Finance team photo

The Michigan Ross Finance Team Works Behind the Scenes to Fund Day-to-Day Operations and Support Innovation

The Michigan Ross Finance Office is a collaborative and cohesive team of nine individuals who work together behind the scenes to provide financial guidance to every unit at Michigan Ross. Lead by Sean O’Neil, CFO, and Annie Atkinson, director of finance, the team is composed of portfolio managers who act as the main point of contact for the units they support, as well as financial specialists who perform technical tasks, including accounting and creating budget reports.

A Partner to All Ross Units

All in all, the finance team works as a partner to other Michigan Ross units by helping each individual team create a budget, understand what they can do within their budget, and guide them through various financial processes such as procurement.

“A lot of what we do is provide structure and ensure control around our finances at Ross,” said O’Neil. We also support new and innovative projects that the school wants to do by considering how we can afford to do those things and how we can ensure we comply with all the relevant policies and regulations.”

According to O’Neil and Atkinson, helping to make new projects or initiatives happen is one of the most exciting aspects of the job.

“Any cool thing you can think of or any new innovation that’s happening in our programs – we’ve typically been a part of that by helping to think through how much it will cost and how we can sustain funding it,” said O’Neil. “When we get to do new things and help units do new things, that’s really the most exciting part for all of us.”

Collaborating and Balancing the Budget

Budgeting for everyday expenses and planning for new and innovative projects isn’t without its challenges. Because the University of Michigan is a non-profit, governmental entity, financial systems are in place to ensure accountability and help the public understand the purpose of the money coming into the university and how it is being used. For this reason, Michigan Ross has over a thousand gift funds that specify how different allotments of money can be used. These could be for student scholarships, centers and institutes, alum initiatives, or the more general annual fund. 

Part of the finance team’s role is to translate the financial information of these funds into something actionable and understandable for leadership to make informed decisions. Sometimes, that can be challenging, so the finance team often seeks guidance from U-M Financial Operations, a centralized unit, and other finance offices across the university.

“We’re known for being very collaborative with our central partners, and I’m proud of that reputation we’ve built on campus,” said O’Neil. “We’re always proactive, reaching out with questions and bringing teams together to help think things through early on. Even if we just have an idea or we’re brainstorming, we’ll engage our central colleagues.”

Building a Better World Through Finance

From a day-to-day perspective, O’Neil says that the school’s finances are relatively boring – but that is because he and his team work hard to plan a financial strategy and manage risk. That way, they can allocate resources to support the school as best as possible. 

“Working towards the school’s mission of building a better world through business takes resources, and we have limited resources,” said O’Neil. “So, the better we can be at planning and deploying those resources is how we support the mission of the school. There should be no surprises, no issues, so the school can focus on its mission and not be distracted by financial challenges.”

O’Neil and Atkinson also stressed that the finance team does its job best when there is two-way communication with the other units at Michigan Ross.

“I think it’s important for people to know we’re always fielding questions,” said Atkinson. “If someone doesn’t know how to do something financially or if it’s okay to do something, please ask us. We love to answer questions, and it’s always easier to help the sooner we are brought in.”

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