From the Corner Office

From the Corner Office: Dr. Bob Hassmiller, NACAS

By Association Adviser staff • November 26, 2012

By Association Adviser staff

This month, the Corner Office spotlight shines on Dr. Bob Hassmiller, recently retired CEO of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services (NACAS), which serves nearly 800 institutions that provide non-academic support services to colleges and universities worldwide.



  • Technology is a process, not a product or service into which you keep pouring money.
  • “Management by Walking Around” is a great way to take the pulse of your organization.
  • Great CEOs accept blame and give away the credit.
  • Keys to a great staff: people who’ve been successful at other places and people who always want to learn more.

Association Adviser: Bob, you’ve been a hard guy to track down since Hurricane Sandy slammed into your home state of New Jersey last week.

Dr. Bob Hassmiller: I’ve been a Red Cross volunteer for a long time and my wife is a nurse. This storm has been especially tough on the elderly. You have severe cold on top of the normal destruction and power loss you see from a hurricane. I’m working with Meals on Wheels right now, delivering food to the elderly who can’t get out of their homes—often they’re alone or are living with someone who’s not very mobile. In Charlottesville, Va., where I commuted to NACAS for many years, I was a disaster deployment volunteer. We set up shelters, counseling programs and emergency management systems. It’s stressful sometimes, but very rewarding.

AA: Tell us a little bit about NACAS. Many of our readers are not familiar with the scope of services your members provide to keep higher education institutions running.

BH: We’ve been around since 1969 and have about 800 institutional members and 220 business partners that deliver $14 billion worth of services a year to colleges and universities. It could be anything from the campus bookstore, food services or housing to transportation, child care or the physical plant. There’s an awful lot going on outside the classroom to keep a college running.

AA: Do you have a background in auxiliary services?

I have a Ph.D. in higher education as well as a CAE credential. I came to NACAS in 2002 after more than 25 years in association management. Within my own firm, I managed several associations at the same time. Not easy to do. This gave me great insight into dealing with a wide variety of people, volunteers and staff on different projects. However, without the CAE, I never would have gotten exposed to things like government affairs, which is so important to what we do.

AA: What are some of the biggest issues facing your members?

BH: We get a double whammy in a tough economy. When times are tough, college enrollment tends to go up, since people want to advance their skills to get ahead in a competitive job market. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when endowments are down and funding goes down at both the state and federal level. There’s tremendous pressure on auxiliary services to increase revenue and become more efficient while serving a larger student body. Technology is a big part of that.

AA: So it’s fair to say NACAS is ahead of the tech curve?

BH: I’d say we’re ahead of many other associations, but we’re certainly behind our members and the institutions we serve. Ideally, you want to be with your members, not ahead of them. At NACAS, we have a lot of task forces for this purpose. We have a lot of volunteers on the cutting edge who can tell what we need to do in terms of technology and what we need to know.

AA: What is it about technology that’s so difficult for many associations to understand?

Technology is a process, not a product or service that you keep pouring money into. You’ve got to use technology smartly as a means of increasing value for your members. Let me give you an example. Every association seems to have a Facebook page and Twitter account. So what? If you’re investing lots of resources just to show you can do social, but you’re not really using it to cement relationships between yourself and your members, then it’s just a big distraction and waste of resources.

AA: So you’re saying social media isn’t worth the effort?

BH: Not at all. If done well, it can be tremendously valuable. Our online communities—which are private social networks and semi-moderated—are a real member benefit. That’s where members can ask (and get answers to) some real tough questions. About 30 to 40 percent of our members are taking part in our online discussions. We also allow our vendors to participate in the discussions as long as they’re member and they keep it above board.

AA: Can you give an example of a hot discussion topic right now?

BH:Sure. College bookstores are really struggling with how to deal with the demand for electronic books and the impact of textbook rental programs.

AA: Speaking of member communications, are print publications still worth it?

BH: In general, I’d say don’t scrap them, but be selective. We’re finding that members under age 40 and certainly under age 35 are doing everything online and are much more used to it. It comes naturally to them. The Baby Boomers are also consumers of online, but it doesn’t come as naturally to them. For instance, they’ll go to Amazon to buy books, but they still want to read them in hard copy. Our biggest dues payers tend to be the longer standing members, and they seem to like the combination of both hard copy AND electronic.

AA: You’ve gotten a lot of acclaim for your leadership style.

BH:I’m a big believer in MBWA (Management by Walking Around). You’ve got to get out of your office and walk around and meet people as much as possible—your staff, members, volunteers, vendors. Everyone. That’s how you take the pulse of your organization and find out what’s really happening.

AA: What would you say is the most important responsibility for an association leader today?

BH: Easy. It’s the CEO’s job to accept blame and give away credit {chuckling}. It’s only a problem when you get it reversed.

AA: How about hiring and motivating people?

I was always pretty demanding of my staff, pushing them to be the best they can be. But you have to keep it positive. I’m all about collaboration, innovation and the pursuit of big goals. The two main things I look for are people who’ve been successful at other places and people who always want to learn more.

AA: And if they’re not?

BH: If they’re just not buying in to your philosophy, then it’s your obligation as a leader to help them be successful someplace else {laughing}. In all seriousness, I’ve helped many people find success at other organizations and many of them still stay in touch with us.

AA: What’s your philosophy on promoting high achievers?

BH: We only have 10 staff positions. You can’t always promote people, but you can keep giving them more responsibility and greater challenges to tackle.

AA: For those seeking long-term careers in the association world, what have you found to be the most gratifying part of your work?

BH: You get to work with great people (members) in an area where you can make a real difference. Where else can a small not-for-profit impact a for-profit industry that generates $14 billion a year?

AA: As you get ready to hand over the reins of NACAS to your successor (Ron Campbell), is there anything you would have done differently?

BH: Younger leaders seem to have a better work/life balance than the generations before them. And they know how to use technology to their advantage. They seem better at handling family versus career commitments and don’t feel obligated to work 24/7 to get ahead. I wasn’t always as efficient with my time as I could have been. I’ve noticed women of all ages bring more of that balance to the table as well.

AA: So, what’s keeping you up at night?

BH:Actually, I’ve never slept better {chuckling}. They found a great person to replace me. I’m busy with Red Cross and our chapters, and now he’s the one staying up at night.