[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 nacubo.org.
[Christine] Welcome back to Career Conversations! I’m joined today by Angie Kraetsch, associate vice president for financial services at California Polytechnic State University, also known as Cal Poly. I’m your host, Christine Simone, NACUBO’s director of leadership development. Thank you so much for joining us, Angie.
[Angie] Thanks for having me.
[Christine] So, Angie, tell me a little bit about how you ended up in your current role and at Cal Poly. What’s your career path been like so far?
[Angie] Sure. It's been a little different than most because I actually started my career in city government. I started as a staff accountant for the City of Lompoc in California. And then moved up within four years, moved up to director of finance at a different city, City of Arroyo Grande, and then moved up to the Bay Area. So, I've actually worked for four different cities and I was working for the city of Santa Clara as their director of finance and treasurer for their stadium authority, which people find of interest. It's the 49ers’ Levi Stadium. So that was very interesting time and my husband's job was being relocated to the Central Coast, and I just happened to see the job application for this role and it really excited me. And at first I was like, well, I've never done higher ed. I don't know if I should apply.
I've only done city government for 20 years. And the more I read it, I thought I can do this. This is what I've always wanted to do. And I will say my husband and my daughter both graduated from Cal Poly, and so there's just a sense of pride that people that graduate or even work at Cal Poly, if you meet somebody, they just have this sense of pride and I'm like, I really want to be part of that. And so, I applied and was lucky enough to get the position. And here I am now as the associate vice president for financial services. So, I oversee our university budget, fiscal planning and accounting and reporting, the cashier's office, our student accounts, which is the bursar's office at some universities, and payroll. So, it's been very, very interesting and fun at the same time.
[Christine] That’s great. You often hear people say that running a university is very similar to running a small city or, in some cases, even a large city for some campuses. What are some of the similarities or differences that you see seeing as you have so much background in the city world first?
[Angie] Yeah, I am working for the California State University, so we're one of 23 campuses. So, on a city level, I think that I felt probably more like I was at the CSU level. We prepared the financial statements, we did all the reporting. Here being one of 23, we submit all of our financials to our chancellor's office and then they compile together. So that was a big change for me. So, I almost felt like as a campus, I was a department at a city level because that's kind of how it was there.
Similarities were that our reporting’s very similar. We report to the state, we have federal reporting, so those types of things are the same. Payroll cashiering is very similar to on the city level. I was over the utility side, so utility billing, so that is similar. So, there are a lot of, in my role, there's a lot of similarities.
[Christine] What were maybe some of your first impressions when you got to higher ed? Anything that surprised or delighted or challenged you about that switch?
[Angie] Sure. What surprised me was I knew it was going to be different working in higher education compared to a city level. I wasn't aware how different it would be when I was around the students. I was surprised by the energy that they bring to the work. It's so fun focusing on student success and knowing that these young people are future leaders. I'll give you an example.
When I first started, I met with ASI leadership and one of the young gentlemen told me that his goal was to be on a city council. And I was like, wow, he's so young. I've worked with city councils for 20 years and they're usually pretty seasoned professionals. And I was like, he was so young, I just wasn't sure if that was possible. And I connected with him on LinkedIn. He's a council member, and so it's only been a couple of years and I don't know exactly when he was elected, but I was like, that is such a sense of pride that we are able to shape these young people to go out and be these leaders.
[Christine] I love that example. I love that. The student facing component is so, so important to the core mission of what it is you're doing on a campus.
[Christine] If you could maybe go back and tell yourself a bit of wisdom earlier in your career… I think when you probably started out in city, you probably weren't seeing yourself where you are now. What's maybe a piece of wisdom earlier in your career you would've given yourself?
[Angie] Well, I think I'll state that… I'll put that towards higher education because I didn't have the easiest transition to higher education. I started five months before the pandemic hit, and so I didn't have that time to really learn my role and even connect with people. So going virtual in March of 2020, I didn't even know who to reach out to if I had a question.
