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Haven Hall Business Office
(left to right) Chris Nichols, Nan Flood, Shana Wright, Julie Esch, Jeanine Tsang, Karen Wood, and Terri Gorowski
Article by: Diane Wyatt
Photograph by: Mariam Negaran
Several Chief Administrators in the social sciences were pleased to nominate the Haven Hall Business Office for an LSA Staff Spotlight Team Award for the great support their departments receive. Led by Chris Nichols, the Haven Hall Business Office staff are extremely customer service-oriented, and work hard to make finances easier for faculty and staff. One example of a great service they started and maintained over the last year is the monthly financial reports that go to all principal investigators (PIs), the primary investigator on a research project. These reports go directly to the PI’s e-mail accounts--eliminating the struggle with M-Reports. As a result, faculty are much more knowledgeable about their short codes and account balances.
The team’s customer service is also enhanced by having e-mail groups tailored to each department, so that when one staff member is out, another “picks up the ball” and continues serving the faculty. Some faculty even have remarked that they no longer mind Concur, the University’s Travel and Expense System, because the Haven Hall Business Office has provided so much understanding regarding how to submit their expense reports for quick payment. The staff and their manager are always willing to attend meetings to explain processes and answer questions, and they have oriented new faculty to financial processes and how to seek more funds for research, such as with eGif (Gateway to Internal Funding), etc.
Until recently, Chris Nichols was the manager of the Haven Hall Business Office. He has since moved to a promotional opportunity at the University’s Shared Services Center (SSC). At the time Chris assumed responsibility for Haven Hall, there was great upheaval across the University and in LSA when financial and other transactional work and staff associated with that work were moved from LSA departments to the SSC. LSA’s new Dean heard the concerns of chairs, directors, and chief administrators about gaps they saw between the work moving to Shared Services and the work staying in departments--and the implications for and impact on the remaining staff. He committed to providing more services to faculty and staff in LSA.
Chris was a critical partner in managing staff and creating new workflows to manage financial transactions. Although we are sad to see him leave LSA, many have seen the advantages of having him at the SSC as an advocate and information resource for the work we do here at LSA and in its departments. Before he left LSA, he discussed his new position in SSC.
“I recently took a new position as Accounting Manager at the Shared Services Center (SSC). I will be helping to lead the Accounting Customer Service, Statement of Activity (SOA) Reconciliation and Accounting Receivable teams. Serving as LSA's Unit Liaison to the SSC, I often came in contact with the SSC management team, and was impressed by their employee-centric culture and commitment to customer service. When the opportunity [arose] to become part of this initiative, it was a chance I couldn't pass up. I will sincerely miss my time with LSA and will always have very fond memories of the faculty, staff and students I came in contact with during my time at the College,” Chris wrote.
Chris also provided this interview, along with the Haven Hall Business Team
Do you have a typical day? Describe what it may look like.
Chris: Each day starts with taking a look at our inbox requests and working to prioritize what actions need to be completed. We place a premium on expense reimbursement requests because we aim to turn these around as quickly as possible. We also look to see if there are other time-sensitive actions involving paying suppliers and independent contractors for services rendered. The goal is always to keep the engines of University business operating as smoothly as possible.
Team: Each day is different but collectively, we:
Answer questions from faculty, staff, and students.
Process financial transactions (pay invoices, process student/guest reimbursements, approve Concur reports, submit journal entry (JE) requests, etc.).
Portfolio management - Review account activity and balances.
Research university policy on unusual requests (At least once a week we get something new and different!).
Work with faculty and students on compiling research proposals and data use agreements.
What motivates you?
Chris: Looking for ways to improve what we do each and every day. Certain efficiencies are gained when you repeat a set of sets in repetition. What is exciting, however, is taking the same steps and seeking ways we can operate smarter, faster, and with more accuracy.
Team: Meeting the needs and expectations of the departments we serve. Assisting faculty with their research objectives.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Chris: Working with individual staff members and admiring their growth as professionals. Nothing beats the satisfaction of watching a staff member meet and exceed goals they thought not to be possible.
Team: Variety! We enjoy the unique requests of each department and faculty member: From the Human Subject Incentives Program (HSIP) and research compliance questions from faculty/students who are working on research overseas to unusual purchase requests.
Who is your role model?
Chris: I've had the good fortune of working with several mentors who served as my supervisors. No two supervisors are alike and I try to glean something from everyone I've worked for and try to make it my own.
What/who makes your job easier?
Chris: I believe everyone at the University comes to work each day trying to do the best job they can. Because this is true, I feel everyone plays a part in making work easier for all of us.
Team: Great co-workers! Collaboration within our office. We also work better with food!
What short or long-term project or goal do you wish to accomplish?
Chris: In the Social Science division, we are aiming to amp up research-related services we provide to our faculty and graduate students. The goal is to make related administrative processes as smooth as possible to enable faculty to focus on the science. We also are working to ensure that we provide project-grant account management services in a more timely fashion to identify potential trends while there is still time to take appropriate action.
Julie - Complete student financial aid reconciliation for the fall term.
Shana - Continue to implement successful pilot programs with the SSC.
Jeanine and Terri - Meet the faculty and learn about their research (Jeanine joined our office in May, Terri in August.).
What parts of your job are challenging and how do you deal?
Chris: The most challenging part is to manage spikes in volume that normally come at the beginning at end of each semester. We manage by making sure we have plans in place to cover each other when team members encounter a heavy rush of requests.
Team: Answering questions we haven’t seen before - this is where collaboration comes in. We work together to share knowledge and find solutions.
Is there anything else you would like me or the readers to know about you, your job, or the Haven Hall Business Office?
Chris: LSA Finance really prides itself in providing excellent service to the units we serve. We always strive to find answers to the most difficult and obscure questions and we pride ourselves in being a resource to the College.
Team: We strive for excellent customer service, take pride in our work, and enjoy the relationships with our faculty, students, and department staff.
How do you feel about recognition for your accomplishments in the form of a Spotlight Award?
Chris: It’s truly an honor to be recognized by our internal customers for this distinguished award. I know there are so many teams deserving of recognition and I appreciate that it’s a difficult selection to make.
Team: We are honored!
What brought you to your current position?
Chris: I started at the University in 2012 working as a Chief Administrator in the Program in the Environment. About a year later, I took a Business Manager role supporting the International Institute. I then joined LSA Finance (also as a Business Manager) when the College converted to a divisional model in Oct 2015.
Jeanine - My fiancé got a job in Plymouth, so it was a cross-country move from Seattle, WA.
Shana - I started at the International Institute and transitioned with the creation of LSA Finance.
Julie - The opportunity to grow in University knowledge (I came from Student Financial Services.).
Nan - I returned to the workforce after starting as a temp.
Terri -My interest in expanding experience with research proposals.
Karen - I returned to the workforce full-time.
What are you most looking forward to in the academic year ahead?
Chris: I hope to continue to support LSA Finance's transition to providing the best in class financial and research support to our faculty, staff, and students.
Team: We look forward to expanding our support of research in the social science units and meeting the evolving needs of our departments.
What do you like to do in your time outside of work?
Chris: I most enjoy spending time with my family and dog (Zelda). I also enjoy distance running and practicing yoga. These activities help me to stay balanced both physically and mentally.
All - Spending time with family!
Nan - Travelling
Shana - Camping
Jeanine - Exploring the area
Julie - Historic dance and costuming
Terri - Reading (particularly philosophy)
Karen - Biking and cross-country skiing