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Q&A with The Whitakers

March 2, 2022
Photo of Odile and Bob Whitaker (Whitaker Endowment)

Robert and Odile Whitaker are the founders of the Whitaker Endowed Scholarship Fund, a scholarship given to one or more College of Business students with a preference for those in their third or fourth year and with a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Robert, who goes by Bob, is a COB alum and current member of the College’s Board of Advisors. Both he and Odile have formed a tight relationship with the College since his graduation and sat down to share their insights on why they value being involved.

Why did you decide to establish the Whitaker Scholarship at the College of Business? 

Odile:  Bob and I got married when we were very young, 22 and 21. Money was tight and we had to go to school and sometimes work two jobs to make it. We have fond memories of going to the grocery store with our calculator! We worked very hard but occasionally it wasn’t enough. But we were also lucky once or twice to have the support of our families when times were very lean.  Not everyone has this chance today. We want to help others where we can.  

We really wanted to give back.  For us, not only has education been important in our lives, but we think it is something critical to support in our country.  We set up our scholarship at the College of Business to both support education, and give back to the school that gave Bob a great start to his career. 

Bob:  Not only does the College of Business have terrific and innovative academic programs, but it also works tirelessly to help the students and people of the city. From outreach programs to high school students in the Louisville area to helping new business owners and entrepreneurs, the College of Business is more than just a school; it is a support system for the whole community.  

Bob, what was your experience like upon graduating from UofL? How did you carve out your career path?

Bob: I decided first to get an MBA.  In many of my classes, we would reach a point in the topic, and the professor(s) would say, “We won’t go further, that’s for the MBA classes.” I found myself wanting to go further in my studies. And of course, having an MBA would ultimately lead to higher earning potential. So, upon graduating, I went to get my MBA.

Carving out a career path is a unique experience for everyone. For me, it was a willingness to help out whenever a problem, issue, or project came up, and work hard.  I also never had an issue being a team player, trying a new role or new challenges, and thinking outside the box. That enabled me to continually broaden my role which inevitably led to the next position.   

You joined DHL in 2004. What was your role then, and what is your title now? What are you most proud of so far during your tenure with DHL?

Bob: I started as a Senior Director of Treasury and now my title is Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance. I not only manage corporate finance for the Americas region, but I’m also the chairman of the benefits committee managing our employee benefit programs and serve as a trustee on several Teamster pension plans.

The project I am most proud of is not the project with the largest impact for the company but really for our workers and more broadly, American workers. As you may not know, many of the union pension funds in the US were on the verge of collapse which would have resulted in more than a million people losing their pension, thousands of companies going bankrupt and tens of thousands of jobs lost. With the go-ahead from my company, I contacted competitors and the unions to strategize on how to save the pensions. I joined various coalitions, wrote to our employees urging them to contact Congress, and I went to Washington multiple times to meet with Congress on passing legislation to make structural changes that would allow the pensions to be saved. In early 2021 Congress passed the necessary legislation allowing the survival of pensions, companies, and jobs. The impact on our employees, and the country as a whole, was tremendous, and this is by far the accomplishment of which I am most proud.

What legacy do you hope to leave with the College of Business? 

Bob: A few years ago, I met Dean Mooradian who shared his vision for the school and asked if I could join his advisory board. I was passionate about the future of the College of Business and was excited to expand my connection to the school. While monetary contributions are essential, I think it is equally important to contribute with your time and experience. It has been a great privilege and pleasure to have been able to contribute to a first-class institution and I really hope we can continue to support the University in any way possible.