And I think I was really hard on myself because I worked for city government for 20 something years. I knew it in and out. So, I really started questioning why is it taking so long? Why is it so hard? And the pandemic was a hard time for everybody in general, just being the isolation. But to be a new person, learning a new career, it was hard.
I would go into meetings and not know who they were. I didn't know what a provost was. I was still learning, right. I didn't know how the cabinet was established and people didn't know me. I'd go into meetings... And so, I think looking back, I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself. Don't stress so much because it really caused me to have a lot of angst because I was so worried about not learning it all. And I would tell myself, you're going to get it. You've got this. Take your time.
I know my boss told me, Angie, I feel so sorry for you because you didn't even get to enjoy being on a campus. I didn't get to attend any events, sporting events and just recognition events, things like that. I wasn't part of that. So, I didn't get that fun aspect. And it probably took two years, I think, before we really came. And California was really restrictive on the COVID rules. And so, it took us about two years. We're still coming back in a lot of ways. We still have a lot of staff that are remote. Our IT department's completely remote. So yeah, I think that's what I would probably say is it's going to work out. You’ve got this.
[Christine] That’s great. What are some of the things that you did to eventually acclimate?
[Angie] I really leaned on my team a lot and I am hopeful that they never said that they resented it in any way. But Zoom chat is amazing because if I didn't understand something, if they were in that meeting… and I did bring them into a lot of my meetings because I needed their help to just tell me what's the history. I didn't even have anybody to ask what the history on this. And we were paper files. So, it was a lot of, I couldn't go online and really look at what people had before me, how they had done a fee committee.
I mean, I think that's probably the biggest thing I did was really lean on my team and my leadership team also to ask them questions. Who do I go to? I have this question, how do I ask this? And during that time, we also had huge budget cuts and I had to be one of the faces that went in front of all the VPs to say, we've got to cut the budget and go through and help them. And that was difficult time for me. So that was my introduction to a lot of the vice presidents at the university is to take money away. So that's hard, right?
[Christine] Right and that’s a hard expectation to overcome as well. Tough introduction, but also just difficult conversations to have, especially at that time.
[Angie] Right. It's not like you could take someone to lunch to get to know them before you have these and start prepping for these conversations. I just didn't have that opportunity.
[Christine] So, you said you relied a lot on members of your team. What are some of the things that you look to do coming to a new position when either mentoring or supervising? What are some of the traits that you really leaned on to help you develop that rapport?
[Angie] Yeah. I consider myself what I would call a very approachable leader. And so, I have a lot of empathy and listening skills that I think I let them really come to me and talk to me. And then I would ask the questions and I would bring them in on and make them feel part of the decision because I was not the subject matter expert. I love doing the details, but your teams are who actually are doing the hands-on. Right?
I love that. As I worked my way up, I love knowing from the… I'm very much a puzzle person, so I love accounting. That's why I went into accounting. But I realized early on that I can't be that detail person. I have to be the person that's leading and pushing. And so, I did lean on them, my staff and my leadership team, to actually help me.
And by the time I came back, I feel so much stronger now. I can make those decisions, right. And I feel like they respect me. And I think that we all, during Covid, I probably built stronger bonds than maybe if we were in person just because I had to reach out to them so much. And so, we met probably more than we do today because I have weekly or biweekly meetings with my staff, but I probably was talking to them every day during Covid. And so, I think that really built, we are a very strong team now.
[Christine] So, I think I’m hearing you say that you are back on campus now?
[Angie] Yes, we are fully back on campus. We do have some remote schedules. Like today I'm working from home. Our senior leadership can work one day from home, and then our staff is two days from home and the administration of finance area, or at least in our area. And so, it's just up to the manager on how they would like to have their team set up. So, it's worked out good.
[Christine] So, Angie, you talked about some of the transitions that you’ve experienced in your role. How are some ways that you continue to engage to grow professionally?
[Angie] I attend various conferences. We have the Auxiliary Organization Association, which is AOA. We have a CSU business conference where I meet a lot of my peers in the CSU system. Obviously, NACUBO is a great way for professional development. And then I also have my regional college and university business officers group, which is WACUBO.
