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Business Officer Magazine

Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience.

By Margo Vanover Porter

Barnhill Shows Her Drive


Carol Barnhill

Director of Procurement and
Travel Services
Arkansas State University
Jonesboro, Arkansas
35 years in higher education

Zoom. Zoom.

At car shows, the white 2012 Grand Sport Corvette racing around the track is being driven by Carol Barnhill, director of procurement services for Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. The treasurer of the local Fast Glass Corvette Club, Barnhill estimates that her speed during the timed events typically tops out between 50 and 60 mph.

She credits her husband, who builds street rods now that he's retired, with fueling her passion for Corvettes. “When we got married, Roger was really into old cars,” she explains. “I enjoy the Corvettes more than the street rods.”

Barnhill is equally dedicated to her career. She is wrapping up her year as president of the National Association of Education Procurement, a position she describes as a combination of glamour and hard work. “I have had a couple of things that members haven't been happy about, but I've been able to work through the issues and try to understand their positions,” she says. “It's been a fast-paced year.”

What drew you to higher education?

Actually, I grew up on this campus. My father was the head electrician for the facilities management so we lived on campus. Then I got a band scholarship to ASU and worked part time in the physical plant office and warehouse. During my junior year I got married and started to work full time as the buyer in the warehouse while I finished my degree in business administration.

I recently started my 35th year as a full-time employee.

That's quite a feat. Any unusual requests during your 35 years?

When I first moved to purchasing as the assistant director in 1991, I had a requisition come through for cadavers. I thought, “Oh, my heavens, I'm buying dead bodies.” We have a nursing program, and we need cadavers for the students. That was a really interesting purchase.

Another time, I received a requisition for marijuana for research in the biology and chemistry labs. I'm like, “OK, where can we legally buy marijuana?”

What's the biggest issue facing your profession today?

We're still trying to get upper management to understand the value that we in procurement bring to higher education.

How can that be accomplished?

Just keep chipping away. For example, the state recently asked all higher education in Arkansas to look at cost-containment issues. Here at ASU-Jonesboro, the interim chancellor formed a committee with subcommittees, but procurement wasn't on any of them. When I found out, I went to a co-chair and asked, “Of all the departments on campus, wouldn't you think that procurement would have some really great ideas on how to reduce costs?” A light bulb went off in his eyes and he said, “You're right,” and I was put on the committee.

We can—and should—help our institutions be more strategic.

What surprising thing have you learned about your coworkers?

Many don't like change, even though it can be good and can make our jobs easier. And enforcing it can be really tough.

Care to elaborate?

We recently went through major changes in the state travel policy. For example, now state employees can take only one piece of luggage when they fly; they have to make their reservations 14 days in advance; and they have to get a rental car instead of driving their own car. Since we are in charge of travel, we have to enforce those types of things.

What do you do for personal renewal? Besides race and show Corvettes?

Cake decorating. I bake birthday cakes and wedding cakes on request. I also love playing with my two Yorkies.

Anything else?

I love what I do here and am so lucky and grateful to have a wonderful boss who is supportive of what I do. He's a great listener and mentor.

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

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