Kim White, CEO of River City Co., talks about her new role as a University of Tennessee trustee.


* Hometown: Chattanooga

* Job: River City Co. CEO

* Age: 57

* Education: Hixson High School, UTC

* New challenge: UT Board of Trustees member

* Quote: “The way it’s set up now, I represent the whole system. But my knowledge of UTC can’t but help.”


Kim White recalls a time not too long ago when everything from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had to be orange.

"When you were fundraising, it had to have the Knoxville 'UT.' All the business cards had to have an orange 'T' on it," she says.

But over the past several years, that has changed, says White. Each campus in the UT system can be more individualized, and that has helped strengthen the separate universities, she says.

"Having that perspective is important at the UT Board of Trustees level," says White, the chief executive of Chattanooga's nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., who was recently named to the key university panel.

White, 57, on July 1 started a four-year stint on the newly reconfigured board. The revamped board goes from 27 members to just 11 voting trustees and a non-voting student trustee.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said much of his impetus in pushing for changes at UT were inspired by his own 2016 FOCUS Act. It broke up the Tennessee Board of Regents system, which spun off five universities while keeping community colleges and technical schools under TBR. Haslam said he's seen a level of engagement among board members of newly self-governing universities like Middle Tennessee State University that he doesn't see at UT.

White, a UTC graduate who is the only board member from Southeast Tennessee, says that while the governor will appoint its members, the panel will elect a chairperson, which is a change from the past.

One of the new board's first jobs is to begin a search to find a replacement for UT System President Dr. Joe DiPietro, who has announced his retirement, she says.

"That's our most important job to make sure we have the right leader," White says. The new president will then hire the UT-Knoxville chancellor to replace Dr. Beverly Davenport, who DiPietro fired earlier this year, outlining his dissatisfaction with her in a sharply worded letter.

White says it's unfortunate there has been so much "noise" over the firing.

"There's so many wonderful things happening throughout the state," she says, adding how important it will be to communicate the UT system's message and that "the right stories get the headlines."

White comes to the UT board with lots of activity both at UTC and at the UT system level, along with 10 years as River City Co.'s CEO.

The Hixson High graduate who received an art degree from UTC moved away from Chattanooga after her collegiate years for two decades. She says she worked for a telecommunications company, including stints in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, as well as in Birmingham, Alabama, and Fort Myers, Florida.

When she and husband Joe Dan White decided to return to Chattanooga, she found it initially hard to reconnect, White says. Getting plugged into the UTC community helped.

She served on the university's Alumni Board, later becoming its president. She also stayed involved in UTC's business school and joined the University of Chattanooga Foundation, now serving as its chairwoman.

At the UT system level, White was selected for its Alumni Council and also for the UT Board of Governors and the UT Foundation board, chairing its real estate committee.

"It gave me insight on how the system operated and how UTC fit in the system," she says. "I've had system and campus exposure and that gives me a unique viewpoint."

The Chattanooga native says public education is important to Tennessee.

"As a product of public education, I do know how it can be life changing," she says.

For UTC, White is hopeful it can stay on its existing track, noting that "the campus has never looked more beautiful. There has been a lot of investment."

Freshman applications were up 34 percent this year, she says, as new freshmen dormitories are slated to open this fall.

Also, the university is looking at a life sciences building on the campus across from Erlanger on Fourth Street, White says.

In addition, McKenzie Arena will see an addition honoring former alum and Chattanooga businessman Bucky Wolford.

"River City is working on the Third and Fourth Street corridor. Working with Erlanger and UTC will be awesome," White says.

As River City's chief, she says that UTC is "a big piece of [downtown's] growth." Plans are to improve physical connections between the university and downtown's core.

Among issues on her agenda while serving as a UT trustee, in addition to leadership, is the affordability of college.

"How do we keep tuition rates low and affordable and make sure our students in the state can afford to attend?" White says.