KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 30, 2023
Growing up the son of a lifelong public servant, Bert Wesley Huffman said a knack for knocking on doors, building relationships and raising money ran through his veins. But so, too, did providing a service to the community.
After more than 15 years working in various fundraising and media jobs in the Atlanta area, a decade of which he spent at Georgia Public Broadcasting, Huffman was named CEO of GPB in August. The Kennesaw State University alum said though he never could have imagined himself in the position years ago, he believes his passion for education, arts, media and service to the state of Georgia placed him exactly where he belonged.
“I was the kid that carried a briefcase and wore a bowtie. I always had these aspirations where I wanted to be something, and I knew I could be something, but I don’t know that it ever dawned on me that it would be this exactly,” Huffman said. “I honestly never thought I’d be CEO of anything, but this has been a magic moment when my whole career has synthesized.”
Huffman grew up in the small north Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge, where his father served in various civic roles. Huffman earned an associate of arts degree at nearby Young Harris College, before moving to Tennessee Wesleyan University for a Bachelor of Arts degree, his heart set on becoming an actor.
But, he said, his introduction to development work in his first job as an admissions recruiter at Tennessee Wesleyan marked “a beautiful entry into fundraising.” Soon, Huffman said he knew he wanted to continue his career in nonprofit work and started work in the Master of Public Administration program at KSU in 2003. He graduated in 2005.
Huffman said the program brought together his established knowledge of fundraising and relationship building with the deep understanding of government and public administration skills he needed to advance his career and lead.
“My time at KSU was incredibly eye-opening,” Huffman said. “In some ways, the MPA serves me at the very highest level that it could, because I’m working in both of those fields. I have a foot in nonprofit, and I have a foot in public administration, so it was a great choice.”
Huffman said his ability to learn from professors who were experts in their fields and network with other nonprofit and government professionals served him greatly as he advanced through his career, navigating business and budgets.
“I think it’s important to do that kind of work in your career, because it opens your eyes to what this really is and what kinds of opportunities are out there for you,” he said.
As he’s watched KSU grow since his time on campus, Huffman said he’s proud to be an Owl.
“The massive growth of the University and all the great things that are going on there has been amazing to see,” he said. “It’s neat to watch what used to be considered a ‘commuter college,’ turn into a strong university that I’m proud to be associated with.”
Madinah F. Hamidullah, director of KSU’s MPA program, said watching alumni of the program go on to achieve their goals is a personal highlight of her job.
“The MPA program’s focus on service and leadership is one of the most exciting aspects of the program, because it takes the passion that these professionals already have for making our communities and public services better informed, efficient and effective and it prepares them to lead,” Hamidullah said. “Our program is honored to be part of Mr. Huffman's academic and professional journey, and he represents a shining example of our University and its commitment to public service, ethics and passion for education.”
In years following his graduation, Huffman worked for Emory’s National Primate Research Center, an American HVAC professional association and as director of development for The Atlanta Opera, moving closer to the intersection of passion and career development, until he landed at GPB in 2014. Huffman was named vice president for development and marketing, later became senior vice president of external affairs, and then was named president of GPB in 2021.
“It was the culmination of this love of all these wonderful media things, the arts and culture and news and information and all of these things that are intrinsic to what we do,” he said.
Over his decade working closely with then-GPB chief Teya Ryan, Huffman helped build a team who he said is excited about the organization, its programming and its status as a resource for all Georgians. Prior to his appointment as CEO, Huffman helped GPB, with its nine TV and 20 radio stations go from $4 million per year fundraising in 2014 to closing out 2022 nearing $12 million.
He said his vision as CEO is to combine his passion for presenting the value of GPB as a public service, arts and educational resource, with its legacy for creating an unbiased primary source of news and information.
“It’s about reminding people that the beauty of public media is that we’re more than a television station or a radio station,” Huffman said. “We’re a living, breathing organization here on the ground in Georgia that takes media that we have access to and uses it to inform people and make their lives better. What we do is powerful.”
– By Thomas Hartwell
Photos by Matt Yung
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.