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Business Officer Magazine
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Ideas From Peers

NACUBO’s 2004 award winners attribute success to learning from colleagues, accepting new challenges, and relishing the role. Here, they share their experiences and ideas.

By (edited) Kathy H. Ely

Experience Counts

Ralph H. Beaudoin, former vice president for finance and treasurer, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and Steven W. Relyea, vice chancellor for business affairs, University of California–San Diego, were honored with the Distinguished Business Officer Award. During their long-running careers, they have enriched higher education through outstanding contributions in business and financial management.

What qualities make an effective leader, particularly in the higher education field?

Beaudoin: Higher education operates on a consensus model, so leaders need to bring people together in support of common goals and motivate them toward their achievement. The critical qualities required are integrity, ability to listen, respect for others, a long-range strategic view, a positive “can-do” attitude, ability to build partnerships, and a willingness to champion ideas. Within the institution, the most important partnership is among the president, the chief academic officer, and the business officer. Working together, they can move the institution forward quickly toward achieving an institution’s strategic goals.

Relyea: An effective leader can create and communicate a vision of what the university can be and why it is important. That person will pursue a goal in the face of adversity and criticism and stick to it until it is completed. Effective leaders are more than willing to take on a great amount of responsibility and the consequences that accompany that responsibility. I think leaders get a real charge out of challenge and adversity and can inspire people to constructively face those challenges.

Who are your role models and why?

Beaudoin: Over the years I have watched a number of senior business officers who have displayed great leadership ability in higher education. They have included legends like Roger Lowe, Joe Evans, Mary Lay, William Reed, and others.

How can business officers prepare for their evolving roles?

Beaudoin: One of the best ways to prepare is to be involved in higher education beyond the home institution. Participation in the regional or national associations, local business officer groups, and consortia offers the opportunity to learn about new issues facing higher education early and also to learn how other institutions have solved problems you may face. Networking among your peers is the key to getting expert advice when needed. 

Relyea: Business officers need to look at their operations and institutions and ask, “Isn’t there a better way of doing this?” It is more than OK to be critical, it is essential—particularly if you can channel that criticism into finding a better way to deliver business services. One of the best ways I have found to prepare is to seek out the best business officers and learn from their successes and failures. There is a lot of talent both inside and outside of your institution. Don’t be afraid to adapt ideas and approaches that haven’t been used in higher education.

What are the most valuable professional development opportunities you’ve had?

Beaudoin: There is no better way to learn than by doing and for me, it has come from chairing a variety of committees for NACUBO. The most significant experience was serving on the committee that resulted in the formation of Schools, Colleges and Universities Underwriters Limited (SCUUL) and United Educators. It led to a long-term directorship of both organizations and the opportunity to work with many of the most accomplished business officers and insurance professionals in the country.

Relyea: I was fortunate to attend multiweek programs at the Harvard Business School and the Sloan School at MIT. You typically learn just as much from the people attending these programs as you do from the content of the program. NACUBO offers many outstanding professional development programs that can be very valuable. 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the job?

Beaudoin: Higher education is a complicated enterprise. Always seek the most expert advice possible. Hire the most experienced consultants, talk with senior business officers, consult professional associations, and learn from their experience.

Relyea: Don’t give up—there is always a solution. Even after successive budget cuts, there is still a way of improving services to the institution and improving performance. There is always another way.

What advice do you have for individuals just starting out in this profession?

Beaudoin: Learn as much as you can about your institution and develop your skills. Be sensitive to your institution’s problems and look for solutions. Offer to help solve these problems even if they are beyond your current job description. If you are seen as a problem solver you will be given more responsibility and your career will grow.

Relyea: If you don’t have a strong work ethic, find something else to do. Look for others who are bright and hardworking and learn as much as you can from them. Talk to faculty and students as much as you can to learn about what matters to them. 

Now that you are retired, what’s next?

Beaudoin: I have been researching my family history for the past 14 years and plan on writing the history for our family. I also expect to become more generally involved in the disciplines of history and genealogy. I am learning to speak French with the expectation of living in France for six months to a year, taking cooking lessons, and traveling throughout Europe.

