When it came time for Chad Chandlee to decide which college to attend, picking the University of Northern Iowa was a no-brainer. 

“I loved UNI,” Chandlee said, who is now president and chief operating officer of Kendall Hunt Publishing in Dubuque. “Both of my older brothers went to UNI, and they both had great experiences there, so it kind of made sense that I might go there too. Plus, I was interested in going to college for business and I had always heard UNI has a great business school, and I was like, ‘That's perfect. That's what I want to do.’”

UNI business alum Chad ChandleeUNI is also affordable, Chandlee said, and since the cost of his college education was going to fall on him alone, he knew he could get more bang for his buck at UNI. 

“I really felt a sense of community at UNI,” he said. “I don’t really know how else to say it, but UNI just felt like a perfect fit for me. It was big enough that you could get involved in lots of different things, but small enough that it felt comfortable and personal.”

Even as a freshman in high school, Chandlee knew he wanted to major in business, though in hindsight he admits he really had no idea at the time what that would actually look like. 

A Waterloo native who was raised in Carroll, Chandlee is the middle of five children. His family came from humble beginnings. His father was a high school English teacher and basketball coach and his mother stayed home and raised the kids. And though the kids had everything they needed, Chandlee saw how hard his parents worked to make ends meet and knew he wanted more for himself.

“At that time, I just knew I wanted my future to be financially stable and business management would open up a wide variety of opportunities, but I really didn’t have any clue what business management was or what it would look like,” he said.  

Turns out, business management looks a lot like coaching. 

“I’d say most of my job is about making sure our employees feel supported and appreciated and have what they need to do their jobs,” said Chandlee. “If you’re the coach of a major team, or in our company’s case where we have employees that have been here as long as I have, you’re not telling the players how to play, since they obviously already know how. Instead, you’re strategizing how to best support your players so they can do their best work. That’s pretty much what I do. Management is really about celebrating the successes of your team rather than your own.” 

A 1995 graduate with a BA in business management, Chandlee started his career in sales with a major manufacturing company in Chicago. He was with that company for about three years, taking up a management role within his first year, and was moved from Chicago to Dallas then Cleveland.

In 1998, he returned to Iowa - this time settling down in Dubuque - and started what has now become a 24-year career with Kendall Hunt Publishing, an independent educational publishing house that focuses on providing customized, high-quality educational products, programming and services for grades K-12 and higher education at an affordable cost. 

During his years in management, Chandlee said he has learned many lessons, but some of the biggest came with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. 

“I think I did some of my best work during COVID because it really did test our ability to manage through any situation and there was no one to tell us how to get through it, we just had to figure things out,” he said. “And that is a lot of what management is - we’re fixers. We try to prepare for what could come and adapt when needed to ensure we have the resources we need to do our work. And COVID was a particularly unique time because it wasn't just about maximizing resources. We also had to make real decisions about workplace culture and personnel decisions and what your company was going to be during the pandemic and what success was going to look like.” 

When it comes to building company culture and ensuring employees are enabled to do their best work while feeling supported and appreciated, Chandlee said he developed a strong foundation of helpful skills while “growing up” at UNI and learning how to build and navigate a wide variety of relationships.

“I really grew up at UNI - I had to,” he said. “I think that's part of the college experience - those four years of just maturing, growing up, figuring out who you are and what life is supposed to be. UNI also broadened my perspective about people and life and work. I was a Spanish minor also, and I got to do a four-week Spanish experience in Mexico over the Christmas term one year, and I think that also broadened my outlook.”

Chandlee said he also found confidence at UNI through working collaboratively with classmates and public speaking. 

“The necessity to be able to speak publicly was one of those make-it-or-break-it things,” he said. “It was either I get comfortable with myself and with speaking in public or I don’t go into business, and my business classes at UNI really forced me to develop those skills. And now, it’s a big part of my job. I’m out there speaking in front of 200, 500, 1,000 people and I’m comfortable. It doesn’t bother me at all.” 

Looking back over his time at UNI and his 24-year climb to the top, Chandlee said one lesson stands out to him, to remain open and teachable. 

“I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to those coming out of college and looking to start their careers is to remain open to what other people might see in you and the opportunities that present themselves,” he said. “As an employer, I don’t really care what you majored in. I care that you went to school, got a degree and that you are smart, capable and open to opportunities. So many of the students and candidates I have spoken to pursue a position because ‘it’s what they got their degree in,’ and they are really limiting their options that way.”