Thoughts on My Presidency, Leadership, Disney, and Kindness

by Nichol Luoma
Arizona State University

This year, the theme of NAEP’s annual conference—held in Orlando, Florida (April 8-11)—was “Innovating for Impact; a World of Opportunities.” Disney’s founder, Walt Disney, was well known for instilling a culture that valued innovation. Walt Disney famously said, “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”

I love this association, and Arizona State University is a long-time supporter of NAEP; I am the fourth CPO from ASU elected to serve as President. I am proud to say that I chose to stay in higher education, in large part, due to my introduction to NAEP and its membership (you) five years ago when I left private industry. This association demonstrates best practices through its amazing professional development opportunities, and it facilitates collaboration and camaraderie among us members. Many of us are seeing changes at our institutions as the macroeconomic environment is changing in higher education. I believe procurement can play a strategic role in support of the broader mission and visions of our respective institutions.

Many of you know we are just beginning the search for our next CEO. Higher education and NAEP are at a strategic inflection point, and you have told us that we need to seek out an individual who will help us innovate within our profession and prepare us to support changes within our institutions. In addition to the CEO search, I will be looking for leaders to step up regionally and nationally to help our future CEO move our organization forward. Finally, I am always on the lookout for talented individuals with the potential for leadership to come to Arizona State University. Clearly, the concept of leadership and the qualities of a good leader are a top priority for me right now. Leadership is an important, but somewhat individual concept. We all care about and value different things. In my career, I have had the opportunity to observe many individuals in leadership positions. This does not necessarily mean that these individuals have role-modeled leadership in my eyes. In some cases, they have taught me what not to do. When I think of leadership, I think of the following:


  • lead their teams to achieve innovative results by guiding, coaching and developing;
  • value collaboration, but carefully balance this with high-velocity decision making;
  • seek diverse opinions, foster an environment of respectful disagreement, but will ultimately make the decision when necessary;
  • value diversity and understand that building a diverse team is a competitive advantage;
  • truly listen to their constituents and know how to distill this feedback into a call to action;
  • are true to their moral compass and demonstrate high ethics;
  • give credit to their team and will often selflessly step away from the spotlight to shine the light on the team, knowing the team’s success is their own success;
  • are not afraid to develop talent and even hire people who are smarter or more talented than they;
  • role model innovation and allow their team to fail fast and protect them when they do fail;
  • hold their staff accountable and quickly address issues, but will also quickly recognize and
    reward success;
  • set aggressive goals and regularly produce outcomes;
  • are curious and embrace change.

Finally, leaders also role model in KINDNESS.

Rick Wertsching from Disney closed his keynote at our annual meeting this year with, “be authentic, curious and kind.” It is my observation that kindness is not a concept taught in business school, but rather a subjective personal trait. I did a quick search on the web and found, surprisingly, there are many articles linking leadership to kindness; so, unfortunately, this is not my novel idea. I considered what this means to me and realized the leaders I surround myself with generally demonstrate some of the behaviors that I am trying to continually teach my son, Evan (age 8) and my daughter, Alyssa (age 6).


  • smile at people and check on those who are having a bad day;
  • help and welcome a new colleague;
  • discourage and limit engagement in negative water-cooler talk or destructive gossip;
  • have a genuine curiosity about others’ thoughts and perspective;
  • truly care about others.

Kindness should not be mistaken for weakness. The great leaders I have seen, who embrace kindness, are not pushovers. These leaders value respectful disagreement and are not afraid to tackle issues head-on. They are self-assured enough to have direct yet respectful discussions and do not attempt to undermine their bosses, peers, or colleagues behind the scenes. They know how to separate what is personal from what is business. Those I know who do this well admit they are not perfect, but they also —maybe most importantly—are not afraid to “own it” when they are wrong and apologize when they are not at their best.

Finally, the leaders I admire know that leadership is difficult. The people I seek out have these wonderful, personable, caring qualities, but also have the artful ability to balance that with the much harder part of being a leader. They make the right, sometimes difficult business decisions for the good of their organization and for the people who depend on that organization.

I am honored to have been elected as your NAEP 2018-2019 President. I look forward to the coming year and getting to know many of you. Walt Disney focused on magic, courage, and innovation, and expertly integrated many of his leadership values into the fabric of his company’s culture, especially into the stories told to children. In that wonderful story many of us know well, Cinderella’s mother had great advice for her: “I want to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer: Have courage and be kind.”



Nichol Luoma, Associate Vice President, Sustainability Operations Officer & Chief Procurement Officer for Arizona State University (ASU), is the current NAEP President (2018-2019).  She is responsible for multiple operations at Arizona State University, including supply chain (procurement and materials management), auxiliaries, parking and transit, sustainability practices, risk management, physical security initiatives and environment health & safety. In addition to the national board of directors, Nichol has served in leadership positions in the Pacific region, including President in 2015. Nichol is a faculty member for NAEP and the Western Association of College and University Business Officers (WACUBO).  She has nearly two decades of operations management experience and has held the following positions: Vice President of Operations for Boon Inc. and Keen Distribution; Senior Supply Chain Consultant at Clarkston Consulting; and multiple supply chain roles at Intel Corporation. Nichol holds a bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain Management from ASU (Summa Cum Laude), where she was honored as the Outstanding Graduating Senior for WP Carey College of Business and also holds a Master’s in Business Administration (Summa Cum Laude) from Duke University, where she was honored as a Fuqua Scholar.