Business Hall of Fame: Eugene Williams

By Lisa Loewen
Photos by Rachel Lock Photography
Eugene Williams

“I haven’t had my greatest achievement yet.  I can figure out a way to challenge myself to do better than I’ve done in the past.”
– Eugene Williams

New York. Los Angeles. Boston. Chicago. That sounds like the dream career for someone in broadcasting. So where does a person who has worked in all of those markets find his ideal job? Topeka, Kansas.

Eugene Williams, KTWU CEO and general manager, has spent the past 18 years ensuring public television is alive and well in Topeka.

Eugene’s “career” in broadcasting began in the 11th grade when he began announcing for his local high school. As a freshman in college, he walked into his very first television studio and has worked in the broadcasting industry ever since.

Recognized early on as a talented, hard working student, one of the producers at the college television station at the University of Alabama asked Eugene to produce a five-minute segment inside of her show. Eager to get started, his enthusiasm dwindled when she told him that his first task was to do research.

“That was my first lesson, not only in broadcasting, but in life,” Eugene said. “It still holds true today. Research is the foundation of everything.”

His commitment to quality content landed him a position as host of his own television show the following year. Eugene would attend classes during the week and do the show on Fridays. By the time he graduated, he was hosting two additional shows—a childrens’ show and a public affairs show.

“The studio whisked me away one Friday night to downtown Birmingham,” Eugene recalled. “I’m prepping for my interview for the show, like I always do. When they bring in the person I am supposed to interview, it is Ray Charles. He performed on the show and I was hooked on broadcasting.”

Being in front of the camera wasn’t his first love, however. It was the engineering behind the scenes. Even though he had no experience with the engineering side of broadcasting, he applied for a job in the engineering department during the summer after his sophomore year to earn some extra money.

That fascination with engineering continued after graduation. Thrust into management at an early age at a production company where he worked, Eugene hired a director of engineering who “let him play.” The two of them designed studios and put together remote trucks. Captivated by the engineering side of the business, Eugene went back to earn an associate’s degree in electronic technology and three certificates in electronics and engineering. From there he went on to earn his MBA from the University of Mobile.

After working in the satellite industry in Illinois for several years, producing shows all over the country and even internationally, Eugene found his calling in public television.

Having worked in major cities all over the U.S., friends asked him why he would leave Chicago for Topeka.

“Every place is pretty much a suburb of Chicago,” Eugene laughed.

The north side of Chicago was a great place to live, but very difficult to get around in. Some days it would take him three hours to get home because of the traffic.

“I can be in Chicago proper faster now from Topeka than I could be when I actually lived in Chicago,” Eugene said.

But for Eugene, the real selling point Topeka had to offer wasn’t the traffic.

“I saw one thing: parking. When you live a city like Chicago, parking is a real issue.  That was a huge perk for me.”

During his time at KTWU, Eugene has made his mark on public television. He has won three EMMY awards and been nominated eight times.  However, he doesn’t sing his own praises.

“I am pretty quiet,” he said.  “Most people don’t even know that I exist, and I prefer it that way.”

Taking on leadership roles in industry-related organizations including the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and the Kansas Public Broadcasting Council, Eugene hopes to share his experience and knowledge to strengthen the industry.

His never-ending pursuit of knowledge drives him both professionally and personally.

“Knowledge is a major key to everything we do,” Eugene said.  “I just want to know more about everything—so I study.”

A voracious reader, Eugene says the knowledge he gains is his alone.  He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone else. He is, however, willing to share his knowledge with young people who ask. He often teaches media classes at Washburn and offers some valuable life lessons.

“You have to develop a passion for learning something about the world,” he advises them.  “You have to have some critical thinking skills.  The more life experience you can gain, the better those critical thinking skills become.”

williams

“Eugene is an innovative thinker, a calculating intellectual, who is a risk taker that thinks outside of the preverbal conventional box and makes the theoretical real.”
– Alonzo Harrison, HDB Construction Inc.

“He is a listener, and that is sometimes missing in leaders. Eugene is able to gather information, process it intelligently, and make the right decision that is best for the station, Washburn and the community.“
– Kent Cornish, Kansas Association of Broadcasters

“Non-profits need to seek out new entrepreneurial activities to keep themselves relevant and alive in this very competitive industry. Eugene’s success in this arena has maintained KTWU’s ability to remain at the forefront in content production, programming, technology, and revenue generation.”
– Valerie M.B. VanDerSluis, KTWU

2016 Laureates:

Andrew Corbin

Neil Dobler

Dick Pratt

Eugene Williams