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Shape your destiny: Johnathan M. Holifield

Johnathan M. Holifield, political science ’88, is an advocate for community development and economic competitiveness. In addition to co-founding ScaleUp Partners, a consulting agency encouraging the creation of competitive communities, Holifield recently published his first book, “The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness.” 
Briefly, describe your career path.

johnanthan holifieldMy career path is richly diverse and includes the roles of author, entrepreneur, civil rights lawyer/advocate, community development champion, education and government reformer, and regional technology and innovation-based economic developer. The unique blend of experiences has put me in good stead to pursue my passion and lend a distinctive voice and perspective on the issues I believe really matter in our collective economic future. 

Describe your new book, “The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness.”

holifield bookThe upshot of my book is that to maintain and improve our global economic leadership, America needs far more contributors, i.e., economic athletes—persons who demonstrate the skills mastery, agility, grit, and stamina to achieve sustained economic mobility, security and prosperity, as well as life satisfaction. 

For the first time, my book links innovation development, economic inclusion and U.S. competitiveness in our Innovation Economy. The focus is on creating new community systems that address the national imperative to better equip small town and rural populations, Blacks, Hispanics and women to be more educationally and economically competitive in the 21st century.

What are you passionate about in your work?

I am an opportunity warrior, passionate about continuing to prosecute a War for Opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed deep and wide-ranging experiences from athletics to education to civic leadership, and am driven to bring to bear those experiences on the issues facing our nation. 

Where is your career headed?

I certainly believe my career is trending positively. The book is a milestone, as it codifies much of what I believe and have experienced and practiced. It is a tool, a kind of reference book—perhaps even a roadmap—to help policymakers, influencers and everyday Americans make more sense of our world and how we can contribute more economically and extract value commensurate with those contributions. 

How has your Eberly College experience helped shape your success?

My initial experience with Eberly College proved to be an impactful one. As so many others, I had the pleasure to take professors Allan Hammock and Robert DiClerico’s jointly-taught introductory course in American Government. I enjoyed the class so much that I decided to become a political science major. Professor DiClerico became my adviser and Professor Hammock always had an encouraging word. My political science training, and the wide-range of career options it affords, foreshadowed my diverse career, in both the public and private sectors. It helped me prepare for my graduate education and law school and still informs the work I do today.

Describe your work as a co-founder, speaker and consultant at ScaleUp Partners.

Through ScaleUp Partners, the nation’s leading consultancy creating competitive communities, I speak extensively and consult throughout the U.S. on matters related to innovation development, education and economic inclusion and U.S. competitiveness. Every day, I work to advance my brand as “Architect of Inclusive Competitiveness,” the interdisciplinary framework that blends traditional community development with economic competitiveness, and win gigs that will allow me to do that. 

Describe your work as a HuffPost blogger.

HuffPost provides a great platform for ideas. Blogging for HuffPost and writing reports and articles have been very useful for testing, refining and advancing my ideas and for networking with those who agree and, importantly, disagree with me. The work essentially consists of blog ideation, production and promotion. It’s pretty straightforward stuff. 

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?

I’ve had many rewarding experiences, growing from walk-on Mountaineer football player to being elected captain by teammates and to being elected to the Student Administration Board of Governors; earning undergraduate, graduate and professional education degrees; creating Ohio’s largest Individual Development Account Program and first information technology high school; forming a $40 million venture capital fund; reforming local government; being named Political Science Distinguished Alumnus; and even writing a book. In my case, there is not a most rewarding experience, rather it is that I have been able to enjoy so many rewarding experiences. 

How are you a game changer? Or, how are you making a positive impact in the world?

Whoo! “Game-changer” is quite a lofty designation, one that we should be reticent to bestow upon ourselves. That said, I am proud to be a first-mover, working to link together for the first-time national innovation development, broad economic inclusion and U.S. competitiveness. If this emerging leadership continues to gain traction, then, with great humility, I will be able to say that I have made a meaningful contribution. 

What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Allow me to answer this way: the most improbable thing that has happened since graduating was the phone call I received from the CEO of the Cincinnati chamber of commerce asking, “Would [I] be interested in helping the chamber figure out what it wants to do in the New Economy?” There was little in my background that would have predicted that call. I had not worked at a large, prestigious law firm and I was not an up-and-coming brand manager for leading corporation. Instead, I was in a relatively small firm at the time and active in sometimes contentious civic and political affairs. At the chamber, I was afforded a rare opportunity and platform to gain new perspective—an epiphany, if you will—about where the proverbial economic puck was heading and how traditionally underserved Americans could meet it where it was going. 

Your favorite WVU memory?

There are so many favorite memories: earning a football scholarship from Coach Nehlen, which opened the door to everything else; meeting and marrying my college sweetheart, Antoinette Jenkins, BS, Business Administration, ‘84 and Master of Public Administration, ‘86; there are just far too many enduring friendships and great memories with Mountaineer teammates to name. It’s gratifying to remain deeply connected to brothers of my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. My student body president, Jayne Armstrong, and BOG colleague, Cheri Heflin, and I are still tight and committed to issues that informed much of our undergraduate involvement. It suffices to say—again—that there is not a single favorite memory, but many wonderful memories that comprise my WVU experience. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

None of my family hails from the state of West Virginia. However, together, we have earned eight degrees from WVU (my wife’s two degrees and one each from me, her sister, Julie Jenkins, and cousin, Cedric Thomas, my cousin, Jeff Price, his wife, Karon (McBride) Price, and their daughter, Kamila Price) and nine football varsity letters (three letters each for Cedric, Jeff and me). We are a deeply rooted and proud Mountaineer Family.

Holifield has consistently given back to West Virginia University—he has served on the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Visiting and Dean Search committees, the WVU Alumni Association Board of Directors and the College of Law Visiting Committee. In 2004, he was named a Eberly College Distinguished Alumnus, and he has spoken at the WVU Forum on Innovation and Competitiveness and the Eberly College Leadership Studies Symposium. In 2008, he endowed the Johnathan M. Holifield Leadership Seminar, which explored how athletic skills, like team-building and competitiveness, can be translated to life skills, career success and professional leadership opportunities.