Spotlight on Scott McKinney

Scott McKinney joined the UW Foundation in 1998 and is now WFAA’s chief operating officer. A Madison native, he attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and then worked briefly in undergraduate admissions. He returned to Madison to attend law school and earned his JD in 1998.

What does your role at WFAA entail?
A little bit of everything. As the chief operating officer, I lead our Operational Excellence Division, which includes the Legal Affairs, Human Resources, Facilities, and Information Technology groups, though my work generally extends far beyond the scope of these units. In a broad sense, Operational Excellence places priority on making sure that we have engaged, inspired teams, that we have the right people in the right roles, and that our HR, IT, legal, and other central-service functions are best and most efficiently situated to support our core development and engagement functions.
What led you to the field of development as a profession?
While I was working in admissions at Macalester College, I became well acquainted with that college’s advancement team. I had always desired to remain, in some capacity, in higher education, and the exposure to college admissions and advancement in the Twin Cities made me determined to find a way to combine my law degree and a career in higher education. Over about a year, I met with everyone in the UW–Madison administration who had a law degree, seeking to understand what led them to a career on campus. As part of that exploration, I connected with two UW Foundation leaders (each with law degrees), and those informational conversations eventually led to my employment here . . . over 20 years ago.
What three words would you use to describe WFAA?
Inspirational. Motivational. Challenging.
What is your favorite part about working for WFAA, and what do you find the most challenging?
Though this is the answer most leaders will give, I really mean it! The best part of my work involves the generous, kind, fun, smart colleagues I am fortunate to work alongside. We have some truly wonderful colleagues at WFAA, which is one of the main reasons I have been here for two decades. The most challenging aspect of my job is that the scope of my work is so broad and widespread, that I am rarely able to dig deep into a specific topic or issue for as long or deeply as I would like. I am fortunate to work with terrific leaders whose teams can spend the time doing this . . . but I wish I had the bandwidth to perform a deeper dive on various projects.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I am generally with my family . . . most typically at one of my girls’ swim meets, gymnastics meets, or regattas. With any additional spare time, I am deep in triathlon training, downhill skiing, or planning my next international trip (I love to travel). My favorite thing to do in Madison: go for a long, early-morning Saturday run, followed by a trip to the Farmer’s Market and a late afternoon and evening out at American Players Theatre.
People would be surprised if they knew this about me:
During college, a friend and I once trained two lab rats to play basketball (long story).
I am happiest when I’m:
With my kids or on a long, early-morning bike ride in the country.
What would you say to someone who is considering working for WFAA?
Ask questions of us. And ask questions of yourself. Ensure that one of your prime motivators is working for a mission-driven organization and that you are comfortable working independently, at a fast pace and taking reasonable risks, learning from your mistakes, and trying again. Most of all, make sure you want to work with kind, motivated, engaged, highly collegial individuals . . . and that you are one of those yourself!
What is your favorite quote?
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.”