At the beginning of the year, the University of Indianapolis hired seasoned executive Michael Holstein to become its new vice president and chief financial officer.
According to Executive Vice President and Provost Deborah Balogh, the search started near the beginning of the fall semester when Michael Braughton, former vice president for business and finance and treasurer, announced that he would be retiring.
Balogh said that the university received several hundred applications for the position. Before the applications made it to the president’s cabinet, a screening committee narrowed the pool down to the candidates who met the minimum requirements. After paring it down even further, the cabinet met with almost a dozen candidates and then whittled the number down to six.
Balogh said that the cabinet sought candidates with experience doing monthly financial reports, annual audits, investment strategies, financial modeling and presenting information to executive boards. She said that the cabinet also wanted a leader who had a track record of adapting to changes in their respective field.
“The candidates that we viewed as acceptable for the position had that constellation of features that we were looking for,” she said. “We had a lot of candidates that had one or two of those, but we had relatively few candidates that had all of them to some degree. And it’s certainly the case that Michael [Holstein] stood out from that perspective. It’s never one thing; it’s the whole package.”
From there, Balogh said, the cabinet gave President Robert Manuel a few recommendations, so he could speak with those candidates again and make the final decision.
Holstein studied at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, earning his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After graduating, he worked for 30 years in the electric industry.
“I worked for Public Service Company in New Mexico for a little over two and a half years. And from there, I went to Houston Lighting and Power in Houston, Texas. That’s a much bigger utility, probably about 10 times as big,” he said. “And from there, I went to a small company in Atlanta, Georgia, called Energy Management Associates, and that was a great place to be.”
After EMA, a company of 300, was bought out by a company of 70,000, Holstein stayed on a few years then left to work for Deloitte and Touche as a consultant.
In 1995, Holstein made his way to the Hoosier state to work for Indianapolis Power and Light Co. He stayed there until the company was bought by AES. He then took a CFO position at Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc.
Although he has spent his career in the corporate world, Holstein said that moving into the world of academia will not be much of a change. According to Holstein, the goal remains the same, even if some of the terms on the balance sheet are different.
“At the end of the day—from a financial management perspective, from just a business perspective—there’s an awful lot of similarities,” he said. “What you’re trying to do is figure out how to provide the greatest amount of value for the least amount of cost.”
Balogh said that students and faculty members probably will not notice any difference in how the university works. However, she said that the CFO shows them the financial upside and downside of each decision, which is why the cabinet wanted someone with experience in financial modeling and forecasting.
“The president’s cabinet always has choices about which directions could be taken, and each one of those directions will have a different financial impact,” she said. “And so the CFO is uniquely positioned to give us the kind of business intelligence, financial intelligence, to discern which choice is the best at that time.”
Holstein said that one of the things he is excited about is Vision 2030, the university’s strategic planning and visioning campaign. According to Holstein, it creates an opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the university, as well as the local community.
He is currently running simulations and scenarios, preparing to present a five-year financial plan at the board of trustees meeting on Feb. 14. This will be the first concrete, operating plan to come out of the Vision 2030 input. It will include revenues, expenses, tuition rates and capitol projects for the next five years, as well as the metrics used to measure outcomes.
Balogh said that having a plan on paper is very important, because it proves that the ideas that came from Vision 2030 are achievable.
“We’re excited because once you have that financial plan articulated, that’s basically your road map for the concepts and the ideas that came out of the Vision 2030 process,” she said. “So getting that plan in place is evidence that we’re moving on those ideas that emerged from the many campus conversations.”
Although Holstein is still getting acclimated to the campus, he said that in the future he would like to run the numbers not only in spreadsheets and reports but in a grade book.
“From a professional point of view, really it [my responsibility] is how can you get the biggest bang for your buck,” he said. “… And from a personal point of view, I think it might be nice at some point in time to teach a class or two in the business school—but not right now.”