If you weren’t a business officer, what would you be doing?  

Relyea: That’s a hard question. I can’t imagine myself doing something else. I would probably work for an organization that makes important discoveries, creates new knowledge, and disseminates that knowledge...sounds a lot like a university, doesn’t it?

Giving Back to the Profession

Often NACUBO award winners contribute to the profession by assisting in the ongoing development of their colleagues. Speaking from a mid-range career vantage point, these two individuals offer their insight into the business officer world: John R. Kroll, associate comptroller, University of Chicago, who received the Professional Development Award, and Charles Tegen, comptroller, Clemson University, South Carolina, recipient of the Daniel D. Robinson Award.

What qualities make an effective leader, particularly in the higher education field?

Kroll: As is the case in most fields, the ability to listen, assess, motivate, and act. In higher education, the ability to listen to a wide variety of interested parties, assess/measure requests against the mission and available resources, and then carry out the mission in a stewardship-like fashion is key.

Tegen: A business officer needs to listen, then communicate; effectively network within his or her institution and with external peers; and understand that he or she is a part of the team. The business officer’s role is to support the institutional mission. Developing and leading a team will help him or her succeed in meeting goals.

Who are your role models and why?

Kroll: Anybody who can strike a successful balance between their work, social, family, and spiritual lives...and be good at all of them.

How can business officers prepare for their evolving roles?

Kroll: Two ways: First, get involved in networking peer groups for CFOs, controllers, indirect cost, payroll, and so forth so you can learn best practices from others and not have to constantly reinvent the wheel. Second, attend industry meetings and professional development workshops where you get a chance to hear from a wide variety of people who are passionate about higher education and the role they play at their institution. Since joining the University of Chicago in 1982, I have gained so much from my peers in the “Ivy plus” and “Big-Ten” controllers’ groups and by participating in NACUBO and other regional workshops and annual meetings.

Tegen: By paying attention to the trends in higher education through reading, networking, and learning best practices from others. Higher education is a diversity of ideas and practices. Filtering through these practices to identify the ones best suited for your institution is the goal.

When I was introduced to higher education in the late 1970s, institutions were managed with strong central administrative controls, very little governmental regulatory controls, and one set of financial reporting standards. Over the past 25 years, colleges have been empowered to manage and to be held accountable; government regulations have proliferated in the personnel, research, audit, and tax areas; and now higher education has two financial reporting standards. Success as a business officer requires an attitude of flexibility and a willingness to change long before a change is mandated.

What are the most valuable professional development opportunities you’ve had?

Kroll: In March 1992, I received a call from Jack Ostrom, the controller at Cornell and faculty member for NACUBO’s intermediate accounting and financial reporting workshop, asking me if I would like to be his guest at the upcoming workshop in Kansas City. Little did I know that Jack and his fellow faculty members Jerry Farley (now president of Washburn University) and Mary Fischer (professor of accounting at the University of Texas at Tyler) were actually going to interview me to take Jack’s spot after he retired. Apparently I did OK, because they asked me to be part of their team. I’ve been teaching with them ever since. I am forever thankful to all for giving me the chance.

Tegen: At Clemson, it was the confidence placed in me and my staff to take a leadership role in projects. With NACUBO professional development, it was my introduction to college and university accounting with the Intermediate Fund Accounting workshop with mentors like David Lyons, Leigh Jones, Jerry Farley, and Mary Fischer.

The most enjoyable professional development opportunity was my participation in the implementation of GASB 34 and 35 for higher education. In serving on the Accounting Principles Council and the faculty of the NACUBO GASB 35 implementation workshops, I had the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process, identify and develop solutions, and communicate the practical applications of some complicated, dramatic changes in financial reporting. The opportunity to be in workshops across the country over a two-year period gave me a healthy respect for the complexity and diversity in higher education and the approaches to solutions by my peers.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the job?

Kroll: There are three of them: 1) debit, cash, and credit—who cares? 2) fund-accounting lives, and 3) don’t take yourself too seriously....If you can’t have fun doing something, find something else to do.

