It’s the end of an era at the National Association of Campus Card Users, as the association’s long standing Executive Director, Lowell Adkins, calls time on a successful career in the campus card industry.
He started in the campus card business in January of 1981 and never looked back. During that 35-year period, he touched every facet of the industry, spanning roles at the university, corporate and industry association levels.
Adkins recently spoke with CR80News about his experiences in the campus card industry, his time with NACCU and future plans away from the card business.
A graduate of Duke University with a Masters of Divinity, Adkins spent his early professional years as a pastor and a contract administrator for an architect before returning to his alma mater to take a position as a dining hall manager. Following a reorganization of Duke’s food services program in the early 1980s, Adkins assumed the role of assistant director of support services, marking his official introduction to the university’s card program.
In his time with Duke, Adkins played a pivotal role building the university’s card program to one of the most advanced in the country. The early years were pioneering, and the growth of the program at Duke was largely due to Adkins and the rest of the Duke staff demanding more from their card system.
Adkins is quick to credit the vision for that pioneering system to his mentor at Duke, Joe Pietrantoni, who in the mid 80’s envisioned a fully cashless, keyless card program. It was ambitious and forward thinking then, but even 30 years later the industry has yet to fully achieve this vision, he says.
“We started wherever Harco – Duke’s hardware supplier at the time – was willing to provide equipment,” says Adkins. “We knew we were on the cutting edge, and it was a delight to see Joe’s vision begin to unfold.”
Ambitious plans require a strong vendor-institution partnership and Duke found this with small solution vendor, Harco. After shopping the idea of a cashless, keyless campus to a vendor or two, others said “no way” but Harco jumped right on board, says Adkins.
Adkins remained at Duke, expanding the card program until 1997, when he joined the Phoenix-based AT&T CampusWide, which had recently acquired Harco.
Adkins developed an appreciation for the corporate side of the market where he learned to approach familiar campus card challenges from a different perspective. “We always asked ‘how can you make a system as user-friendly, efficient and affordable as you can, while continuing to extend functionality?’” says Adkins. “This was the focus at CampusWide and my focus during my years on the vendor side of the business.”
Blackboard would later acquire the CampusWide offering, and Adkins would manage that business line for the new entrant in the campus card space.
Fostering NACCU’s culture
Following a successful four years from 1997 through 2001 with CampusWide/Blackboard, and a further couple of years as a consultant in the corporate realm, Adkins felt that a role nearer to universities was in order. In 2004, Adkins threw his name in the hat for the role of NACCU’s Executive Director, a position he officially assumed in March of that year.
At NACCU, he was determined to help the corporate and higher ed realms come together, no doubt a result of his experience on both sides of the market. “Corporate partners have a feel-good relationship about the association and I have worked very hard to foster that,” he says. “In the global scheme, this isn’t a big industry, but these vendors and corporations have devoted themselves to serving it.”
That’s the overwhelming culture of NACCU, a ‘we’re all in this together’ belief. It’s a culture I’ve worked very hard to foster.
It’s a culture that extends to the individuals working for corporate partners as well. “These are talented professionals with all kinds of opportunities, but they choose to stay and serve higher ed,” says Adkins. “Most stay because they really care about colleges and universities.”
During his career, the campus card industry has grown past its early mom-and-pop days, but he sees people working internally to keep that spirit and culture of service alive. “Being successful in this market still requires a much warmer, familial approach.”
It’s a culture Adkins believes is unique to higher ed. “I have not experienced another organization where there is as much ‘let me help you’ as there is with this industry,” he says. “That’s the overwhelming culture of NACCU as an organization, a ‘we’re all in this together’ belief. It’s a culture that I’ve worked very hard to foster.”