Getting to know Yale leaders—John Mayes II

John Mayes II, associate vice president for Administration, was born and raised in West Haven, the seventh of eight children. Recently, he celebrated his 25th anniversary at Yale. In his current role, he is responsible for a full portfolio of Yale’s Administrative services including Graduate Student Housing Services, Parking Services, Transit and Shuttle Bus Services, Travel, Fleet Management, Mail Services and Relocation Services. In 2005, John became Yale’s first chief procurement officer and served in that role until 2017, when he accepted his current position as associate vice president for Administration. John has a B.S. in computer science engineering from the University of Connecticut and an M.B.A. from the University of New Haven. He began his career as a software developer and project manager at Southern New England Telecommunications corporation. John and his wife Tracey have two children, Taylor, a University of Connecticut environmental studies graduate, and John III, a rising sophomore studying computer science at Central Connecticut State University.

What have you been reading lately?
Most of the reading I do is non-fiction related to business, work and other technology interests. Right now, I’m reading up on sustainability topics and learning as much as possible about battery technologies and the rise of electric vehicles. In my prior role, the subjects were related to procurement business process design and strategic sourcing. I really enjoy the Flipboard app, which allows me to select the topics I’m interested in, so it can create a virtual magazine with only topics I’m interested in. I also love TED Talks. They have outstanding speakers and are always concise and well put together. You get thoughtful and deep insights in a very short period of time.

What are your passions outside of work?
When you sit, or in my case, stand at a desk for a lot of the day, it’s nice to be able to do something outdoors in the fresh air. Golf has offered me that opportunity for many, many years. It’s one of those games that you can never master, so it’s always a challenge. I think it’s the most fulfilling, and yet most frustrating game in the world. I was introduced to the game by mentors of mine at my first job.  Practicing patience, self-control, how to lose graciously, respect for others and for the game are just a few of the lessons golf taught me. We would play golf at 6:30 in the morning and over time we all learned to love the game together.

What do you think is the best advice a manager can receive?
First, I think it’s important as a manager to recognize and understand what you’re already good at, and what you need to work on. Then, you can focus your energy on the one or two things that you want to improve on. Early in my career, listening was something I needed to get better at. I needed to listen so that people felt heard. A lot of times we listen with the intent of responding. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give the person you’re having a conversation with the feeling that their perspective matters to you. I’ve had to work on this over the years, and I continue to do so. A second piece of advice is related to delegation.  When you give colleagues full responsibility for getting a task or project done, and then support them as they work on it, you show them how much you believe in their abilities. Lastly, I’d share how important it is for people to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. I think work is less like work when you’re not on guard and when you’re confident and comfortable.

What musical artist are you listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I was number seven in a family of eight children so I often just listened to what my older siblings were into at the time. I like some traditional and lots of contemporary jazz. I love some Miles Davis, but Joe Sample and Layla Hathaway have done some amazing work together. Generally, I like music with either no lyrics (smooth jazz) or where the lyrics provoke a deeper thought or meaning.

What are you most grateful for?
There are times for all of us when it seems like life is really hard. I’m grateful to know that there’s something bigger than this place, always positive, always strong and always right. That is a valuable and powerful thing for me. I grew up going to church because it was expected, but now I think it is more important to be led by God in the day-to-day. I work hard to make sure that I’m doing what I believe is right. Mom used to say, “do what’s right and right will follow you everywhere”.

If you could solve one human problem in today’s world, what would it be?
I’m aware of how important it is for people to have jobs in our society.  With a job, people can provide for themselves and for their families.  Without a job, the way forward is bleak for many. So, unemployment is a problem I would like to work with businesses and other leaders to solve. People in our communities will always have a wide range of education, experience and skills.  So, making sure there are jobs for people whose skills span the whole ability and education strata is critical to our way forward.  I believe we need to work toward an economy where there is work for those with little education, experience and skills as well as for those who have notches of achievement.

What New Haven restaurant would you recommend to a new employee?
Harvest, Barcelona and Zinc are all very good. Then there’s the great Italian restaurants on State Street before you get to the best pizza in the area at Modern Pizza. The food and outside dining at Caffe Bravo on the corner of Orange and Willow is also very nice.

What has helped you develop as a leader over the course of your career—relationships, courses, making mistakes, hard work?
All the above. But I would say that you have to first know that it’s important to be a good leader and want to develop your leadership skills. There’s no better way to learn this than to see an example of someone who you want to model yourself after. Then, you have to recognize that it’s something you want to work on, and commitment to practicing — always be looking out for ways to improve and get better.

What are some favorite memories from childhood?
I was born in New Haven at Yale New Haven Hospital, but I grew up in West Haven. I remember going fishing with my dad and my sisters and brothers. We would head out to places like Candlewood Lake, the Housatonic River, Niantic and Mystic to fish for all kinds of fish. It was great fun and wonderful family time together. I also remember my mother’s home-made blackberry cobblers. They were amazing!

Can you tell me about a time when you were unsure of yourself?
There are still lots of them, but I would choose when I was promoted to chief procurement officer. It was when John Pepper was at Yale around 2004-2005. He promoted me to associate vice president and chief procurement officer. That move was special because he saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. He gave me a wonderful career opportunity and I felt compelled to live up to what he thought and expected of me. It was wonderful motivation.

What are some of your Yale sustainability experiences and successes so far?
To start, I feel really good about the fact that we were able to transition the university from virgin paper use, to recycled paper. Now we’re in full paper-use reduction mode. We also have an initiative that will build on the Yale Eli Surplus exchange platform that we have for reuse. We’re working to make it more widely useful to the whole campus. Finally, I love the work that we’re doing to deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric vehicles (EVs). EV infrastructure will support Yale’s fleet of the future and people who want to drive them to work. So, in a small but meaningful way, we’re supporting the transition of our society from the gas engine to the electric engine. Eventually, I think all vehicles will run on power that was harvested sustainably by solar, wind and other sources. I love that concept and it’s all very exciting!