William H. “Skip” Holbrook ’03 MBA, a Pfeiffer alumnus, has been Chief of the Columbia (SC) Police Department since 2014. He has more than 29 years of experience in law enforcement, the last 13 years as a police chief.
In the early 2000s, Holbrook was beginning to find success in the mid-level management ranks of his field. He had become the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Southern Piedmont District, Charlotte office, of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). He had come to believe that his chances of landing an even higher leadership position, perhaps one in a police department, would be greater if he had a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
So, with the support of his superiors, he enrolled in Pfeiffer’s MBA Cohort Program, which was located on Pfeiffer’s Charlotte campus, near his SBI offices. He attended morning classes with several other cohort members, and he worked for SBI in the afternoons and evenings, pushing himself through a schedule that he called “stressful at times.”
The hard work of pursuing a master’s degree while working fulltime would pay off: Holbrook earned his MBA in 2003. Four years later, the native of Huntington, West Virginia would begin a seven-year stint as the Chief of Police for that city’s police department. The appointment reconnected him to a police department; his work in law enforcement began at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, in 1987.
While in Huntington, Holbrook achieved several notable successes. One of the most significant – and a major reason that Teresa Wilson, Columbia’s city manager, hired him for the Columbia job – was finally ridding Fairfield West, a once-dangerous and rundown neighborhood, of rampant drug-dealing and prostitution.
During Holbrook’s time in Columbia, he has been forward-thinking:
The police department has begun implementing organizational and operational reforms. These are in line with The President's Task Force on 21st-Century Policing Implementation Guide: Moving from Recommendations to Action.
Task Force, a 2015 Department of Justice (DOJ) publication, “outlines strategies to help communities, law enforcement and local government implement recommendations in the President (Obama)'s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing Report,” says a DOJ press release.
Under Holbrook’s leadership, the Columbia Police Department has also received the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association’s 2016 SCANA Award of Excellence, which recognized the department’s efforts, innovative service to the community, efficiency, and results, throughout the year 2016.
Holbrook guided the Columbia Police Department to national accreditation by the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. He received the 2018 Strom Thurmond Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement. Earlier this year, he was appointed to the United States Conference of Mayors’ National Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group.
Holbrook is a huge supporter of Pfeiffer’s MBA program. During a recent interview, he talked a bit more about his career and the impact his MBA has had on it.
Chief Holbrook, belated congratulations on securing your second Chief of Police appointment since 2007. Would you say that an MBA is becoming a requirement for police officers who are hoping to become police chiefs and, if so, why?
I do believe MBAs and other post-graduate degrees are becoming more of the norm versus the exception with many individuals in police chief positions throughout the country. Although an MBA is not always a prerequisite for a police chief candidate, it is certainly preferred, along with other executive management and leadership programs, such as the FBI National Academy, at which I’ve completed several programs. There is no question in my mind that possessing an MBA makes you more competitive for executive management and leadership jobs.
There are lots of MBA programs out there. What was it about Pfeiffer's that made it the most attractive one for you?
Several factors influenced my decision to seek an MBA from Pfeiffer University. First was the programming being offered: I participated in an 18-month cohort program with people who each worked for various law enforcement agencies in and around Charlotte. Another factor that appealed to me was the location of the cohort program, which was at Pfeiffer University’s Charlotte campus, not far from my SBI offices. This was convenient, especially since all our classes entailed in-person instruction. Finally, several classes were taught by Don Steger, a former Assistant City Manager in Charlotte. He provided tremendous insight into organizational management and decision-making by providing real world examples.
Your schedule of attending classes in the mornings and working afternoons and evenings sounds pretty demanding. What were the upsides, other than the fact that you eventually earned an MBA?
It caused me to be responsible, plan, adapt and persevere – just like in the real world and what is expected of a police chief. It also better prepared me and others to meet the challenges and demands of leading a police department.
Before your current appointment as Chief of the Columbia Police Department, you cut your leadership teeth further at the SBI and, then, during seven years as the Chief of Police for the Huntington Police Department. Your success in Huntington laid the groundwork for your current appointment. Talk about the role that Pfeiffer played in that.
Because of the MBA training I received, I knew that success is measured many different ways – budget construction and management; strategic planning; resource allocation and assignment; managing employees and building meaningful relationships, both internally with staff and externally with members of the public, who are our customers. The MBA courses that covered operational management, behavior, communication, and leadership all proved to be of tremendous value to me during my last years at the SBI and with the Huntington Police.
During the beginning of my tenure as Huntington’s police chief, for example, I was tasked with organizational transformation despite the department being significantly underfunded. Drawing on my Pfeiffer training, I identified organizational inefficiencies and corrected them; grew budget through outside funding sources such as state and federal grants; established a police foundation; and developed outside partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, which resulted in force multipliers and better outcomes.
With classes offered online, Pfeiffer’s MBA program is ideal for working professionals. You will engage in real-time applied research – designed to effect change within your organization concurrent with your studies – with an emphasis on ethics and corporate sustainability in business practice. Lectures, small group-study, and case study analysis will hone your business acumen and situation awareness to optimize your managerial effectiveness.
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.