Prior to joining the Adler University Board of Trustees, Noland Joiner thought he was done with serving on boards.
He had recently finished a board term for a federally and partially privately funded economic development organization.
“It was such a tough experience, I didn’t know if I wanted to do more of that kind of work,” he said.
But after running into his friend and mentor Doug Harris, who in 2014 was serving as a trustee at Adler, Joiner had a change of heart.
“He told me I should really take a look at joining the University because its mission aligned with my areas of interest,” Joiner said.
Joiner has more than three decades of experience across multiple industries driving organizational effectiveness, nurturing client relationships, facilitating change management, inspiring innovation, and driving strategy. He also had experience in academia, teaching as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“I was really attracted to the concept of enabling individual students by giving them the training and tools to affect the lives of many,” he said. “It is very powerful.”
Joiner officially joined the Board in 2014, serving as chair of its Finance Committee. Earlier this April, he was elected to serve a two-year term as chair. For his work on the Board and as chair, Joiner was named by Crains’ Chicago Business on Nov. 21 as a 2022 Notable Nonprofit Board Leader.
“I was a little shocked,” Joiner said of the recognition. “It’s an unexpected honor. I dove into the day-to-day work at Adler and never really thought about how others might recognize the work I’ve been doing. It can have its challenges, but it has been very rewarding.”
Born in Chicago and raised in rural Alabama, Joiner graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in applied science. He earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University in strategy and management. He moved to Chicago after his first job out of college relocated him and left briefly for Philadelphia before returning to the Windy City.
Crain’s recognition offered Joiner an opportunity to share his thoughts on what the future holds for Adler, the working dynamics of his fellow trustees, what came to mind when he was elected chair, and the challenges and highlights in his time with the board.
What sparked your interest in higher education?
I was a senior vice president at GE when I was asked to do a commencement speech. Afterwards, the dean asked if I would be interested in teaching. I thought it would be interesting, so I did it. I started teaching a strategy course at Northwestern in 2009 and stayed a couple of years. Then I taught at Illinois Institute for Technology for about four years. I enjoyed it, but managing my day job and teaching evening courses was exhausting. However, it gave me an opportunity to understand the academic space better. I found educating people who will go out into the world and do some phenomenal work to be exciting.
When you were elected chair this year, what thought came to mind?
I immediately went to childhood memories of my mother telling me, “Make sure in life, you position yourself to do good for as many people as possible.” As board chairman, I am positioned to keep that promise. I’m doing my part to make Adler as accessible as possible. I am promoting the university to students, potential employers, and partners to expand the Adler brand.
What is the Board’s role in ensuring Adler is successful in its goals and mission?
The board’s primary focus is on governance, which is foundational to maintaining our accreditations and ensuring university operations are sustainable. Secondly, we develop a cohesive strategy and related policies to drive growth. We also focus on building a strong financial foundation by developing relationships with donors who may not have considered Adler. We share the university’s mission, vision, and priorities so they have a better understanding of what we do, how we do it, and the audience we serve. Finally, we are advocates for our students, our community, employees, and the world we live in to promote a more just society.
How would you describe the working dynamics of the Board?
Our board is the most focused, cohesive, well-intentioned, caring, and aware board I’ve ever been on. When I say aware, I’m talking about a board that understands its weaknesses and challenges. We see holes and know they need to be filled. We recognize the need to think differently. A level of humility is needed to drive change. All the trustees on our board have that humility and ability to be vulnerable.
What has been a highlight for you in your time as chair or as a member of the Board?
I have so many of them. One is our work to address anti-racism because it really moved the Board away from just being conscious towards being more proactive. With humility and compassion, we dove into the issue and made some hard choices on how to move forward. Another highlight was our creation of a plan to expand while blending all our campuses into one — the “One Adler” vision.
I am also proud of our ability to generate over $50 million revenues last year, a huge accomplishment to ensure the University is financially sound. When I led the Finance Committee, concerns about our financial stability would keep me up at night. The board focused on making sure we could anticipate challenges and found better ways to measure our success, with guidance from auditors to help us understand our risks. Managing the finances and ensuring stability are critical to the long-term growth of the institution.
Where do you see Adler in the next 5-10 years?
In order to be impactful, we must bring the right people into our University, which applies to both students and staff. We want our graduates to have the ability to drive the biggest impact after graduation. I simply see Adler leading the way to make the world a better place by healing individuals and communities. We must be at the forefront to help find solutions to all the issues that matter, including racism, LGBTQ+ rights, sexism, women’s reproductive rights, and more. It is a big goal, but you have to think big to be effective and drive change. Right now, there are so many gaps begging for an organization like Adler to step in and have an impact.