Kim Allen Wilkerson ’80

By Sara Ann Hutto ’17

Wilkerson’s story is one of true love and trailblazing

True love. That’s how Kim Wilkerson ended up a Clemson student. Rather than follow in her father’s footsteps to the University of Tennessee, she wanted to stay close to her high school boyfriend (and now husband), Avery B. Wilkerson Jr., who was playing football at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina.

“I can’t tell you that was the smartest way to make a decision,” Wilkerson laughs, “but it was a very smart decision.”

Today, Wilkerson is serving as chair of the Board of Trustees, which sets policy for the University and approves budgets and expenditures. Wilkerson was elected to the two-year chair term in July 2021, having served on the board since 2010. As the South Carolina president and managing director for Bank of America, she brings significant financial and leadership experience to the table.

“I’m a collaborative leader,” Wilkerson says. “I believe in authenticity; you have to be your authentic self as you lead. My financial background brings, as you might imagine, a financial perspective to the board, but we all have our unique qualities. The diversity of thought makes us a really strong board.”

Looking ahead, Wilkerson says the board is in the throes of refreshing its strategic plan. Priorities include student experience, research ascension and the University’s land-grant mission. The goal is to innovate and improve while keeping Clemson feeling like home.

“We want to make sure we’re always leading the University forward, seeking what’s best for our students, faculty, staff and alumni. And we want to keep Clemson ‘Clemson,’” Wilkerson says. “The Clemson experience is truly something that makes us very, very different.”

Wilkerson has had a special Clemson experience herself. In high school, her favorite subjects were math and chemistry. She entered Clemson as a chemical engineering major but soon switched to financial management, leaning more into her passion for math. She made lifelong friends through her sorority, Tri Delta.

And she says she has a Clemson professor, Perry Woodside, to thank for her career path. When she was a senior, she was interviewing with several accounting firms and not considering many other career options. “Dr. Woodside said to me, ‘Kim, you are just not a green eyeshade kind of person. You are going to be a perfectly miserable accountant. Have you ever thought about going into banking?’” Wilkerson says. “To which I replied, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Well, now you have, and I’ve signed you up for two interviews next week on campus.’

“And the rest is history,” she laughs. Idioms aside, Wilkerson has spent more than 40 years at Bank of America, and she has become the first female to be named president of a South Carolina bank — and the first female chair of Clemson’s Board of Trustees.

“I’m a collaborative leader. I believe in authenticity; you have to be your authentic self as you lead.”

“When I think about my two daughters-in-law and my 1-year-old-granddaughter, I hope that by blazing some trails, I make it easier for them to follow along the way,” Wilkerson says. “I look forward to the day when it’s not newsworthy that there’s a female chair of the Board of Trustees or a female president of a bank. But it has been a real privilege to be able to do some of those things as firsts.”

Whether she’s president, chair, wife or mother, Wilkerson says she brings her father’s love of learning and her mother’s compassion to every position or role she undertakes. Fueled by her passions for education and service, Wilkerson is in a unique position to continue not only the legacy of her parents but also the legacy of the trustees of years past. She calls it “the absolute honor of a lifetime.”

“When I joined the board, I received a letter that I have kept,” Wilkerson says. “In that letter, the person said to me, ‘Kim, the decisions you make today will impact students not yet born.’ When you think about it from that perspective, it is a heavy mantle to carry, clearly a high responsibility.”

“I love this University,” she continues. “Because of my experience at Clemson, I’ve been able to do things I could never have imagined when I graduated in 1980, so I’m incredibly grateful.”

Wilkerson may have followed true love to Clemson, but she also found it there — an enduring love for her alma mater that she says has given her so much and that she continues to give back to in return.