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Volume 20 No. 41
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Forty Under 40: Joe Karlgaard


School: Rice University
Title: Director of athletics
Age: 39
Where born: Bismarck, N.D.
Education: Stanford University (A.B., history), University of Minnesota (M.A., Ph.D., educational policy and administration)
Career background: Stanford, administrative assistant, track and field/cross country (1998-2000); Minnesota, volunteer assistant coach, men’s track and field/cross country (2000-03); Oberlin College: assistant AD, external affairs (2004-05), director of athletics (2005-11); Stanford, senior associate AD, development (2011-13); current position since October 2013
Family: Wife, Jill; son, Charlie (6)

Favorite apps: Tweetbot, OpenTable, Uber, Strava.
Favorite way to unwind: A long run in Woodside/Portola Valley, Calif.
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate covered potato chips.
Worst habit: My devices: iPhone and iPad.
Group supported: United Way.
Person in the industry I’d most like to meet: Phil Knight.
Most adventurous thing I’ve ever done is … : White-water rafting on the Deschutes River in Oregon.
2014 will be a good year if … : We raise revenues.


The son of a high school athletic director in North Dakota, Joe Karlgaard knew early on what he wanted to do. In fact, he’s still got the paper from second grade in which he wrote that he wanted to be an AD — “to help the world.” Roughly 30 years later, Karlgaard is just that: an athletic director, at Rice University.

Karlgaard arrived in Houston as Rice’s new AD in October, and right away the Owls went on a run in football that resulted in a Conference USA championship, their first outright league title in 56 years. “Coming into that, you feel like everybody else is holding up their end of the bargain. Now it’s up to me to hold up mine,” he


SBJ Podcast:
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and project editor Mark Mensheha talk about the Forty Under 40 selection process and the class of 2014.


Rice is one of the nation’s elite private academic institutions, so it carries some parallels to the school Karlgaard left, Stanford, where he was the Cardinal’s chief fundraiser. In 2012, Karlgaard led his alma mater on a campaign that raised $52 million, representing the school’s greatest single-year increase. But the Owls don’t have the same athletic pedigree as Stanford, so the fundraising challenge is quite different.

“It’s going to be about building trust and confidence in our approach,”  Karlgaard said.  “We had a peer-to-peer approach [at Stanford]. … When you got a group on board, they would go out and help us with their colleagues. Eventually, that’s what we’ve got to get to here.”

Karlgaard’s career in administration started at a young age: He was just 30 when he became AD at Division III Oberlin College. Many aspiring administrators fear jobs in the lower divisions because they might get stuck there. On the contrary, Karlgaard found it to be a great learning crucible.

“In Division I, you’re coming up through silos: facilities, marketing, tickets,” he said. “In Division III, you have to have a broad skill set. It prepares you well to be a generalist, more of a CEO.”

While it’s quite a different job than what he envisioned it would be in grade school, some of the core values remain the same. “Sports are really about making business and educational decisions,” Karlgaard said.  “Going to the games is just icing on the cake.”

— Michael Smith