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Business Officer Magazine
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Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience

By Margo Vanover Porter

Benjamin W. "Benjie" Harmon Jr.
Benjamin W. "Benjie" Harmon Jr. 
Director of Accounting and Financial Reporting
Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
9 years in higher education

Man on the Run

Benjamin W. "Benjie" Harmon Jr., can't wait to get to Disney World next January—not to ride a roller coaster or even to chat with Mickey. Instead, the CPA hopes to participate in the Dopey Challenge, an endurance-testing 48.6-mile race that includes a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon, and stretches over four days and four theme parks.

Harmon, the director of accounting and financial reporting at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, finds running a relaxing way to get a cardio workout.

"Growing up, I played sports competitively," he says. "After getting out of college, I needed to find a way to exercise and keep fit. Running clears my head and helps me relax. It also allows me some extra time with my nine-year- old son, who loves to run with me." 

How far do you typically run?

Anywhere from 3 to 10 miles.

Why would anyone consider a four-day runathon?

You would be surprised. Since this is an inaugural race, I would guess close to 10,000 will compete in all four legs of this event.

What drew you to the higher education environment?

I had every intention of staying in public accounting. At my firm, BKD LLP, we had many higher education clients, including Western Kentucky University. I really enjoyed public accounting, and I gained an appreciation for the higher education/nonprofit sector. 

In my sixth year, we picked up a big nonprofit headquartered in Baton Rouge. I was now traveling for nearly 42 weeks out of a calendar year. My wife and I had to take two different vehicles to church so I could fly out right after the service. I wouldn't get back home until late Friday night. This was 2003–04, when we were trying to adopt our son from Korea.

As this engagement wore on, I thought, "I don't want to be that dad who's always gone. I want to be an active father." I knew something had to change.

You adopted a son?

My wife Gina and I adopted our son Joseph in 2004, and two years later, we got our little girl, Natalie, both from South Korea.

It didn't stop there. With my background, I understood how to set up and organize nonprofits, so we decided to start Joseph's Hope Foundation (www.JoesHope.org) to promote adoption. Lots of families have the financial resources to take care of a child, but maybe not the $30,000-plus it takes to adopt. We started this foundation to take some of the financial burden away and make adoption about the children and not the finances.

What's your role in the foundation?

I'm the founder, chair of the board, and event planner. We have one main event each year, which is the Monster Dash, a premier nighttime race in the region.

How much have you raised?

We've hosted two races and provided $2,000 grants to eight families to offset their adoption costs. 

What other activities occupy your time?

I just finished a two-year stint as the coordinator of the Kentucky Public University Business Officers, whose members are finance officers at Kentucky public universities. We get together three times a year to discuss hot issues. Right now, GASB 68 is a big deal.

Why is that?

Although it doesn't take effect until June 30, 2015, I'm worried about the impact GASB 68 will have on financial statements and being able to address the standards by the deadline.

We're working on that now, knowing that we're going to have to record and fund all of the currently unfunded liabilities for our defined benefit pension plan that is managed at the state level. The amount of work involved is tremendous, and implementation is going to take a lot of up-front consideration and planning.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.