Q&A with Interim Vice President for Finance and Planning Greg Alt
Early this year Illinois State President Timothy J. Flanagan named Greg Alt, associate vice president and comptroller, as the Division of Finance and Planning’s interim vice president through June 2015.
Alt succeeds Daniel Layzell, who is now the vice president for finance and administration at Louisiana State University. Along with Alt, the division’s leadership team includes:
- Senior Associate Vice President for Planning, Finance, and Facilities Deb Smitley
- Assistant Vice President, Human Resources, Tammy Carlson
- Assistant Vice President for Administrative Technologies Matthew Helm
- Director of Budget Planning and Operations Sandra Cavi
Alt leads a division of approximately 700 employees who support Illinois State University in a broad range of administrative leadership and services.
We recently asked Alt some questions about himself, his career, and his new position.
Detail your career and how it influences your leadership style.
It started with graduating from Illinois State University back in 1981. Armed with my accounting degree and CPA certification, I set off for fame and fortune working for KPMG in Denver, which at the time was one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms. Those firms have long since been consolidated down to what is now known as the “Big Four,” which unfortunately dates me.
But after some years of that, it became apparent I preferred something with a better work/family balance. So more by coincidence than planning, I fell into higher education with a small private college in southwest Missouri where the president at that time knew me from the small Central Illinois town from where we both were raised. After a few years of that, I decided I enjoyed the challenge and variety that came with higher education financial management and decided to make it a career.
I returned to Central Illinois for family reasons and to enhance my credentials with a graduate degree, starting at the University of Illinois and then finishing and working at Illinois State. It was not my intention to spend the majority of my career here at Illinois State, but by that time my wife and two daughters were happily planted, and I enjoyed working at the University. Here I am 24 years later.
As to leadership style, I think that approach is gradually molded by an accumulation of all one’s work experiences, even back to my very first job as a 6-year-old delivering mail every day to a widow lady in our town for 50 cents a week. You observe what you appreciate and don’t appreciate and try to pattern after that.
In my case, I think I was influenced as much by those work experiences before my professional career as during it. Having worked at many different levels within a company or organization, I admired leadership that appreciated and engaged people at all levels of responsibility. I also noticed that the most successful leadership was rooted more in relationships than authority.
What are some of the strengths in the Division of Finance and Planning, and what are some things you think you can help improve?
There are of plenty of strengths, but to highlight a few:
1. Quality people: Our division benefits from having great people—dedicated, talented, and with many years of experience. With almost two-thirds of annual University expenditures on personnel, it’s the quality of our people that has made us successful.
2. Service oriented: The division clearly understands its role to support the academic mission of the University. Other areas of the campus appreciate the benefit of the services we provide. Of course, there are times we fall short in meeting some expectations, but those are far outweighed by those times we do, such as dealing with the challenges of this winter and the many staff members who endured long hours and the harsh weather to ensure the safety and accessibility of the campus.
3. Collaborative: In my 24 years at ISU, I don’t recall a time of more collaboration between divisions.
4. Prudently managed: Our division has played a key role in enabling the University to progress even during difficult economic times. One of the University’s strengths—cited by credit rating agencies and even commented by the state’s auditor general—is that it is well managed.
I hope to continue to focus and further develop on those strengths.
Your interim period goes until mid-2015. What are your goals during that time?
That time will pass very quickly. I am a believer in not trying to fix things that are not broken. There continue to be plenty of challenges, but Illinois State is on a good path and has made great progress the last several years. I hope to help keep that momentum going.
We are still in a time of economic challenge within the state, so I will continue to focus on those strategies that helped us successfully navigate through the past several years. Everyone is aware of the challenges presented by the new pension reforms. We will adapt and continue to recruit and retain good people by maintaining an environment at Illinois State as a good place to be a part of.