Belinda Keiser was born into the academic world. Both of her parents are professors at Florida State University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. While working at National Health Screening Council and trying to get her office space donated, she met Arthur Keiser, who had founded an upstart private career university in Fort Lauderdale with his mother in 1977. She married him 27 years ago and became an integral part of his venture.
Belinda and Arthur have grown Keiser University into a statewide school with an international presence. Keiser University pays $21 million annually in local and state taxes, serves more than 18,000 students in 40 career fields, has 15 campuses throughout the state and employs 3,000 faculty and staff. Today at Keiser University most students work full or part time, and most are women between 25 and 35 years old.
Belinda is vice chancellor of Keiser University, Keiser Career College, Everglades University and the Southeastern Institutes. She oversees community relations and student advancement and is responsible for community outreach programs, charitable giving, public relations and government affairs. Gov. Charlie Crist named Belinda chair of the board of directors for Workforce Florida, giving her statewide perspective on jobs. Belinda says Keiser has moved beyond being a family business and operates as a private company with an independent board.
Below is an edited version of her view from the top.
Q.In your first leadership role, how did you get people to respect you?
When you are part of the family there’s always question about is this person here because she earned this spot or because she is part of the family. I believe you earn respect. A lot of that is leadership by example. If you ask for people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you ask them to meet deadlines, you need to demonstrate you meet deadlines. If you have a standard in terms of work ethic, you need to be that example. That was the way I was raised and what I believe.
What makes a good leader?
I think that leadership is a lot of different things. A leader accepts responsibility. A leader is a person who has a clear vision of what is needed by a department or organization. But I also think a leader has to have a heart. You are respected as much for the way you handle situations and individuals as you are for the decisions you make.
What are some of the leadership lessons you have learned?
It helps to have had years behind me. I’ve learned to have more patience. There are individuals that come in and learn quickly. We’re a very accountable system and they get that right away. It takes some people much longer. That doesn’t mean they’re not as valuable. Sometimes they end up being your star employees but the learning curve is a little bit longer. Also, I always strive to be fair. I’ve learned that is really important. We have a tight knit group and they are all very different. I have to be cautious that I don’t show favoritism. Certain persons are stars in my department. We’re very accountable and I can see what they are doing. But that doesn’t create a healthy team. Everyone has to be valued for who they are.
If you were going to hire someone for a key position and could only ask them one or two questions what would you ask?
I very often give them a scenario and ask them how they would handle it. It could be as simple as: “You are in a meeting and a student walks in and interrupts. How would you handle that?” That is very important to us because we have a philosophy of students first. Hearing the job candidate go through the thought process is extremely important.
Have you ever gone back to school yourself as an adult?
Just recently. I just went through a two-week intense course in foreign policy at George Washington University. It was a humbling experience. There were tons of reading assignments. We studied China, the Middle East. We were able to go to the State Department. We met with the United Nations Foundation. It was a great experience.
If you could go to school on your campus what would you study?
We do have an international relations course and we have a PhD in educational leadership. I would probably figure out if there was some sort of hybrid program between international relations and security.
Have you and husband thought about long-term strategy? Where will university be a decade from now and what will your role be?
Personally, I hope to have the opportunity to contribute to the national agenda. I see so many things wonderful and so many things I would like to contribute to changing.
For the school, it does appear there’s interest on an international level. We have resisted offers to build outside of Florida for many reasons. We believe in thoughtful stable growth and always maintaining quality. In April, we were invited to be part of the China market [Keiser partnered with a 100 year old university in Shanghai]. We really have been more focused on domestic. We just opened a College of Golf in Port St. Lucie.
How have you as a leader handled the issue of placement? In this difficult job market, what have you done to help your students find jobs?
We are still at a 90 percent placement rate. Almost half of our students are in allied health, which is still growing. That has helped tremendously.
When we’ve had programs where it’s been more difficult, we’ve created hybrid programs. Remember the dot com bust? By combining programs that had allied health and a technology component, our students were able to get jobs.
It’s important to be really connected to employers. They will tell you this is the latest in terms of technology. If you will modify your ultrasound program, we will have more opportunities for your graduates. We also will encourage grads to look at other geographic markets such as Central Florida and set up an interview for them. Relocation can be difficult but the market is requiring it.