Tegen: No one can achieve his or her goals without a committed team. A business officer must be flexible, able to define and measure effectiveness, and able to find a role in supporting the institution in meeting its goals. I continue to be fascinated by the issues that surface in higher education. I believe that effectively communicating performance measurement or indicators and addressing the control environment in the Sarbanes-Oxley era are current challenges in higher education.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would have given you as you started pursuing your career in higher education?

Tegen: Be willing to listen and then communicate. Find a network of peers internal and external to the institutions to discover best practices. Mentor staff that are junior to you. Bring others along with you in your career.

If you weren’t a business officer, what would you be doing?  

Kroll: Fulfilling my most recent lifetime dream: being on “Survivor.” Beyond that, teaching accounting someplace where I could impart my passion for the profession to people who are just starting to consider a career.

Tegen: I would consider being a teacher. It would give me the opportunity to integrate the academic topics with practical business experiences.

Fresh Ideas

The two recipients of the Rising Star Award offer up a promising look at the future of the profession: Lallah M. Howard, assistant vice president for finance, Texas A&M University, College Station, and David W. Bea, assistant treasurer, Claremont University Consortium, California.

What qualities make an effective leader, particularly in the higher education field? Who are your role models and why?

Howard: The first role model—and exceptional individual—is the woman who hired me into this great world of higher education. She taught me never to take myself too seriously. I had only been in my new job for three weeks when my staff announced that we “always” dress up for Halloween. Well, I wasn’t too sure about dressing up like a puppy dog; I had an image to uphold. I didn’t know many of my colleagues and was concerned that I may not be taken seriously if I were dressed like a big Dalmatian, but Sandy encouraged me to bond with my staff and enjoy the day. I learned that the loyalty of my staff was more important than impressing my colleagues. I have never forgotten that lesson.

My next boss, Marilyn, is another inspirational woman who taught me that balance between work and family is attainable and crucial, not only for me but for my staff as well. She always knows whose parent is sick, who is going to see their grandbabies on vacation, and who is going through a rough time in life. She takes the time to acknowledge everyone’s contributions whether she knows their name or not. Everyone is important and deserves respect. I value her leadership and friendship greatly. Hard work is important, but you have to care for yourself and your family and understand that others need the same opportunity.

The man who lives in the office next door, Tom, is my other role model. He will be retiring soon after spending 35 years taking care of our institution. He has always been there to listen to my problems and concerns and respond, “You know the answer, now just go do it.” His ability to listen and encourage epitomizes strong leadership. I try to use those same skills in developing my staff. Often the things you don’t say are just as important as the things you do say. Leadership qualities vary greatly from individual to individual, but for me these three people exhibit the essence of leadership. They value people and integrity above all else. Add a healthy dose of subject matter competency, and you have the perfect mix for a great leader.

Bea: There is no way to be an effective leader in higher education without strong interpersonal skills. Unlike other professionals, business officers need the ability to build consensus, need to continually educate others of the importance of sound financial practices, and need to be able to motivate in order to effect change. I have been fortunate during my career to work with a number of individuals who have shown admirable work ethics, strong professional convictions, and amazing creativity and patience in spite of relatively chaotic circumstances.

How can business officers prepare for their evolving roles?

Howard: I find that studying private industry and how it operates helps develop ideas that may be successful in our field. While in several respects we are different from for-profit business, many of the principles and goals are the same. Taking the basic premise and incorporating it into our procedures often allows flexibility and innovation in our business practices, which leads to optimal solutions for any industry.

Bea: Business operations are changing rapidly, particularly in the areas of technology and external competition. Increasingly, college services are resembling small businesses with high degrees of volatility and competition from extrinsic sources (e.g., book dealers, telephone companies, private housing developments, etc.). As such, business officers need to be familiar with modern business practices and be highly adaptive in their approaches. Similarly, technology requires continual education to anticipate future needs and changes. Professional organizations like NACUBO and magazines are great for information and for making contacts with other professionals who may have valuable experiences to share.

What are the most valuable professional development opportunities you’ve had?

