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From mayor to nonprofit CEO: Alumnus shares how ASU prepared him to be a successful leader

Neil Giuliano, alumnus of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will be honored as one of The College Leaders this fall.

November 05, 2020

Throughout his career, Neil Giuliano, an alumnus of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, has worn many hats.

From working at ASU's Alumni Association and serving as the mayor of Tempe, Arizona, to serving as the president and CEO of three different nonprofit organizations, Giuliano has gained invaluable experience and a unique set of skills.

Giuliano graduated from ASU in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and in 1983 with a master’s degree in higher education. After graduation, he stayed at ASU for more than 20 years, working in several different roles including as director of federal and community relations, faculty associate, interim executive director and associate executive director of the ASU Alumni Association, and program coordinator and director of student leadership programs. 

He said it was his beginnings in The College that set him on a path to success.

“My whole ASU experience, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom, was transformative for me because it gave me, a skinny little kid from New Jersey, the opportunity to be exposed to people, ideas, information and knowledge that I just don't think I would have been exposed to had I not come to a big institution,” Giuliano said. “There was such tremendous opportunity.” 

In his last 14 years at ASU, he simultaneously served as the mayor of Tempe, where the creation of Tempe Town Lake, the Tempe Performing Arts Center and the implementation of the regional light rail system were advanced under his leadership. He was the youngest person ever elected mayor of Tempe.

In 2005, he was recruited to serve as the president and CEO of GLAAD, an organization devoted to countering discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in the media and promoting understanding, acceptance and equality. After four years with GLAAD, Giuliano served as the president and CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. In 2012, he published “The Campaign Within: A Mayor's Private Journey to Public Leadership,” his memoir that delves into the ups and downs he experienced throughout his life and career.

Today, he is the president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the greater Phoenix area and the state of Arizona by bringing together talent, resources and leadership to create action on priority issues. In his role, Giuliano works with 127 leaders of the largest organizations in Arizona to push forward initiatives, public policy and projects that will strengthen the state’s future.

This fall, Giuliano will be honored as one of The College Leaders for his many achievements. He has been recognized for his outstanding leadership with a variety of other awards as well including the 2020 MLK Jr. Community Servant Leadership Award from ASU, Valley Leadership’s 69th Man of the Year, Phoenix Business Journal’s 2017 Most Admired Leader Award, the 2014 Tempe Humanitarian of the Year, the Distinguished Lecturer at the William J. Clinton School of Public Service at the Clinton Presidential Library and more. 

Giuliano shared about his Sun Devil story, what motivates him to succeed, advice for students and more.

Question: How did your program at ASU help prepare you for your career?

Answer: Both inside and outside of the classroom, ASU helped me to better understand working effectively with groups of people, how to listen and navigate different opinions and how to insert my own opinion to move things forward. The experiences I had were very valuable to me as a student and as a professional. These are skills I’ve used all throughout my career, as a city councilman, as mayor and even in my current role, where I facilitate dialogue and communication to try to help focus toward a really positive end. Those are all things I first experienced at ASU.

Q: What is your favorite part about your chosen career path?

A: Every day is different. Every day, I'll talk to different people. There's always a new little problem or hiccup or something that's unique and different that I have to learn about, pivot, and talk to people about. I have to do something and just to try to keep it all moving forward. I enjoy planting seeds along the way that will continue to push these leaders in a positive way to help the organization accomplish its mission of having a positive impact on the quality of life in Arizona.

Q: What has been your biggest motivation to succeed professionally?

A: I think my motivation to succeed is that if I succeed, the organization advances. And if I'm successful, the organization can do more. If I'm successful, the leaders that I'm working with have the ability to make a difference in society and take on additional community leadership roles. I spent 10 years as a mayor and that's obviously a very front and center, very visible, kind of role. Same thing with running GLAAD, and as CEO of one of the largest AIDS service organizations in the world. Now my role is more behind the scenes, to help people advance what's important to them, through the organization, to be a sounding board and a coach sometimes. I feel really fortunate to have this kind of an opportunity professionally.

Q: What advice do you have for students in The College?

A: You don't have to have the answers today. In fact, if you have all the answers today, I think you can probably count on them changing over time because things are changing so fast in society. The way we learn is changing. The way we acquire information is changing. The way we share and receive information is changing. The way we communicate is changing. You have to be adaptable and you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You can't be afraid of change and discomfort. If you're starting to feel really comfortable, something is probably not right. Be open to a level of discomfort that motivates you and inspires you. The people who are able to do that, and yet still have a purpose while being grounded and having a clear set of values, will be the people that are going to rise to leadership positions because other people will be attracted to those qualities. Also, remember that no one individual accomplishes anything of great significance by themselves. You have to be open to working with other people in order to succeed.

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