From Citibank and Clorox to Kent State

Allison Smith

Iris Harvey, vice president for university relations, has a background primarily in corporate marketing. While she’s lived all over the world, “right now, Stow, Ohio, is home and I love it.” Emily Horne | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

After working for large companies such as Citibank, Clorox and Napa Wine Company, one tends to wonder what brought Iris Harvey, the vice president of university relations, to Kent State.

As the overseer of university relations, Harvey’s main job is to market Kent State.

“My background is primarily in corporate marketing, so I’ve spent a lifetime of marketing for famous name brands and large corporations,” Harvey said.

Harvey attended University of Southern California where she received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s in international marketing.

But Harvey wasn’t always interested in marketing. She said she was originally going to college for a psychology degree. She decided to audit a marketing class and fell in love with it.

“There’s a lot of psychology in marketing; there’s a lot of economics in it, so I never looked back,” Harvey said. “I always thought of myself as a strategist and that I would always be in the private sector, and – of course – I’ve always wanted to work for a large corporation.”

Harvey began working for Napa Wine Company when wine was just becoming vogue in the United States.

“A lot of my job in marketing and consumer trend, interpretation and communication was to help a consumer group that wasn’t familiar with a product make some decisions about consuming that product and buying it,” Harvey said.

She said much of what she learned from working at Napa Wine Company translates to her job with university relations.

“What does a family that hasn’t had the experience of going to college need to learn about?” Harvey asked. “It’s about how accessible is an institution. How affordable is it? How do you distinguish one institution from another institution? What about pricing, tuition and all of those things?”

Harvey said she moved to Citibank at a time when consumer needs were changing. She was in a global division where she was able to travel a lot. After some time she had the opportunity to be assigned overseas.

She told Citibank she wanted to go to Asia, but it wouldn’t let her.

Harvey said the corporation wanted her to go to Brazil because they felt it was more multicultural. So Harvey decided to take a leave of absence and go and spend a year in Japan – where she originally wanted to go.

“For me, I realized that the organization had blinders on,” Harvey said. “They didn’t feel that an African-American woman in Japan could be successful because that was their view. Their American-centric view and even, probably, some preconceived stereotypes of Japan.”

Harvey said the opportunity to be successful was all based on whether she had something to offer in the Japanese marketplace. Six months after she got there, she realized there was a viable business. So she started a consulting company that worked with major corporations like Sony, Mitsubishi, Kraft and the Financial Times.

“Just as I thought, you could be anything you want,” Harvey said.

She said she also realized she had an advantage. In Japan, she ran into people who didn’t know how to treat a foreign woman who owned her own business without having a Japanese husband. So, she said, the people only had one model for treating her: a corporate white male.

“I had a wonderful experience there,” Harvey said. “I found very friendly, hospitable people. A great business environment that was challenging and, you know, had you rethink the way you do business because the culture was very different.”

When she got back to the United States, she worked at the University of Maryland University College. She spent a year at the University of Maryland and began to wonder what a more traditional university was like.

“I spent three years with Wright State University and saw Kent State as a wonderful opportunity to translate all I had learned about higher education and the other decades of experience that I had in a brand that I had known all of my adult life,” Harvey said.

She said her favorite part of her job at Kent State is having the opportunity to sit on the stage and watch thousands of students get their degree and to know that something she’s done had an impact on them.

“So here I am,” Harvey said. “Having a great time.”

Contact administration reporter Allison Smith at [email protected].