Jeff Whorley was in first grade when he decided he wanted to run for Congress, and in 1994, after being the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon for seven years he did just that. "I won a primary that I wasn't supposed to win and lost a general election that I was supposed to win," he says.
That campaign experience at age 33 and his earlier experience leading a congressional staff in his 20s helped shape his approach to team success. "It comes down to having clear team direction toward ambitious, tangible goals then recognizing and celebrating when the team crosses that next finish line," he says.
His collaborative approach serves him well at Navient, where he oversees loan operations, servicing, guarantor servicing and loan portfolio acquisitions, as well as new business opportunities that combine and leverage these core capabilities. He joined the company in 2015.
When it came to setting a goal and aiming high, Jeff had a good role model. His uncle, James Buchanan, won the 1986 Nobel Prize in economics. "He was an advocate of sheer effort and energy and believed those are qualities that made the difference between success and failure in his career," says Jeff.
Both Jeff and his uncle grew up on the same family cattle farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Jeff's father owned a furniture and appliance store where Jeff worked in his teens, and his mother was an elementary school principal who also taught in the Education Department at Middle Tennessee State University.
Jeff also worked on political campaigns as a teenager, during college and after he graduated from University of the South, Sewanee. In late 1984, he headed to Washington, D.C. to work for Rep. Gordon.
While in D.C., Jeff became especially interested in the higher education policy and after his own bid for Congress, he joined USA Group, the nation's largest student loan guarantor. He was senior vice president there before joining Sallie Mae in 2000 as part of its acquisition of USA Group.
Jeff, who earned an MBA from the University of Indianapolis, spent the next chapter of his career as what he calls "an oddly non-technologist kind of a technology entrepreneur." He quips, "I have had more success determining how to use technology to solve problems, rather than how to get my desktop to work on a given day."
After his Sallie Mae years, Jeff leveraged financial aid data to help colleges and universities provide families with personalized information about net cost of tuition. Later, he founded a firm that used technology to help colleges improve class attendance rates, a critical factor for on-time graduation.
Jeff says Navient has an ongoing opportunity to create new standards for servicing student loan borrowers. "We have many customers who contact us for something as simple as changing an address or retrieving a password, while thousands of others need critical and sometimes complex information about repayment choices," Jeff says. "Our task is to be always striving toward the most effective way to meet that kind of wide array of customer needs. Especially as student loan repayment options have become more varied, our challenge is to deliver the right customer service solution for each borrower."
Jeff says that means more specialized training, better front-end identification of each customer's specific needs and the increased use of customer-friendly technology. "I am pleased to say that we are on that path."
The father of two elementary-age children, Jeff's idea of happiness is playing games with his children in the backyard or relaxing with them in nearby hammocks.
But he's not one to stay still for long.
"I feel highly energized about being with Navient," he says. "There are very, very bright people here with deep skillsets and in all parts of the company. Every day, I am working with people who are coming up with creative and positive solutions to challenges."