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Cultivating Leadership

October 2014


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Succession Planning Necessities

Sessions in this track were designed to help business officers learn how to foster an environment that promotes high performance on personal, professional, and organizational levels.

Next in Line

Several concurrent sessions focused on the need for institutions to engage in more concerted succession planning efforts. In “CBO Retirements Ahead: Are We Ready?” Mary Lou Merkt, vice president for finance and administration, Furman University, Greenville, S.C., argued that to build a better CBO pipeline, leaders must be open to looking to some nontraditional candidates for their replacements—both inside and outside the institution. 

Internally, don’t overlook your budget officers, facilities directors, IT officers, HR directors, auxiliary services managers, enrollment managers, and admissions directors, suggested Merkt. These are all potential contenders if they can learn the financial part of the job. In part this is because the role of the CBO has evolved and expanded in recent years. Collaboration and communication with diverse constituencies across campus are increasingly critical requirements of the job, she noted.

In “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Succession Planning?” Mark Saine, TIAA-CREF senior director of executive and leadership development, echoed Merkt’s assessment that leaders must broaden their perspective on talent development within the institution. Creating a successful succession plan requires (1) identifying key roles and requirements, (2) surveying the campus landscape to identify rising stars, (3) identifying the competencies these individuals still need to acquire, (4) assessing candidates and considering their professional longevity, and (5) building development plans to align people and skills. 

When looking for potential successors, leaders must consider not only requisite skills and abilities but also personal engagement, aspiration, and integrity, said Saine. The difficult job of succession planning is only exacerbated by the fact that many institutions don’t have strong performance management and talent development systems in place, he noted. Yet, when pressed, most senior leaders can identify their top-three list of internal candidates they would consider. Saine suggested taking action to begin shepherding these individuals through the system—or laying the groundwork for a system if one isn’t yet in place. 

A Tale of Two Roles

A recently formed task force, composed of chief business officers (CBOs) and chief human resources officers (CHROs), has been established to examine how these two leadership roles can work together to address the challenges of tight financial resources, employee engagement, and an aging workforce. NACUBO’s president and CEO John Walda announced the task force in introducing the session, “Collaborating With Human Resources: Future Challenges and Opportunities,” after which a panel explored practical steps for partnership.

Panelist Mark Coldren, associate vice president for human resources, Ithaca College, noted that depending on reporting structures, it is not unusual for interface with leadership to be characterized by the CHRO being summoned, then dismissed. Chris Byrd, vice president for human resources at the University of South Carolina, urged human resources staff to glean perspective from those interactions and view them as strategic opportunities. 

Coldren agreed, stating that HR staff leaders should learn how to anticipate needs and take the time to understand cost factors, actions that demonstrate their value as strategic partners. He suggested that succession planning for CBOs is an area where business officers can coordinate with HR, working together to develop a list of core competencies. 

Mike Mayher, senior vice president, administrative services and treasurer at Lakeland Community College, Kirtland, Ohio, emphasized identifying the strengths and management style of his HR colleagues to help him understand how best to combine their efforts toward achieving organizational goals. Gavin Leach, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer at Northern Michigan University, offered strategic planning as the ideal backdrop for teaming with HR—using the CHRO’s expertise and “intel” to help realign the institution to meet future needs.  

Both Leach and Mayher acknowledged that not only is it the CBO’s job to be adept at explaining the institution’s financial picture to the president and board, but especially to take time to do so with CHROs, who are key to addressing the institution’s needs.  

Transition at the Top

In the session, “Surviving and Thriving During Presidential Transitions,” the panelists delivered key messages around the role of the business office, anticipating expenses associated with the transition, and tending to both the incoming and outgoing presidents. Panelists included Karen Goldstein of Witt/Kieffer; Ed Kania of Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.; and Mary Lou Merkt of Furman University, Greenville, S.C.

Among the more significant expenses to anticipate, such as inauguration costs and funds for special projects during the initial phase of a new president’s term, are repairs and upgrades for the president’s residence. Based on the speakers’ experience, repairs and upgrades are best handled prior to the appointment and move-in of a new president.

Working out the details for a president’s spouse or partner is critical. If spouses or partners aren’t made to feel welcome and comfortable, Merkt commented, the presidential relationship can be very troubled. A president without a spouse or partner can also present issues, such as the need for a house manager or assistants for entertaining.

A recording of the full session is available at until Feb. 1, 2015. See Distance Learning, virtual workshops and conferences, 2014 NACUBO Annual Meeting.