Campbell returned to the corporate world with Sprint.

While with Sprint, the company started a spin-off telecommunications company in 2006 called Embarq - a Fortune 400 company. Campbell was part of the team at Embarq and led the consumer markets division of the company, which included 3,000 employees.

"I really landed very well and was very fortunate in regards to my mentors and the way that the forks in the road worked for me," Campbell said.

A native of Hanover, Ind., and third generation Vanderbilt graduate, Campbell stayed with Embarq until 2009 when the company was sold to CenturyTel and renamed CenturyLink. Instead of diving back into the business world, Campbell elected to try his hand at something he was even more passionate about.

Finished with the corporate world, Campbell used his experience and expertise as a senior executive and parlayed it into a public speaking career with the intent of helping others grow as business leaders, and most importantly, raise money for charity.

Since starting the endeavor, Campbell has raised more than $50,000 for a brain cancer research charity in Kansas City. The charity work holds extra significance to Campbell, whose wife, Kris, has been battling a slow-growth malignant brain tumor since 2004.

In addition to a number of speaking engagements, Campbell has also published a book titled "Get-Real Leadership," in which he shares his approach to leadership and his experiences from more than 25 years of working in business. All the proceeds from the book also go toward brain cancer research.

The book was published on Feb. 6, 2012 - the anniversary of his wife's diagnosis with a brain tumor.

"It's been a blessing," Campbell said of his new career. "I have so much fun doing it. I'm a little bit of an unorthodox and corky former senior executive of a Fortune 400 company, and I love to tell stories and have a blast doing it. And I am doing good by a combination of doing that and doing what I love. Plus, being able to raise money in honor of my wife is phenomenal. I am having a blast."

VUCommodores.com recently caught up with Campbell, who remains in the Kansas City area with his wife and three children.

VUCommodores.com: Why did you enter the realm of public speaking instead of returning to the business world?
Harry Campbell: The simple answer is, I love doing it. By nature, my father was a college professor and I'm a teacher. I'm an extravert, I love addressing large audiences and I'm a storyteller. If you put the combination of those things together, you have a lot of options about what you chose to do and what you want to do, so I decided that public speaking made a lot of sense.

Was writing the book more or less challenging than expected?
It is brutal. My guess is there are 100 people that say they are going to write a book and one will end up doing it because it is very hard. In fact, I came to a conclusion that I couldn't do it because I'm a bit too much ADD-like and I'm a storyteller, so I hired a ghostwriter and what she did was sat down with me for four hours a week for four months and taped my story.

What is the genesis behind the title of the book?
The reason the book is called "Get-Real Leadership" is because if you ask people who worked with me they would say that I am real. What do you mean by someone who is real opposed to fake? It has to do with someone who remembers your name, says hi and doesn't think too highly of themselves. Being honest with themselves and giving straight answers. It wasn't anything different for how I handled my life. It just worked for me and I happened to have people who put me in good jobs, and it worked really well for me.

How did you get into distance running?
I am a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. I can play intramurals in any sport and hold my own and not embarrass myself, but I am not good at anything. If you want to compete, one of the things you can choose to do is run long distance because it really isn't about hitting a curve ball or putting a golf ball into a hole. It's really about tenacity, perseverance and hard work. I did it to compete. I ran for a few years after school and I didn't really enjoy it that much. I did it to compete.

How did you end up at Vanderbilt?
My parents were both Nashvillians and went to Hillsboro High School. My father went to Vanderbilt and so did my grandfather, so I am third generation. I spent all of my childhood growing up in a little town in Indiana. On vacation, we always went to see my grandparents in Nashville, so I was in Nashville several times a year and grew to love it. My connection was very strong with my grandparents and all four were still alive when I went to Vanderbilt.



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