I'm also a licensed CPA in California, so I have to participate in 80 hours of continuing education. So, I do a lot of those through NACUBO. That has been a great asset for me to be able to stay on top of things in higher ed, but also reach those requirements.
And then I also actually have my own training for my own team. So, I just recently had my first off campus retreat for my staff, and I actually learned a lot during that. Not only about leadership, but about my team.
Going back to Covid, I didn't get to interact with my team very much. I had two direct reports, but there are several managers and associate directors and assistant directors that work for me, too. And so, I wanted to bring them all together and have some type of leadership training because they're all wanting to grow. And I actually had our HR recruiter come and talk to them about how can you prepare for that next step? What are things that we can do, update your LinkedIn, look at the… practice. One of the things she kept saying is, practice, practice, practice. And as a lot of people want to stay at Cal Poly, so how can you be able to do that being the internal candidate? And I wanted her to tell them how hard it is and don't just assume everybody in the room knows who you are. So, even when you are the one putting on the training, you're learning. So, it was really fun.
[Christine] Angie, I love that it's really a testament to your ability to continue to grow as a leader as you're shaping others. Tell me a little bit about who are some of the people who've been influential to you as a mentor?
[Angie] Well, two come to mind, and one was when I was very early on in my career. I actually had not went back to college at that time. And the CEO of, I worked at a small credit union, and the CEO there was just so approachable and so kind and fun. And she really took me sort of under her wing and encouraged me to go back to college and to get my degree. And she was a certified public accountant, so I was like, okay, I'm so impressed by this lady, this executive that I want to be like her. And I really wanted to do that. And that pushed me to go back to school. And I will say I'm a first gen student and I'm also a non-traditional student. I already had a family and I was going to school at nights and weekends and working full time with two children.
And I paid for my school through financial aid and scholarships. So, I understand a lot of what the students today are going through. I have that empathy for them. So, that's what really pushed me. I graduated at the top of my class and it just has shaped my career from that day forward.
Another one was my city manager at a Arroyo Grande because he took a chance on me. I will tell you, I was so green. I had been a staff accountant and I had worked my way up pretty quickly to accounting manager, but he actually took a chance on me and hired me as the director. And I was probably, I know I was the youngest finance director in that area, but I think at the time I was the youngest finance director in the state. And I would go to conferences and I felt like the kid in the room.
And he really took the time to help me grow. I mean, he was always there. I could go into his office and he would say he was right on my side and would help me. And I just really, really appreciate that. I know I wouldn't be here today in higher ed if it weren't for those two people.
And then I can't say enough about Lynn Schafer with NACUBO because I was in the NACUBO Fellows program last year and she has been such a great mentor for me. Anytime I need to reach out to her, and even just throughout the program, she's just so encouraging and approachable and that's been a great opportunity to get to know her.
[Christine] I love hearing that story. So many different ways that different people are able to have an impact.
[Christine] So now that you've had some time to do some reflection, what is it that you hope you would leave our listeners with? What's a big takeaway that you want to make sure that when they hear you speak and hear your story, that that's what they've grasped or learned from it?
[Angie] I think I would like, there's two things I would say, try to be an approachable leader. Try to have empathy for your staff. We're not where we are on our own. Our staff are the ones that hold us up.
I would say also try to always get to yes. I learned that in the NACUBO program and I thought that was such great advice. It may not be my yes, it may not be the other person’s yes, but let's get to yes. And I've messaged that to my team because they're… in higher ed it seems there's always, oh, they that, oh, faculty or oh, student affairs. And we're all one campus. So, I try to say, we're all on campus. Let's get to a yes that works for everybody and just have fun. I mean, work is hard. And if you have fun, I think your team will have fun and they'll enjoy their job more. So those are probably the… I said two, I gave you three.
[Christine] *laughs* They’re great takeaways though, Angie. Thank you so much for being on Career Conversations with us.
[Angie] Thank you.