B.C.—Before COVID

February 17th was my first day at Kennesaw State University (KSU) as the Vice President for Finance/CFO.  That date was B.C. – Before COVID.  I was up for the challenge of a position at a large, public university on a significant growth curve.  I was even prepared for the additional challenge of the Controller position being open at the time and filling it being a first and top priority.  But to say I was prepared to take it all on in the middle of a pandemic – no.

Even before my official start date, I worked with KSU to finalize the position description for the Controller and get it posted so we could run it as an expedited search.  We selected our candidate in early March when COVID was still a virus with unknown impacts and negotiated a start date of mid-April.  By that date, of course, COVID was in full-effect and KSU had moved all students off campus and told all employees to telework.  I had to rethink my on-boarding plan for the Controller.

The first step I took was to have a frank discussion with the new Controller to ensure that he was up for the challenge of coming into the position under these circumstances.  Much to my relief, he was and was actually quite enthusiastic to do so.

Wanting to do all we could to set him up to be successful even in a remote environment, I engaged the entire Controller’s team to help us design an on-boarding process that could be done effectively without face-to-face interaction.  We started by analyzing all relevant duties, responsibilities, critical tasks and relationships and pairing those with prior training tools and our subject matter experts.  Our subject matter experts included a combination of current internal staff and university system personnel.  We were also fortunate to have a prior University Controller who was willing and able to assist in the on-boarding activities.

We asked our internal staff to review all current materials and to ensure that our online library of these materials was complete and up-to-date.  For each of the relevant duties, the team built a training plan including online materials and remote calendared sessions with the matched appropriate personnel.  These remote meetings were regular and on-going with our internal folks, as well as others on campus but outside the Controller’s organization, with whom we needed the Controller to establish relationships.

I asked each of the folks included in the process to update me as to the progress and also established regular check-ins with the new Controller to feel that he was getting the training, access and tools needed in order to do his job effectively.

As we begin to bring folks back to campus (as of this writing), I am able to begin having more direct interactions with the Controller and to assess his progress.  I am pleased to say he is doing quite well and his team is also giving him excellent grades.  Our planning seems to be paying off.

Aaron Howell

Vice President for Finance, Kennesaw State University

Aaron Howell is a seasoned professional in higher education having served 3 different institutions in his nearly 25-years in the industry.  Aaron currently serves as the Vice President for Finance/CFO at Kennesaw State University (KSU) in the northern-Atlanta area of Georgia, responsible for all financial operations and reporting for KSU which has all all-fund budget of ~$600M and which serves ~38K students.  Prior to his time at KSU, Aaron was Vice President for Business & Finance/CFO at Averett University, a small, private institution in southern Virginia.  At Averett, Aaron was responsible for all non-academic operations of the University.  Aaron spent nearly 20 years at Oregon State University (OSU) rising to the position of Assistant Vice President/Controller and being responsible for the financial administrative operations for the $1.3B entity serving ~35K students.  OSU is one of the very few institutions in the U.S. holding the combined designations of Land-Grant, Sea-Grand, Space-Grant and Sun-Grant.  Aaron has an Bachelor's and MBA from Oregon State and is a Certified Public Accountant in both Oregon and Georgia.