Kris McFarland

Kris McFarland

Pulling for the Underdog

“I’m a fan of the underdog, so I love it when UVU beats BYU or anybody else in athletics and other competitions,” says Kris McFarland. What’s surprising about that statement is that McFarland is a Brigham Young University alumnus.

McFarland first became involved with UVU as an adjunct professor, teaching a class that prepared professionals to take the Senior Professional in Human Resources certification test. He is grateful to be able to work with the outstanding group that makes up the UVU Foundation Board. “Every one of them has been successful in their own right in their personal and professional lives. But they check their egos at the door and work together for the greater cause of the institution.” Board members recognize the importance of UVU to the state and to the community, and they’re engaged with both heart and mind, he says.

As a member of the Foundation’s Governance Committee, McFarland is part of the team that recruits new members and provides training for current members. The committee ensures that board members are excellent representatives of the University who help bring in donations for important initiatives.

McFarland credits President Holland’s leadership for the extraordinary growth the University is experiencing. “He didn't just sit and pontificate, he was very involved,” he says. “He didn't try to change the institution and lose the certifications and associate and technical degrees; he built on them. Just the increase in funding has been amazing.”

In the past, Utah had a highly educated population that attracted employers to the state, but the level of education has fallen off, says McFarland. UVU is filling a vital role in turning the tide. Keeping a broad mission is key, he says. “Not only does it educate auto mechanics, which we need, but it attracts students who will get into the university environment, discover an interest or aptitude, and continue their education,” he says. “There are very few institutions in the nation that are set up to fulfill such a wide need for future employers.”

Several of the McFarlands have attended UVU, including Kris’s wife, Sheryl. The couple’s oldest daughter attended on a volleyball scholarship and earned a degree in secondary education, and their oldest son graduated from UVU with a degree in business management. Both chose UVU because, like their father, they’re fans of the underdog. The McFarland’s youngest son, who recently returned from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Korea, is returning to UVU with a full-tuition academic scholarship. He’s considering pre-medicine as a major because he’s seen UVU graduates get accepted to prestigious medical schools. “He can stay in the basement, save a lot of money, go to UVU and get a great education,” says McFarland.

As a freshman at BYU, McFarland took a class in organizational behavior from Kerry Patterson, who later cofounded the company Vitalsmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance. Patterson focused on business applications rather than abstract theory, and McFarland was inspired to figure out how to make a living applying what he was learning. At 24 years old, he’d already worked in sales and a few other professions, and he wanted to do more than just make a living. “I set out to find out what discipline owned leadership training and communication training, and I found human resource development.” He later earned a master’s degree in sociology, with an emphasis in organizational behavior.

McFarland’s appreciation for education wasn’t passed down to him from his family. Neither of his parents, who are descended from Midwestern farmers, finished high school. When McFarland enrolled at BYU, he was already married and had a one-year-old child. Because of that, some of his extended family tried to discourage him from attending. “I had to fight through the family culture. People who have grown up in families where education is valued and encouraged may not realize the challenges a lot of first-generation students face.” Education is not an indicator of intelligence or superiority, he says. It just puts people in a better position to support their families and to help and serve others.

Today McFarland is senior vice president of human resources for Worker’s Compensation Fund. Established in 1917 as a state agency offering compensation for injured workers, WCF is now a mutual insurance company owned by its policyholders. As a result of recent legislation, the company is starting to cover businesses in other states whose owners are domiciled in Utah. In addition to heading up human resources, McFarland is responsible for the company’s strategic growth outside Utah. “There is a global shortage of skilled, educated workers, so my job is to make sure we’re prepared for the next decades,” he says.

McFarland says he’s one of the rare people who is actually doing what he went to school to do. “I went into HR to help people. My greatest satisfaction and personal fulfillment have come from helping others — professionally and personally,” he says. “Self-actualization comes from being part of something bigger than us and outside ourselves. What kind of mark will we leave? And how will we help the community in which we live?”

Part of the reason McFarland chose WCF as an employer is its commitment to community involvement. “I’ve always been hardwired to give back or help as part of my profession,” he says. In addition to serving on Utah Valley University’s Foundation Board, he serves on the education committee for the Associated General Contractors and is a board member of the Jordan River Commission.

“I get personal satisfaction from seeing other people succeed and grow,” says McFarland, who has always lived by the mantra of training his replacement. “Anybody I help will be better than me, because I share with them what I know.” Added to what they already know, that makes them better by definition, he says.