From foster care to CEO: UMSL alumnus leads St. Louis to brighter future

UMSL alumnus Orvin Kimbrough, MBA 2002

UMSL alumnus Orvin Kimbrough, MBA 2002, is the new president and CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

There are people who inspire others to be better versions of themselves. Orvin Kimbrough is one of those people, and he’s turned his leadership abilities and compassion into quite the career.

Kimbrough, MBA 2002, is the new president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the community as a whole by helping numerous causes instead of just one. It partners with more than 170 local agencies and helps one in three people in the greater St. Louis region, which includes 16 counties in Missouri and Illinois.

“I am passionate about creating conditions to help people live their best possible lives,” Kimbrough says.

Nonprofit work offers him this opportunity.

“My work is in the intersection of human services and business, the intersection of education and community, the intersection of faith and people,” he says. “In my role I get to help this region and our people imagine ourselves differently. This is what I enjoy most, helping people see themselves as the leaders and achievers they are.”

With his MBA Kimbrough knows firsthand about leadership.

“I pursued an MBA because it is universally accepted as a credential that distinguishes you as a leader or a potential leader,” he says. “I chose UMSL because it was accessible, rigorous and value priced.

The program challenged me and brought out my very best. It was so difficult that I knew if I could make it through, I could do anything.”

Prior to being president and CEO, Kimbrough held various positions within United Way. He was most recently senior vice president for major gifts and planned giving, while also leading the marketing and communications division. When he started in 2007, he had planned on staying only a few years.

“My relationship with United Way’s former president and CEO, Gary Dollar, and my newfound belief, informed by experience, that United Way is positioned better than any organization in our region to help the most people live their best possible life, impelled me to aspire to the presidency once Gary announced his retirement.”

When he learned of his promotion, Kimbrough felt honored.

“I have always worked hard and have always tried to work smart,” he says. “I must say that privately I was overcome with emotion. I stand amazed at the power of people. My ascent was only partially about me; it spoke volumes about this region. I am a foster kid.”

Born in East St. Louis, Ill., and raised in north St. Louis, at the age of 8 Kimbrough entered into the foster care system and remained in it until he aged out at 21. His beginnings may have been rough, but he certainly didn’t let that hold him back.

“Setbacks are inevitable, but failure is not an option,” he says. “Life is about framing our experiences and being measured in our response. Don’t go too high, don’t go too low. If I fall short of my expectations, I try again.”

Now his determination has paid off, and he is giving back to the very community he came from.


This story was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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