Miles Lackey leaves for Auburn: ‘It has been a great adventure’


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Miles Lackey, chief financial officer and chief of staff, has worked at Iowa State for five-and-a-half years. He announced on Oct. 6 that he would be leaving Iowa State for Auburn at the end of the semester. 

Danielle Gehr

Miles Lackey recalled walking into his Beardshear office for the first time five-and-a-half years ago.

He was starting off as chief of staff at Iowa State coming from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where his work space was a bullpen of cubicles with no privacy.

As he walked into the spacious second floor office in Beardshear Hall, where one day his three kids would run around and play as he tried to work, he was asked if this office would do. He jokingly responded, “I think this will work,” and it seemed to work fine for the next five and a half years.

Now, though, Lackey will depart Dec. 31 for Auburn University where he will work with now Auburn President Steven Leath once again. The announcement came Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, Lackey took a break from his plans to work on spreadsheets to sit down with the Daily to reflect on his time at Iowa State.

“As you can imagine, this has been a difficult decision. We [Lackey and his wife] are excited about Auburn and the opportunities there,” Lackey said. “At the same time, this has been, and I am not just trying to use the tagline here, but this really has been a great adventure.”

Lackey said one of his favorite memories is walking through Campustown and around campus nearly every day with his wife, Tara, his 3-year-old daughter, Raegan and his 18-month-old twin boys, William and Emerson.

“When I reflect on the five-and-a-half years here, there’s been some great professional experiences,” Lackey said. “Don’t get me wrong; there’s been growth there and for that I am truly thankful, but primarily it comes down to the friendships that we have made that will really be lifelong.”

Upon coming to Iowa State, Lackey said the community opened their arms to him and his wife. Before taking the position, he had not spent more than a weekend in Iowa.

And those same community members rallied around his family after the birth of his newborn twins, who had to spend three months in the hospital fighting for their lives. Lackey said he is forever grateful to these people.

“I have three native Cyclones under my roof, and my wife is a graduate of the Greenlee School, so this is just a really special place to us,” Lackey said.

A number of factors went into deciding to leave Iowa State, he said, including being closer to family as well as new professional experiences.

“I see there being a tremendous opportunity for sponsored research growth there [Auburn University],” Lackey said. “I have significant experience in helping to align what are institutional competencies, research competencies and helping to link those up with what are federal sponsored research needs.”

During his time at Iowa State, Lackey said he is proud that even with significant enrollment growth, the administration was able to maintain a student experience that includes excellence in the classroom, as seen by Iowa State’s retention and graduation rates, as well as excellence outside of the classroom.

Also, the ISU Research Park grew considerably during his time here, which Lackey considers a sign that “things are on track.”

Lackey’s decision to leave comes at the end of a presidential search spanning several months. Leath announced in March he was taking a position as president of Auburn University.

Starting Monday, each of the four finalists for president will be on campus for their campus interviews and open forums, and on Oct. 23, the Board of Regents will select one of them as president.

Lackey said the timing made his decision even more difficult, and he will use the rest of his time at Iowa State helping to make the transition for the next president smooth. He will also spend the next couple of months working on the Workday implementation, Iowa State’s new IT infrastructure, and refining the tuition proposal.

“There’s a variety of steps that we’re going to need to take to make sure that the next president comes in and is really on track to hit the ground running,” Lackey said.

Tim Day, president of Faculty Senate, addressed the changes to administration that Iowa State has seen.

“Certainly, it’s a critical time for us to do a really good job hiring great administrators,” he said. “I don’t think I would say I’m concerned in that it’s not a sign of any internal problem that we have. In fact, I think it demonstrates that in the past, the administrators that we’ve hired have done really well because they’ve moved on to great opportunities.”

“Hiring a great university president is not easy, and hiring a great university chief financial officer is not easy, so these are key opportunities for us and it’s really important that we get these right,” Day said.

Day spent a considerable amount of time working with Lackey and described him, not only as hardworking, but also frugal when it comes to taxpayer money. A university can never have too many honest, hardworking administrators, Day said, and Lackey was one of them who will be missed.

“Everyone who’s worked around Miles [Lackey], I am sure, would identify him as one of the hardest-working people that we have at the university,” Day said. “He really put in immense number of hours on behalf of the university.”

Student Government President Cody West said the changes in Iowa State administration, as well as changes in Iowa leadership as a whole, can be concerning to some, but he said he thinks Lackey will do a good job preparing a transition plan. 

Larissa Holtmyer Jones, the president and CEO of ISU Foundation, worked with Lackey on both ISU Foundation related issues as well as university related issues.

“Miles is a guy who helps us get things done, in the right way,” Holtmyer Jones said. “But, he does it with the upmost integrity and ethical compass. He is just a great colleague to work with.” 

Holtmyer Jones also said Lackey was a great person to bounce ideas off of. Mike Crum, the vice president for economic development and industry relations, also said this and that Lackey was a great person to seek advice from. 

“He’s very thoughtful and he’s very analytical, but yet he’s also very sensitive to the impact that decisions have on people,” Crum said. 

Lackey helped out Student Government when it came to tuition increases by supplying them with information and helping them out when they release statements, West said. 

West said he hopes to see someone with similar characteristics to Lackey take over his position. 

“(Lackey) really has been such a great administrator to work with whether I call him on the weekends and he always picks up the phone. He’s just always willing to talk. I really would need someone who is open and honest with us,” West said.