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Leadership Lessons From 35+ Years in Higher Education: Rick Anderson


[Kara] Hello and welcome to Career Conversations, a podcast from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. I’m Kara Freeman, president and CEO of NACUBO, and I’d like to thank you for listening. In each episode, you’ll hear higher education professionals share their personal experiences, career advice, and nuggets of wisdom. You can find resources for today’s episode, as well as a wide variety of research and tools, at

[Christine] Hello and thanks for joining this career conversation. I’m your host, Christine Simone, NAUBO’s Director of Leadership Development.

A quick note to our listeners—This episode was recorded on location at the NACUBO 2023 Annual Meeting. While we’ve done our best to reduce background noise, the excitement of more than 2,000 members does affect audio quality.

I’m joined by Rick Anderson, executive vice president of finance and operations at the Medical University of South Carolina.

[Christine] Rick Anderson, thanks for being on Career Conversations with us.

[Rick] It’s my pleasure to be here.

[Christine] Can you kind of just start us off by telling us a little bit about how you ended up where you are now?

[Rick] Yeah. I've had, for my generation, not necessarily the career path that most in the industry have had. A lot of the business officers have been maybe at two, maybe at three institutions over the years. And I've had the privilege of working for a number of different great leaders at eight universities in six different states over the years in the 35 years or so that I've been working in higher education.

[Christine] So did you start off thinking in your career, I want to be a chief business officer one day when I grow up? Was that your vision at seven, eight years old?

[Rick] No, I was actually pretty good at numbers. So, I got to college. I was lucky enough to have a little bit of height and ability and got a division one basketball scholarship and played at Oklahoma State University. But I tell people I was a better student athlete than I was an athlete. And so made the all-conference academic team, not necessarily the athletic team. So, I paid attention, got an accounting degree, finance degree in undergrad, and I thought I was just going to work in public accounting then go work…, which I did while my wife was in optometry school, I thought I was going to be CPA, it'll be golden. And then wife got a chance after she got, after she was an eye doctor, got back to her hometown, which was where Oklahoma State University was. And I got into higher education and have found it to be a very rewarding career that I think balances family and your career choices.

[Christine] So that's a really great reason for getting into higher education. What's kept you in the field and maybe what are some of those things that allowed you to move to some different institutions?

[Rick] Well, I've had exposure to lots of different industries when I was in public accounting. And so, I was always kind of open to different things. And so, when I got into higher education, I had a gentleman that I worked for, actually I worked for two gentlemen at five of those universities. So, when you recognize good leaders, you, I tended to gravitate towards working for them again at a number of different places. And at one of those places, I got exposed to both public higher education as well as healthcare. And as he told me, he said, you got bitten by the healthcare bug. So, I spent most of my career, the vast majority of the universities I've spent have had medical schools and academic health sciences centers attached with it.

[Christine] Yeah. What a great combination of passion areas coming together to create such a great fit for you. So, what advice would you have for our listeners? Thinking back, you’ve just reflected on your own career path, what advice would you have for those listening as they’re thinking about their next steps? What should they be looking for?

[Rick] A couple of things. One, learn and recognize good leaders and who you want to work for because it makes a huge difference in what you do every day. Two, have a mindset, have a growth and learning mindset all the time. As like I said, I was privileged enough to work at a number of different institutions and people will say, well, you couldn't keep a job. *laughs* But the reality is sometimes I get a little bored with doing.. after you grow, mature the institution and go on to the next adventure, as my wife calls it. And so just having that growth mindset, and I've always taken the approach that you're there for a couple of reasons and how you measure success. One being, have you made the place better every day, every week, every year? Have you made the place that you're at better? And two, have you improved the value of that student degree or the care that you give to the patients by your institution? Is your institutional reputation enhanced by what you did while you were there?

[Christine] You talked about working for really good leaders. How do you recognize who those people are?

[Rick] A lot of its style in terms of the style of which they do that. I don't necessarily like to work for a micromanager or other things like that. I like to work for somebody who sets, who has a similar to me, has a growth mindset that you have to keep growing, otherwise you're not moving forward. Just quality leaders that have been places that know how to get things done. And so, they've brought me along at several different places that I've been… as part of that allowed me to do a lot of different things. So, I'll use an example of that. One gentleman that I worked for in Kansas City and at University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, I ended up being his interim athletic director at two different division one programs over the years.

[Christine] Wow.

[Rick] So not too many business officers have been an athletic director at a division one program at two different institutions around the country. 

[Christine] That’s definitely a unique piece to your career. Very, very interesting. I’m glad you shared that. Thinking about the mentors that you’ve had over the years, how did you find them? Or did they find you?

[Rick] The first one, again, I worked for him at Oklahoma State, University of Oklahoma, and then at the end of his career at Washburn University. He was the president at Washburn for 26 years, I think. He was an early mentor because he came from the business officer ranks and then he went into the presidency and you don't survive a presidency at one institution for 25 years without doing something right. And so just having a chance to work for him a number of times, and he's actually here, he's a business officer, hasn't missed a NACUBO meeting, I think in 40-some years. 

[Christine] Oh wow, that is dedication. I love that.

[Rick] And everybody knows him here. He still speaks on accounting, FASB, and GASB. His name’s Jerry Farley, Dr. Jerry Farley.

[Christine] Alright, well shout out to Dr. Jerry Farley for helping develop the future of the field. 

As you’re thinking about the people that you’re hiring on your campus, what are some of the characteristics you’re hoping to find in those that you’re bringing to your team?

[Rick] Well now I increasingly look at good leaders. Can they get things done? And how am I grooming the next? I start thinking about… thinking a lot more now later in my career, thinking about planning in terms of legacy planning as well as grooming the next generation. So, the example in Texas, I ended up recruiting somebody that I said, you're going to be taking my place when I leave Rio Grande. And now he's in my position at University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.

[Christine] Very, very good. So, It’s not only thinking about what does your department need right now, but looking forward, what will in the future.

[Rick] Yeah. Who’s the future leaders and how do you recruit them now and get them ready to replace you when you do decide to move on or retire?

[Christine] We can call that the proactive pipeline, if you will, that you’re creating. That’s wonderful. Did you have any other final closing thoughts that you wanted to make sure that we leave with our listeners?

[Rick] No, I would just say a career in higher education has just allowed me to balance family and the career and it’s been a very rewarding experience for me and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

[Christine] Alright. Thank you so much Rick Anderson for being with us here on Career Conversations.

[Rick] My pleasure.

[Christine] Career Conversations is a production of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Audio engineering by Andy Nelson and TruStory FM. Music by Alon Peretz. Post-production support by Jenelle Dembsey. And I'm your host, Christine Simone. Thanks for joining this conversation. We'll see you next time.



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