Meet CIS Graduate Kenny Lawhorn
Kenny Lawhorn is a proud graduate of James Madison University. He earned a degree in CIS, graduating in 1987.
He selected JMU based on positive feedback from friends who attended and expressed pleasure in campus life. He also felt there were a broader range of majors that were offered. He says, “Once I visited campus, I could see myself going to school there.”
Although a native of D.C., Kenny grew up in Spotsylvania County, graduating from Courtland High School. He and his family currently live in Fairfax Station, Va.
Kenny always knew he wanted to do something with business and software development, so he selected computer information systems as his major. He also recalled hearing an army recruiter talking about software development and the increasing importance of computer information systems.
He really enjoyed his CIS classes at JMU. He says, “I felt that my experience at JMU prepared me for the real world. I was a first generation college student, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I made many friends that I still see. The experience at JMU exceeded my expectations. I developed a keen interest in computers. I loved the real life aspects of college world and computers. My experience really helped to launch my career. The classes introduced me to skills needed in real life.”
He remembers his “top notch” professors, such as Don Musselman, Glen Smith, and Dr. Fortch. They advised him to do more advance programming; companies will be looking for students with those skills, so he might as well acquire those skills now and be ahead of the game. Kenny appreciated the interaction with faculty, and the good feedback. He appreciated all the help and good advice from the career placement office. He says, “I was overwhelmed by positives at JMU.”
Kenny started his career with Arthur Anderson 26 years ago. Although he’s technically been with the same company throughout his career, the company has transitioned from an accounting partnership into a consulting firm into a publicly traded company, now known as Accenture where he is a Managing Director. He felt like he worked for three different companies due to the transitions and changes.
During his early career, he worked as a programmer and designer. He soon progressed up to the ranks of management. Over 18 years, he worked on several transformation projects for both commercial and government clients, focusing on modernizing systems to improve efficiency.
He says that after the 9/11 attack, he wanted to do something that would have an impact. He had friends who lost family members in the Pentagon, and he felt compelled to become involved in a project that would tighten up security for our country. Under Kenny’s leadership, Accenture Federal Services was recently awarded a five-year Government contract to modernize and transform identity management and credentialing system capabilities for workers who are in and around sensitive, secure areas.
Kenny says he enjoys his gratifying relationships with clients, as well as the whole networking piece. “I met great people who were instrumental in giving me advice, and in taking personal time to help me navigate the system.”
When he switched roles, many managers wanted to go with him. Although they knew it was risky, they wanted to stick with Kenny and learn new skills. He says, “This was very rewarding. I feel that I’ve helped to create a runway for these guysthat will help them grow their careers. Others did this for me throughout in my career and it feels good being able to do the same for the managers following me.”
Connection to JMU
Kenny has remained connected to JMU since he graduated in 1987. He did a lot of recruiting at JMU in his early career. He felt a sense of wanting to give back. Accenture taught employees to give back to their universities. They encouraged them to give by matching their gifts.
Over time, Kenny became involved with the CIS Advisory Board and the Parents Council Board. He says, “I’m blown away when I come back to JMU and see all the bright young minds.” I like to go back and tell stories about getting out there in the world and working hard, and good things will happen.
He works with some of the IT consulting classes and entrepreneurship classes. He has also worked with students via teleconferencing. He comes to campus often for the CIS Advisory Board, helping to refine the curriculum so it continues to be relevant to the industry.
He says, “I hope JMU and the COB will continue to maintain the culture of growing strong business leaders. I hope the student/faculty relationship remains strong, and that online learning doesn’t erode that.” He goes on to say, “As I look back, I appreciated the opportunity to get to the professor. I knew him from class, I met with him during office hours. This was a real world experience. You’ll need to meet with your boss, and meet with people you don’t know. These relationships are really how you make things happen and get things done.”
Kenny and his wife, Julie, have three boys. The 20-year-old twins, Donovan and Geoffrey, are juniors at JMU majoring in Quantitative Finance, with a minor in Computer Science. Their youngest son, Mitchell, is a senior at Fork Union Military Academy, and he has plans to attend JMU.
Twins run in the Lawhorn family. Kenny has a twin brother, who has twins. Kenny says his twins are very competitive. They are both interning at a startup green company in Durham, N.C.
Kenny enjoys skiing, golfing, and vacationing at the beach. He loves betting on the ponies; his favorite track is Saratoga Springs. His dad was an avid horseman, so Kenny grew up learning the ins and outs of horse racing.
Advice for students
Kenny offers this advice for students: understand the skills you want to build; make yourself relevant every day; find a way to be involved; don’t be afraid to take risks or fail; you can learn a lot that will lead to future growth and success; you need to recognize that.
Kenny has taken heed of his own advice, taking risks, sometimes failing, but always learning and leaning toward success.