JACKSON, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter and University of Mississippi Medical Center Health System CEO Kevin Cook were named Thursday as two of the Mississippi Business Journal’s top chief executive officers in the state.
MBJ’s CEO Awards of Mississippi recognized leaders in the state who helped their companies or organizations achieve strong growth and success and have made a profound effect on their community.
“Being able to recognize for the second year the people who work to create jobs, build new facilities, and contribute to our state’s economy and our communities has been very gratifying and rewarding to us,” MBJ Publisher Alan Turner said.
Since taking the reins of UM on Jan. 1, 2016, Vitter has spent his first year in office focused on bolstering the university’s already strong research capabilities, strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and also growing the university’s capacity to address future workforce needs.
“I am grateful to the Mississippi Business Journal for this prestigious award,” Vitter said. “It is really a recognition of the university’s reputation for excellence and the valuable contributions of all our staff, faculty, students and alumni – they are the real honorees of this award.
“The University of Mississippi is an extraordinary place, and I cherish the opportunity to provide leadership for the continued growth and success of this flagship institution.”
Vitter was inaugurated as UM’s 17th chancellor Nov. 10 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. He previously served as University of Kansas provost, executive vice chancellor and Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor. The New Orleans native graduated with highest honors in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame in 1977 and earned his Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford University in 1980. He also holds an MBA from Duke University.
Vitter came to Ole Miss committed to building on UM’s strengths. A key piece of his vision for the university is linked to its status as an R1: Doctoral University, denoting the highest research activity, in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
This designation places UM among a distinguished group of 115 institutions including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University in the “highest research” category. Those in the classification represent the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.
The chancellor is committed to establishing at Ole Miss a leading interdisciplinary research and education program in data science.
He hosted a CEO Tech Summit in August that brought together technology industry leaders on campus.
His work toward his goals during his first year in office have been noted by the Institutions of Higher Learning. Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education, applauded Vitter’s selection to MBJ’s list of the state’s top CEOs.
The chancellor understands the important partnership between higher education and the business community very well, Boyce said.
“As a renowned computer scientist, he has extensive experience fostering the relationship between university research and leading businesses,” he said. “By bringing this knowledge base and experience to Mississippi, he is providing leadership that will expand our research footprint in support of Mississippi business and industry, helping to improve our economy.”
Cook joined the Medical Center as CEO of the adult hospitals in 2013 and was elevated to his current role in September 2015. Working in tandem with Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Charles O’Mara, Cook is responsible for all adult and pediatric health care operations, including hospitals and clinics, under the UMMC health system umbrella.
During his time at the Medical Center, Cook has focused on enhancing the efficiency and improving the quality of the clinical enterprise while overseeing its growth.
“I’m deeply appreciative to be honored alongside some of the most accomplished leaders in our state,” Cook said. “This recognition is a result of the amazing work being done by our talented and accomplished clinical, administrative and support staffs that view their job as more than just work but as a mission.”
Before joining UMMC, Miami-native Cook spent eight years with Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, serving as regional CEO, market CEO and hospital COO in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.
UMMC is Cook’s second time working in Mississippi. From 2002 to 2006, he served in an administrative position with River Region Health System in Vicksburg.
Cook earned his undergraduate degree from William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and his MBA from Boston University. He served in the U. S. Marine Corps from 1991 to 1999, rising to the rank of major.
LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, appreciates Cook’s leadership of the $1 billion health system.
“He has been a great asset to UMMC during a time of growth and change,” Woodward said. “His experience, combined with his insight into the future of health care and how teaching hospitals and health systems must adapt to thrive, has us on the right path to achieve our goal of a healthier Mississippi.”
Both UM leaders were honored with the other CEOs at an awards banquet at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson.