By Вen Li
Less than two weeks into the job, Vice-President of Finance and Services Phyllis Heaphy is already putting in long days in her sparsely decorated office. Heaphy didn’t begin her career in finance. Her first degree was in English Literature, earned at McGill University in 1970. Her second came in Finance nearly a decade later.
"Those were very difficult times," she recalls. "Being part of the baby-boom generation, it was difficult for us to find jobs in the [English Literature] field at that time. I decided to change my career when advice was given to me that chartered accountants were in demand."
Heaphy earned a CA designation in 1983 and after 16 years at professional services firm Deloitte and Touche–seven of those as a Partner–she returned to McGill and became Vice-Principal of Administration and Finance in 1995. In 1999, she tried the post of Vice-President Finanace and Chief Financial Officer for the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, but wanted to return to a university environment.
"What you need to know about me is that I really loved my experience at McGill. It was with a great deal with excitement that I applied for this [U of C] position because of the opportunity to return to a university environment. I really enjoy the diversity, especially in a research university. The excitement level was very high."
As much as the university chose her for the position, she chose Calgary for its environment.
"For me, the attraction about the University of Calgary and Calgary itself is the tremendous amount of vitality I see here. It came out in the literature sent to me in preparation for applying for the position."
The excitement Heaphy saw was only exceeded by her own.
"Usually, the days are very long, but the way I value what a university does makes the hard work easy," she explained. "I like to meet and talk to as many people as possible. I spent at least seven hours a day in meetings and gatherings with people and preparing for meetings by reading materials.
"I often joke that the concept of the one-page memo is not in acceptance at universities. Many of us take a lot of reading home. It’s not just for students, but for administrators too, and I think rightly so."
Heaphy says her English Literature skills help her explain complicated financial matters in interesting ways. Those explanatory skills will become particularly important since she joined the university at a time of great change.
"My top priority is to spend the next three months immersing myself in the issues and determining where energy is to be focused. It’s very important for people like myself to not come in with preconceived ideas."
In addition to finding funding for the broad changes the university will undergo in the next few years, Heaphy also handles the standard university fare. Her responsibilities include campus infrastructure, human resources, parking, university businesses such as the bookstore, residences and food services and handling a $350 million annual university budget with a $6 million shortfall this year.
"Basically what we do is support both students and faculty in every aspect of their lives on campus and we need to make sure that we provide the best possible service," she explained. "A big part of what I do is assist in the planning process and how we use funds entrusted to us in any given year. Budgeting is a very lengthy and vigorous process."
Despite the countless challenges to come, Heaphy looks forward to working with a diverse university community focused on research.
"I am very enthusiastic about our mission, what we do and how we enrich our lives and those of the people in the community. I find the position very exciting every day. I hope that will come through as people interact with me."