New Chief Financial Officer: ‘Our Primary Goal is to Support the AUC Community’

For Gordon Handke, the newly appointed associate vice president for finance and chief financial officer (CFO), the finance area’s key mission is to support the AUC community. “We’re here to support students, faculty and staff,” he said. “It falls upon us to have our processes and systems in place to allocate resources effectively to support teaching, learning, research and service.”

To achieve this goal, Handke will focus on three main pillars –– people, processes and technology –– which will necessitate a collective effort from all members of the AUC community. “Collaboration is essential. I am looking to place that as the priority,” Handke affirmed, adding that the CFO position in organizations now expands beyond the past traditional duties.

“It’s no longer just stewardship over the institution’s financial health,” he explained. “The CFO is now charged with the responsibility of aligning the University’s resources with its strategic objectives. So one needs to balance short-term accountabilities, such as managing budgets and cash flow, with the long-term vision of the University. A CFO needs to engage with academics, students, staff, trustees, auditors, bankers and others to facilitate a full understanding of perspectives in ensuring the well-being, and effective alignment, of AUC’s finances.”

People and Processes

As is stated in AUC’s current strategic plan the University’s main priorities are internationalization, quality of education, the AUC experience, institutional effectiveness and innovation.

To realize these objectives, “communication is key,” Handke asserted. “Our aim is to deliver crucial information to facilitate discussion and decision making. We need to be able to cascade the University’s strategic objectives from the senior levels to the unit levels.”

Having started with providing a preliminary overview of the budget and financial planning process to academic department chairs, Handke is looking forward to holding regular meetings with finance managers, as well as the leadership and support staff in academic and administrative departments and units. “We need to engage with them collaboratively not only on what our expectations are in the central budget office, but to understand and hear from them about the challenges they are facing within their respective budget units. We are seeking ‘first to understand, then to be understood.’”

Setting the tone for operational excellence to motivate staff, modeling ethical behavior and ensuring full disclosure of information are also among Handke’s primary goals. In terms of operation, Handke noted that the University is currently reviewing its current business processes against global best practices.

Technology and Innovation

Viewing technology as a driver of innovation, Handke is collaborating with Hanan Abdel Meguid, the new vice president for digital innovation, on creating a roadmap that will convey where the current systems stand, what the optimal systems should be and how best to achieve this within a given time frame. “We need to have data-driven, decision-making systems and processes in place. ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,’” Handke stated.

He is also working with the IT office to determine how best to utilize the potential of existing technology and with the Office of Data Analytics and Institutional Research –– which is currently developing dashboards, reporting tools and key performance indicators –– to assist with data-driven operations. “When we’re looking at our information systems, we ask, ‘What data do we require to help us make the best decisions?’ With that as a target, we are driven to deliver and design systems that will support and enhance our business processes as well as facilitate data-driven decision making, all leading to organizational innovation and excellence.”

Egypt: A Warm Welcome

Handke’s excitement about living in Egypt and serving AUC comes after substantial experience in the finance field, where he started working in Canadian educational institutions more than 25 years ago. In the late 1990s, he moved to the United Arab Emirates to work at The Higher Colleges of Technology, Khalifa University and New York University Abu Dhabi, followed by a recent post at Athabasca University in Canada before a return to the Middle East. With his knowledge and practice with institutions that foster diversity, he believes that a multicultural environment gives a finance professional “better insight and understanding of common and unique challenges that individuals and nations face.”

After 17 years of working in the Middle East, Handke chose AUC for its inclusive setting, which he believes perfectly nurtures the University’s goals of diversity, global impact and exposure. Focusing on people as a strong institutional asset, Handke is optimistic about the dedication and commitment of the AUC community. “We have great people within our different departments and offices,” he said. “I look forward to collaborating with them to review our current systems and processes and develop a roadmap for improvement.”

Handke is also looking forward to living and traveling across Egypt, and so far, has had the chance to visit the Pyramids and AUC Tahrir Square’s historical buildings. “My wife and I want to take it all in," he said. "People are really friendly, accommodating and warm. It’s a very welcoming environment."