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Alumni and Friends

Learning Leadership Through the Arts

Timothy Humphrey (Electrical Engineering ’96) gained skills as an usher and house manager for Stewart Theatre that he uses today as chief analytics officer for IBM.

Tim Humphrey makes a wolfie sign with Mr. Wuf

As a college student, Timothy Humphrey (Electrical Engineering ’96) worked multiple jobs to help pay for school, including telemarketing, janitorial and construction work. However, his work at NC State’s Stewart Theatre gave him his first true leadership role and many other transferable skills that have aided him in his career as an executive for one of the largest technology companies in the world.

Humphrey is the chief analytics officer for IBM as well as the company’s senior state executive in North Carolina and senior location executive for its offices in Research Triangle Park. But long before overseeing international business deals and managing operations for IBM’s largest location in North America, he was helping people find their seats for arts performances on NC State’s campus. Humphrey worked in the theatre as an usher for two years and a house manager in his third year.

“That was my introduction to a different world,” Humphrey said. “I was always focused on math and science growing up and came to NC State to study engineering, but I got this job at Stewart Theatre and loved it.”

Humphrey (indicated by a red arrow) and his classmates at graduation
Humphrey (indicated by a red arrow) and his classmates at graduation

Before he arrived at NC State, Humphrey had never been involved in arts programs or traveled outside the United States. During his employment at the theatre, he witnessed countless musical, dance, theatrical and cultural performances by artists from around the world. He also had the opportunity to meet many of the artists and find inspiration from their stories.

“Most of the things I learned about the arts I learned from my time working at Stewart Theatre,” Humphrey said. “While I was there as an usher, I got to experience all of the various shows and performances that would come through, and it really opened my eyes to understanding that just being good in your discipline doesn’t necessarily make you a well-rounded person.”

Humphrey also developed his hospitality and people skills.

“Being an usher taught me the importance of being on time, and it also helped me develop my communication skills,” he said. “For example, if somebody was being unruly in the audience, I would have to be able to diffuse the situation without causing disruption to other patrons. So I learned how to communicate in difficult situations as an usher, which is something that, when you have a career in corporate America, you definitely need to be able to do.”

Humphrey’s first formal leadership role came when he was promoted to house manager, overseeing his fellow student employees. It taught him the value of teamwork as well.

“To have students running an event with the auditorium full of people is fascinating,” Humphrey said. “The fact that I was on a team that planned and hosted these events, interacted with the public, had to think and problem-solve on the fly — all of that was very unique from all other jobs that I did when I was on campus. I didn’t know it at the time, but it prepared me well for the career that I was going to have with IBM.”

While he isn’t formally involved in the arts today, Humphrey calls himself a “consumer” of the arts and places great value on the experiences he had. He values that creative experience in others as well.

“I hold a fascination with the arts, and the respect I have for artists probably grew tenfold due to my time at Stewart Theatre,” he said. “I’ve managed a lot of teams in my career, and when I find somebody that has those technological skills but I also see things on their resume like the arts, I’m always intrigued. Generally I’ve had really good success with people who have those blends of talent and skills, and I find that they do well and thrive in our environment.”

As a member of NC State’s Board of Trustees, Humphrey remains highly involved with the university, especially within engineering programs where he has given generously to support diversity initiatives. In 2019, he established the Timothy L. Humphrey Women and Minority Engineering Initiatives Award and the Timothy L. Humphrey Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Award. In the Raleigh community, he serves as a board member for many local nonprofit organizations and is a mentor to over 30 global professionals, students and youth.

Humphrey talks with Chancellor Randy Woodson in front of a white wall with other people conversing behind them
Humphrey talks with Chancellor Randy Woodson at an NC State Board of Trustees event

Humphrey said he is inspired to give his time, energy and resources for two primary reasons. The first is to pay it forward to everyone who helped him get where he is today. The second is to increase representation and be an example to other minorities considering entering the engineering field.

“I didn’t grow up with examples of engineers around me or who looked like me, but thankfully I had a high school guidance counselor who steered me towards the field,” he said. “I feel like if at an early age people can see examples of an engineer, a scientist, a chemist, then maybe they might aspire to be one themselves. It’s very difficult to be what you can’t see.”

When asked what advice he would give to current students, Humphrey said he would encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way at NC State — even in areas where they don’t think they have the skill. 

“Don’t ignore or be intimidated by things that you may not be good at — embrace it,” he said. “The other thing is, having experience and knowledge of things outside of your world just helps make you become a better person and ultimately a better leader. It makes you more relatable to people, and the more relatable you are to people, the more ability you have to adapt to various situations, which can be important.”