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Q&A - Sheehy shares management goals for the University

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Sheehy shares management goals for the University

Colette Sheehy joined the University's workforce as a classified staff member in 1982 as a grade eight budget analyst. Today she is U.Va.'s only female vice president. As vice president for management and budget, she oversees the University's $1.2 billion-dollar budget and is responsible for some 800 employees in the six areas of the University that report to her: Procurement Services, Organizational Development and Training, the Budget Office, Facilities Management, the State Governmental Relations Office, and Human Resources.

Colette Sheehy
Stephanie Gross
Colette Sheehy

In a recent interview, Sheehy talked about how she's "grown up" professionally at U.Va., discussed the University's current and future needs and shared the goals she's set. They include operating more independently from the state in day-to-day business matters and having her employees be the "providers of choice," getting the recognition and respect they deserve for the services they provide to U.Va.

Q: Many people don't balance their own checkbooks. Yet you balance the University's, which has an annual budget of more than a billion dollars. What prepared you for handling this job?

A: I'm very detail-oriented and analytical and comfortable with numbers, and certainly my educational background in economics and finance helped. But when I think of a budget, [whether] it's a billion dollars or $100,000, the same principles apply. It's just there are more zeros at the end of the numbers in our budget. Generally I think people -- particularly in this institution -- who are directly responsible and accountable for budgets, meaning deans or department or unit heads, they're the ones who really manage the budget. We really have to rely on these managers to manage their expenses appropriately, and we are very fortunate at this institution that that occurs regularly. We have very little problem with over-budget conditions.

Q: You are the only woman vice president at the University now. What leadership qualities do you think helped get you to this level?

A: I always like to say I was in the right place at the right time. A little bit of luck. Hard work, I think. I was an entry-level budget analyst when I first started at the University. I remember I made $15,000 a year and was a grade eight. I've grown up [professionally] at the University. I've been here 18 years and pretty much have done whatever it takes. I really wouldn't ask anybody else to do something that I wasn't willing to do myself. I never pretend to have all the answers just because I'm the vice president [either].

Spreadsheet on Colette Sheehy

Education: Bucknell University, B.A. with honors in Economics, 1978; Rutgers University, MBA, 1985.

Hobbies: Cooking

Reading - I like mysteries. I read a lot of John Grisham.

Running - I used to go to the gym every day before and all the way up until the day I had Ryann. But I don't have anybody at home to watch her now. Instead, I ... put her in the jogging stroller and go for walks or runs [at home in Crozet].

Arts & Crafts - Since Ryann was born, I've gotten into scrapbooking. The pictures are piling up faster than my ability to get them in a scrapbook, though. Sheehy also wears a hand-crafted power-bead bracelet, a gift from her daughter last Christmas. "The beads are hematite, which is supposed to relieve stress."

Favorite book: Right now, my favorites are "The Going to Bed Book" by Sandra Boynton, "The Big Red Barn" and "What To Expect in the Toddler Years."

Hometown: Freehold, New Jersey

Family: 16-month-old daughter, Ryann

Awards: WFPA (U.Va.'s Women Faculty and Professional Association) Woman of Achievement Award, 1995 Alpha Chi Omega Sorority Award of Achievement, 1998

Community activities: Tutor, Literacy Volunteers of America Endowment Committee member, First Presbyterian Church

U.Va. chapter adviser, Alpha Chi Omega Sorority

Professional Affiliations: Board member, Blue Ridge Health Alliance, Inc., and QualChoice of Virginia, Inc. (1994-present)

National Association of College and University Business Officers' Council of State Senior Business Officers, vice president (1998-99) Member, WFPA

Q: How much of your time is spent dealing with management issues versus budget issues, or is it that easily separated?

A: It's not, only because whatever I deal with always seems to come down to money. It's always something having to do with resources, so the budget aspect really does permeate everything.

Q: The billion-dollar budget for the University, what portion of that is state money?

A: $752 million of it makes up the academic division, and about 21 percent of that is general funds.

Q: How do you and those who report to you make sure that services are being provided across Grounds?

A: A lot of what my folks do are daily kinds of things. We're writing payroll checks. We're mowing the grass and cleaning the buildings. We have a really good staff good managers and employees who know what needs to be done. We're always trying to assess what the needs of the University are and trying to come up with ways to address them. That isn't always easy.

Q: Describe your management style.

A: Collaborative, I guess would be the buzzword. I really do like to consult people when I make decisions, to the extent that that's possible. I think it generally fits pretty well in a university environment, which tends to be a consensus-driven type of environment.

Q: How many employees currently report to you, and how do you communicate with them?

