Q&A: John Mayes

June 2011

John Mayes, Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer

Yale for 17 years, this associate vice president and chief procurement officer is also president of the Yale African American Affinity group.

Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement OfficerTitle: Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer
Years at Yale: 17
First job at Yale: Project Manager & Software Developer in YSM Medical Administrative Systems
Education: M.B.A., University of New Haven; B.S. in Computer Science Engineering, University of Connecticut
Extracurricular: Golf, gardening, cooking, snowboarding, spending time with his family, including wife Tracey, daughter Taylor, age 15, and son John, age 10.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in West Haven, attended West Haven High School and then college at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. I also spent a year abroad at City University in London, England studying Social Sciences and Humanities. That time away from home had a profound impact on me because as I studied and traveled I was able to see and experience so many different cultures and perspectives. I’m the second to last of eight children and most all of my siblings live in the Greater New Haven area. Starting with mom, many of us worked at the local phone company – first SNET, then SBC and now AT&T.  While at SNET I was fortunate to earn scholarships and internships to work there also as a college student. When I graduated from UConn, I was offered a job at SNET where I met my wife Tracey.

How did you come to work at Yale? What has been your career path?

I began my career as a project manager and software developer at the School of Medicine in Medical Administrative Systems. A few years later, I moved to Internal Audit as Deputy Director of IT Auditing and while there I spent some time assisting on Yale’s first ERP (enterprise resource planning) implementation project. I also did a short stint assisting Ernie Huff in Student Financial and Administrative Services. Eventually, I landed in Procurement where I’ve been for the last chunk of my career at Yale. During my time here, the team in Procurement has been focused on transforming the organization, the business processes, the system solutions and ultimately the services we provide to the Yale community. While here, I had the good fortune to meet and work for John Pepper and now Shauna King. Both are among the brightest and strongest leaders I have had the pleasure to work with.

What do you enjoy most about your job here at Yale?

I love strategy. I like conceiving of how to make something better (or how to navigate a challenge) and then executing that strategy. Good strategies are behind business solutions like SciQuest, eShipGlobal, EMS and others. Beyond business systems and technology, I’m especially proud of our organizational transformation strategy and the body of work the Purchasing Services unit has achieved. Each year the professionals on our buying team, lead by Chris Mihok, help save Yale faculty and researchers millions of dollars. Most all of these savings go directly into more teaching, research and clinical activities.  It’s all about laying a foundation and then executing against the strategy.

Who have been your role models or inspiration along your life and career journeys?

First and most importantly, my dad and mom are my life role models. They made it clear to all of us that education and lifelong learning (beyond formal education) were not optional and were important for so many reasons. They gave us the understanding that whatever we put our minds and shoulders to could be accomplished. They gave us lots of “sandbox” values –  treat others as you would like to be treated, take responsibility for your actions, do nothing half way, etc.  

Many of my colleagues know that John Pepper also had a big impact on my career at Yale. It was wonderful to work with a leader of his tenure. He is a great listener, a genuinely empathetic person who truly cares about people and doing the right thing.  I learned an awful lot during his time with us about leadership and focus. Finally, President Levin is another person I’ve learned from by observing how he has handled difficult times at the University – how skillfully he has steered Yale through its ups and downs with a steadying hand, big thinking and well reasoned strategies.

What have been your guiding principles along your career journey?

Number one, stay true to your values. Number two, keep your head down and get the work done. Focus on delivering high- quality results. Number three, immerse yourself in the work and enjoy it – do it with some zest. Team members appreciate a bit of fun to go along with all the hard work.

What advice do you have for Yale staff members who want to grow their careers at Yale?

Develop meaningful relationships with as many colleagues at Yale as possible because many opportunities come from everyday relationships. Those closest to you know best what you’re interested in and capable of.  Also, prepare yourself for the next opportunity. Since you can’t know exactly what it will be, make sure you have the training and experience you’ll need by reflecting on the business roles you might want to play. Then, just be open to and ready for a wide variety of opportunities.

What does the YAAA mean to you?

I’m really encouraged that diversity has become a higher priority for the University in recent years and that strategies like the creation of affinity groups (like the YAAA) are now part of our institutionally supported efforts to improve things. With a campus so spread out, the opportunity for people of color to make connections and support one another has been a challenge. YAAA initiatives like our speaker series, youth golf program, men’s health day and other community service events create thought- provoking connection opportunities that are open to the entire Yale community. We have so much more to do and the YAAA is a good example of how to start.

If you could spend a day in any Yale department what would it be, and why?

I think it might be interesting to spend time in the President’s Office (for a little while) maybe as an assistant or something. It seems that President Levin travels all over the world meeting some of the most interesting leaders and thinkers. I think it would be fascinating to spend a year or two learning from him although I’m doubtful that I could keep up with him – I hear he works at a blistering pace.

What have you learned from your two children?

Wow…  A bunch of things.  I’ve learned patience, trust, forgiveness, persistence and lots more. I’ve learned how important it is to take what they are interested in seriously. What may seem like a small matter to me might actually mean the world to them (today). So listening, giving time and trying hard to understand them is key.