Career Advice from an Executive: Lonnie Nicholson (’86)

Ever wondered how an executive of a company got into their position? Well, before Lonnie Nicholson became VP, Chief Administrative Officer of Kimball International, he was a Computer Science and Math major at IU. Since graduating in 1986, Mr. Nicholson has learned a lot about what it takes to be successful as you determine your career path. Read below for some executive-level insight into the software industry as well as getting the most out of your journey into the workforce.


What do you wish someone would have told you as you prepared to enter the workforce?

A career is full of learning.  An education is important to give individuals a solid foundation of skills, but reading, research, writing, projects, studying and learning does not stop after college – in fact, it just starts.

What piece of advice would you like to share with students currently looking for internships or full time jobs?

Take initiative and be willing to learn the business from the ground up.  Success is not built in a day.


An inside look into Kimball International

Describe your daily tasks and how they support your organization.

I lead two critical functions – IT and HR.  In the digital economy, technology is critical and people make the difference.  I ensure the Kimball culture evolves but stays rooted in our core values.  I lead the development of strategies and ensure they are executed to build success for customers, suppliers, employees, shareowners and the community.  Exciting, challenging, and fulfilling.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The intersection of people and technology – I am a ‘software’ person.  I have the ability to make a difference every day and no two days are the same.

What were your original career goals and major when you first arrived at IU? How did your career goals change over time during your time at IU?lonnie_nicholson

In 1986, I was unsure what opportunities would exist for a computer science and math major, I thought maybe teaching.  As computer technology continued to explode, I had the opportunity to apply my technical skills and my liberal arts education to add value in a business environment.  Today’s students have the same (and greater) opportunity in areas like virtual reality, data science/analytics, etc.  Technical (science) skills evolve as technology evolves.  The liberal arts education sustains as a firm foundation to grow and flourish.  You do not have to be a business major to succeed in business.

What has been your career path?

Computer programming, system analysis, business analysis, project management, organizational change management, IT management, HR management, executive leadership

What advice do you have for students exploring different career paths?

Create your own.  There is no such thing as a pre-defined career path.  I am a computer science/math guy by trade that is an executive for a public company leading not just IT, but HR as well.

What is one thing that you wish you had done differently in your first job after graduation? 

Seek first to understand.  The people you begin to work with have years of experience and acquired wisdom.  Take time to learn from them.

What surprised you most about the transition from college to full-time work? 

The home work and studying did not stop.  Every day was full of moments that ‘tested’ your knowledge and understanding.  There are no more ‘no class on Friday’ weeks.

If you would like to learn more about Kimball International or Mr. Nicholson’s career path, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Dana Vanderburgh
Dana Vanderburgh ER Graduate Assistant Dana Vanderburgh