Howard: While attending seminars is beneficial, I have found that working with committees to provide professional development opportunities has been the most rewarding and valuable. Having the opportunity to impact the training being provided makes the information more relevant to my needs and allows me to be involved with other professionals who simply want to make a difference in their profession. I recently worked with the Texas Association of Payroll Professionals for State Colleges and Universities in putting on our second annual conference. As a new organization we had many challenges to overcome, but a group of dedicated professionals working together can overcome just about anything.

Bea: I have been fortunate at Claremont University Consortium to have been given numerous special projects and responsibilities that provided an unusually broad base of experience. For example, I have coordinated a corporate separation, helped in the bond issuance for a new student services facility, and organized an intercollegiate review of our bookstore operation. These were fantastic development opportunities. In addition, I attended two years of the WACUBO Business Institute, two NACUBO annual conferences, and a couple of NACUBO seminars. I would strongly recommend the Business Institute to any young professional in the field—the courses provide a great combination of general managerial sessions (human resources, general accounting, technology, etc.) along with more specific sessions that are directly applicable to work.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the job?

Howard: Patience is essential. Inherently, I have very little and often need to be reminded that if I will have patience with myself and others, life will simply be better. I have always been blessed with exceptional staff who know their jobs and understand how to get things done. Take the time to listen to your team before marching forward. You not only encourage teamwork, you’re much more likely to achieve the goal.

Bea: Never be afraid to ask questions. Questions provide great learning opportunities and ensure that you will be able to solve the problem efficiently and effectively. Of course, this does not apply when I am driving a car and I’m lost!

Let the Nominations Begin

Know a business officer whose work deserves applause? Nominate that individual for recognition in NACUBO’s 2005 awards program, sponsored by ARAMARK Education. Five awards will be presented at the annual meeting in Baltimore, July 9–12.

  • Distinguished Business Officer Award—outstanding contributions to business and financial management in higher education
  • Rodney H. Adams Award— contributions to the advancement of knowledge and good practice in endowment and investment management in higher education
  • Daniel D. Robinson Award—continuous commitment to the advancement of college and university accounting and financial reporting through volunteer service with NACUBO
  • Professional Development Award—notable contributions to NACUBO’s professional development activities and publications program
  • Rising Star Award—high potential to succeed as an executive in higher education

The deadline for 2005 nominations is April 6. For more information, contact Pam Wittmann, manager, volunteer programs, at 202.861.2503 or pam.wittmann@nacubo.org.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would have given you as you started pursuing your career in higher education?

Howard: Be prepared for the opportunities that come your way. I’ve found that if I am open to the opportunities that present themselves, success will follow. During my seven years with Texas A&M University, I have had five different jobs, the most interesting and challenging of which came about simply because I was willing to take a chance and volunteer for something that no one else really wanted to do. I went to the Middle East for four months to help establish our campus in Doha, Qatar. It meant leaving my family and friends, moving to the other side of the world, and taking on a task that no one could tell me much about or predict what I was going to encounter. But it was an adventure and a wonderful personal and professional learning experience, one I was excited about and still feel is one of my greatest accomplishments. Take a risk, you won’t regret it!

Bea: I think you have to be assertive in asking for opportunities to grow. Whether it is a professional development opportunity or a special project, you can’t sit back and hope that your supervisor will always think of you. If you show interest, it is most likely that you will be given the opportunity to learn and grow professionally.

If you weren’t a business officer, what would you be doing?  

Howard: I would be a dive master in some remote beautiful location like the Turks and Caicos or Indonesia. I love to travel and think some days that my second career should be as a tour guide. But for now, I’m having a great time being a business officer and navigating the constant swamp of challenges.

Bea: You mean other than being a professional triathlete (in my dreams)? Actually, there are so many interesting fields out there. At different times in my life, I have considered teaching, consulting, law, finance, and writing. I think the only field I haven’t considered is medicine. The beauty of being a higher education business officer is that you can experience all of those fields: One day you might be working on a bookstore renovation, the next on cash management, and the next writing a memo explaining a complex budgeting decision to the board. It is never boring.

Author Bio Kathy Ely is a freelance writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
E-mail khely@comcast.net