It was never J. Karl Wise’s plan to devote his entire career to the veterinary profession. Nevertheless, prior to his retirement on Aug. 1, he had spent 36 years working with veterinarians, mostly at the AVMA.
|| J. Karl Wise, PhD (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)
Wise, PhD, progressed through four very different positions on the AVMA staff under five CEOs, culminating with the position that became his favorite, associate executive vice president and chief operating officer.
An agricultural economist by training, Dr. Wise joined the AVMA staff in 1977 after obtaining his doctorate at Pennsylvania State University. “I was thinking I’d stay three, four, five years max,” he said. “However, I was one of those lucky people who were given opportunities—including positions—that enabled me to grow and continue to contribute to the Association’s evolving mission.”
Dr. Wise helped conduct a major veterinary manpower study, was staff consultant to the Manpower Committee, and created the AVMA economics survey program that continues today. In 1986, he left the AVMA to form a consulting firm, Wisemark Associates, focusing on veterinary marketing and economic research. Working for himself had been a dream since graduate school, and it taught him self-reliance.
Forming and running a firm also gave him deeper insights about veterinarians’ small businesses. After five years in consulting, he applied for a position Hill’s was funding at Kansas State University to create a practice management center and curriculum. Dr. Roland Dommert, then AVMA CEO, a member of the KSU search committee, asked whether he’d instead be interested in creating a new management group for the AVMA. In 1990, he accepted the new executive staff position of director of information management.
Dr. Wise staffed the AVMA Informatics Committee for many years and oversaw the development of the Association’s Internet services. “I began to manage a lot of people and got very interested in association management in the ‘90s,” he said.
Dr. Janver Krehbiel, 2012-2013 board chair, said, “I met Karl in the early ‘90s when I served on the informatics committee, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on several AVMA entities over the past 20 years. He is a man of great integrity and humility, and his wisdom and patience are keys to his success in working with AVMA members, fellow staff, and our profession in general. His organizational skills have been tremendously useful in helping our organization grow and prosper.”
Dr. Wise’s interest in association management and services led to his 1999 appointment as director of the Membership and Field Services Division. To understand all the AVMA was doing for members and the public, he immersed himself in learning about the Association in all its breadth, and association governance and structure overall. During the process, he pursued credentialing as a Certified Association Executive, passing the test in 2002.
Dr. Janet Donlin, CEO of the AVMA PLIT, worked with him on the AVMA executive staff for several years. She said, “Karl was a very committed professional colleague in terms of associations and association management, and I respected him for that. He really understood how associations should work and how they could provide excellent member services. He married that with his passion and appreciation for veterinarians. Karl is the reason I pursued my CAE. He mentored many folks at the AVMA and in the profession.”
In 2004, Dr. Wise was promoted to associate executive vice president in the Office of the Executive Vice President. He observed, “It’s not surprising that someone who has an economics training perspective would move into a role as a senior individual in an organization like this, because economics gives you a framework for contemplating causal relationships. It has served me well in thinking broadly about organizational issues.”
Proud of things he helped accomplish through teamwork, he acknowledged the many “fantastic” volunteers, veterinarians, and staff he has worked with over the years. One team project, while he was staff assistant to the Strategic Planning Committee, was facilitating the process of the Executive Board taking ownership of the strategic planning function.
“That was meaningful change,” Dr. Wise said. This transition in thinking toward a more sophisticated planning approach laid the foundation for the work of the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission. Dr. Wise staffed the commission and helped provide guidance and insight to the volunteers serving on it, leading to the landmark report outlining the future needs of, and possibilities for, the Association.
Dr. Wise supervised construction after the AVMA purchased its current headquarters and later when the conference center was added and two stories were renovated.
The economist in him enjoyed working with the board and the economics steering and strategy committees to create the new Veterinary Economics Division headed by Michael Dicks, PhD. “That was fun, because I had a good idea what the economics division would do, how it could do it, and what it would take to do it,” Dr. Wise said.
AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven said, “From his behind-the-scenes and supporting roles, Dr. Wise has been able to exert positive leadership throughout all parts of AVMA, especially on the staff and Executive Board. I personally have enjoyed and valued working with him over the past six years as we have successfully tackled several very complex and difficult issues.
“We can all look back at his AVMA career with pride, knowing that the AVMA and the veterinary profession are better because of his time, talent, and efforts. We were extremely fortunate to have Karl at AVMA for all these years and will be forever indebted to him.”
Dr. Wise and his wife, Jane, are moving to their cottage in the woods near Baileys Harbor, Wis., along Lake Michigan. He plans to revisit artistic endeavors such as woodcarving, sketching, and stained-glass art; to travel more—including to some faraway places; to spend more time with his two sons’ families; and, after a while, to explore volunteer opportunities.
As for future work projects, that remains to be seen.