A: I think I probably have about 800 employees; about 700 are in Facilities Management. I communicate most often directly with my managers. I rely on them to disseminate information [to employees] within their units. I meet with my eight managers individually every three weeks, then we have a staff meeting once a month, a manager's meeting once a month, and I'm in constant e-mail communication with them. I also have an open-door policy anytime anyone needs to see me. I've done open forum-type meetings for employees across the University, too, because of the areas that I have responsibility for, like Human Resources. I also visit with employee councils. Facilities Management has an employee council just within their unit, and I visit with them occasionally as well.

Q: Who in your opinion is a good leader, and why? And who has been your role model or mentor?

A: I have to say I've only worked for two organizations in the 22 years that I've been employed since graduating from college. And I've had different positions within each of the organizations, but I've pretty much had only two bosses, both of whom have been men [at U.Va., Leonard W. Sandridge]. But both have been role models and mentors to me -- given me a lot of opportunity, let me kind of be out there, be out front, take responsibility. And I think that's helped my development professionally. But then I also have to say that my mother has really been a role model, too. My parents were divorced when I was pretty young. My mother raised three children, and I think did a good job of it. She is a really independent person, and I think that's maybe where I get my independence. I've had to do a lot on my own as well, and I admire my mother for what she's done in my life.

Q: Process simplification, the term given to streamlining U.Va.'s business practices, was your idea. Can you explain how it came about, and what's happening with it now?

A: We started it in 1994. It came about because we were just coming out of budget cuts at that time. [There was] a kind of willingness at the state level to look at loosening up controls from central agencies in Richmond and giving institutions more authority over their business processes. We really felt like we needed to demonstrate that what we could do locally was better and more efficient than when they controlled it in Richmond. Process simplification is probably one of the things I am most proud of in terms of something that has come out of my organization at the University. Once the administrative part got folded into U.Va.'s Integrated Systems Project, we started an effort on the student services side, looking at processes that impact students. That's still very active. We're talking about the Bursar's Office, Student Aid, Admissions, Registrar, International Studies, Orientation.

Q: Was process simplification effective in garnering the University more autonomy?

A: I definitely think so. What I like about it in particular is the involvement of a variety of people across the institution, and the whole change in philosophy on the part of [the state's] central offices -- from "we're going to do what makes it easy for us, and if it makes it more difficult for you guys out in the departments, well, you'll have to live with it" [to] much more concern about what folks in the field think about things and about how decisions made [in Richmond] impact people in the field. So it's really been a good growth opportunity for us.

Q: What is the major management and/or budget need facing the University in the near future?

A: There are some serious issues, I think. One would be, how do we begin to operationalize the Virginia 2020 Commission reports once the comment period is over, and people begin to coalesce around certain recommendations that the president feels are worthy to move forward? All of those reports have very large resource requests associated with them. It will be a challenge to address those [needs], particularly given the effort that has been put into developing those reports. I think we made a gesture in the current fiscal year, when we were in the budget development process. We had some of the draft reports. So we had an inkling of what some of the recommendations were going to be, and rather than wait another whole year before doing anything, we did take some steps to advance some of the recommendations we thought were likely to be supported [by] allocating some additional resources in the current year.

Q: Has becoming a parent (in July of 1999) changed how you balance your work with the rest of your life?

A: It has definitely changed my life. When I was pregnant, so many people would tell me that my life was going to be so different. And I said, "yeah, yeah, I know." But I don't think you can ever really appreciate the extent to which it does [change] until you have your own child.

Q: So you're enjoying it?

A: Absolutely. I was at a point in my life where I really did need something else to center my attention on, because I do tend to be a workaholic.

Q: What was your workday like before motherhood?

A: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. many workdays, and I worked more when I got home at night. I also worked at least half the weekend. I don't do that now. I mean I can't, and I won't allow myself to. I need to leave and be home by 5:30 or shortly thereafter. When I get home, there are two or three hours before Ryann goes to bed, and it's my time to be with her. I sit down and do some work after that, but not [usually] on the weekends. And that's been refreshing. I spend much more of my time with Ryann, obviously. But I really feel at the end of the weekend that I have actually had a break from work. Before I felt like the weekend was nothing more than an extension of the work week, which isn't healthy.

Q: What would you hope to see if you were to look out onto the Grounds as the year 2020 approaches?

A: From my vantage point, in looking at the institution 20 years from now, I think in terms of the areas that I'm responsible for and what I would like them to be. Number one, I would love for us to be at the place where we managed our resources and our processes pretty independently from the state. That we'd be at the point where the state recognized that the University of Virginia has the capability to run its own operation -- still be accountable to the state and the taxpayers who provide us with some of our funding, but [operate independently] in day-to-day matters. I'd [also] love to see units like Facilities Management or Human Resources or Procurement Services be at a place where they were respected for the work they do, that if you went to anybody and said, "Who do you want to renovate your building, or who do you want to paint your office?" they would not hesitate to say, "Facilities Management, because they do the best job."


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