Two years after unusual hire, Iowa State business forum starts

2015 'handshake deal' made legislator leader of supply chain initiative

Then-Speaker of the Iowa House Kraig Paulsen applauds during then-Gov. Terry Branstad's Condition of the State address J
Then-Speaker of the Iowa House Kraig Paulsen applauds during then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s Condition of the State address Jan. 13, 2015, at the Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

More than two years after veering from policy to hire former Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen as the $135,000-a-year leader of a new “Supply Chain Initiative,” Iowa State University last month held the program’s first meeting.

The April 20 “Supply Chain Forum” convened executives from four regional corporations with ISU faculty and staff, and represented the first manifestation of the initiative announced in November 2015 when ISU reported plans to hire Paulsen for the unadvertised leadership job.

Paulsen’s annual salary of $135,000 during his first partial year at ISU actually yielded him only $43,721 because he was paid part-time during the 2016 legislative session. When the 2017 budget year began in July 2016, he received a 3 percent raise, bringing his salary to $139,050 — where it stands, as the university enacted a pay freeze for the 2018 budget year.

ISU fast-tracked the initiative, and thus the position for Paulsen, after ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert in September 2015 asked College of Business Dean David Spalding to identify possible jobs for the state representative from Hiawatha who was leaving his post after the 2016 legislative session.

According to documents The Gazette obtained through a public records request, Spalding suggested Paulsen for a lecturer position or a role related to expansion of ISU’s supply chain management program. A new supply chain education and research center would need a new director, Spalding said at the time, but planning could take a year or more.

Wickert’s suggestion the college pursue the latter option led ISU to hire Paulsen to start working toward launching a Supply Chain Initiative on a part-time basis in January 2016 and “move to full-time work once the 2016 Iowa legislative session has ended,” according to a news release at the time.

The university didn’t advertise the job — citing a seldom-used exception to ISU policy — and minted a “handshake deal” before Paulsen had even applied. Justification for the exception rested on Paulsen’s history as an “accomplished professional in supply chain operations and management,” giving him specific skills and experience that made him a “unique” fit.


“Through an open recruitment process, we would not get anyone of the caliber as Kraig,” according to the 2015 position description.

The underlying aim of the Supply Chain Initiative as originally pitched — to better engage corporate partners with faculty research, student learning and other educational outreach opportunities — hasn’t changed, though the program’s name has, according to Spalding.

“It’s really a forum for an exchange of ideas, an exchange of topics between our research and corporate partners,” Spalding said. “We felt (Supply Chain Forum) better represented what this was going to be.”

Although Paulsen has been on the ISU staff as director of supply chain initiatives since 2016, Spalding acknowledged the effort took more than a year to start.

“At the time we hired Kraig Paulsen, this was an idea that we had done a little bit of work on — we felt there was a real opportunity there,” Spalding said. “But he really spent time doing a full-blown analysis of similar centers and opportunities around the country.”

Paulsen, who had been in the Iowa Legislature since 2002, previously was corporate counsel to trucking company CRST International in Cedar Rapids, but that position was set to end in 2016.

At ISU, Paulsen spent months reviewing companies in Iowa and surrounding states that might be potential partners in the program, according to Spalding.

“We really began to pull membership together in 2017 and had our inaugural meeting here in 2018,” Spalding said.


The forum’s four corporate members to date include Hy-Vee, Kent Corporation, Alliant Energy and Ruan.

Spalding said the university is talking with “a number of other players” with expectations membership will grow.

The plan going forward is to hold meetings — like the one in April — twice a year. Metrics for measuring the forum’s success include number of partners, re-commitments, supported research projects and academic efforts that receive some form of backing.

An agenda for the first meeting showed discussion around the forum’s mission and vision, member goals and aspirations, and “general conversation regarding areas of concern in (the) supply chain world.”

Minutes were not made available from the first meeting, but Spalding said, “There were some good topics discussed.”

“I know that all parties considered it to be a very valuable conversation that was had that day,” he said.

Paulsen is not teaching any courses at ISU, but has been “very actively engaged” in the university’s annual business analytics symposium in Des Moines, according to Spalding.

The most recent was April 3 at the Marriott in Des Moines. It sold out in eight days, with more than 450 people packing the event. Spalding said ISU plans to upgrade to a bigger venue next year.


“That’s a meeting where we invite people from companies across Iowa and the region to come spend a day digging into topics around business analytics,” Spalding said. “Kraig’s been very actively engaged in that.”

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