As UBC’s Comptroller, Karamjeet Heer is responsible for ensuring the university’s fiscal sustainability by providing financial intelligence and strategy.
A key leader within UBC’s VP Finance & Operations (VPFO) portfolio, Karamjeet oversees UBC’s budgeting and planning activities, which coordinate over $3.1B in total annual spending. She is also responsible for the delivery of financial reporting and analysis (including UBC’s annual audited financial statements) for the campus community, UBC’s Board of Governors, government, and external stakeholders. She and her team engage with Faculties and administrative units across the university to deliver financial support and guidance, and ensure alignment in UBC’s financial approach.
Building on 20 years as a senior financial leader, Karamjeet brings a service-centric philosophy and strong commitment to relationship-building. By engaging in close partnerships, she supports the development and delivery of operational excellence and financial accountability for UBC.
Q1. What quality do you most admire in a leader?
KH: A leader who can foster a culture of trust. For me trust is the foundation of everything — when there is trust, people believe in your vision and they know where you’re heading.
For example, we’ve been really focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion in our portfolio, and this is where having a culture of trust — as leaders — can be so important. Embracing diversity, encouraging people to speak up, and building a sense of comfort in my team is fundamental to my values, and all of this requires trust.
Q2. What makes you laugh?
KH: I laugh at silly things — I like spontaneous humour, and I’m very lucky to have a family that has a great sense of humour. My dad is quick and witty, and he can crack jokes at any time. Same with my kids and my husband. We have this family WhatsApp group, and every now and then I get strange memes from my kids that really apply to our family, and they just crack me up. Our ability to make fun of ourselves and enjoy it — I’m very grateful for that.
Q3. Who inspires you, and why?
KH: There is no one single person for me — but every single person that has the courage to push the boundaries for excellence, to stand up for change, and to stand up against injustice. I see so many people trying to make a difference in their own way. For example, a new immigrant making change for themselves and their family — having that courage inspires me. Kids at school taking a stand against bullying — that inspires me.
Q4. For you, what makes UBC different?
KH: I ask myself — why did I come to UBC? UBC is a home to people from over 160 countries, and we all bring a different perspective, our own uniqueness. That makes us stronger as a community together. When I worked in healthcare I came across a number of researchers that were part of UBC. One thing that was common among them was their passion for excellence and change. UBC continues to be a pioneer in research and excellence. It is a complex, vibrant organization with a wide range of operations and different entities, and so much to offer in terms of learning and growth.
Q5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned, in your career to date?
KH: There are two particular lessons that come to mind for me. The first lesson that I still admire was from one of my previous directors at Fraser Health, and it’s about the hiring of people. As humans, we tend to be attracted to people that are similar to us, and we can be drawn to hire people like us, which sometimes can be a mistake. We should search for people to join our team who are different from us, who complement our skill set, and will make us stronger as a team. I don’t want all Karamjeets sitting around my table. Different perspectives help to make better decisions.
The second lesson is one that I learned from a client. There are no shortcuts to success, and success is driven by five P’s: persistence, professionalism, patience, politeness, and passion.
Q6. How do you like to recharge?
KH: My family and I love road trips — although obviously we haven’t done this in a while because of COVID-19! But we also enjoy going out for walks or hiking as a family. Listening to music and dancing also does the trick for me.
Q7. What is the best advice you were ever given?
KH: The best advice I’ve ever been given came from my dad. The most important was, “Always believe in yourself, and there is nothing that can stop you.”
His views on the importance of education — especially for women and for their financial independence — were also really impactful on me. I learned from him that if you want to bring a change, you need to make sure you are continuously learning. I’ve never chased titles in my life — but I’ve always chased learning. The human race has so much to offer, and we can learn so much from each other. Everyone brings value, and we must respect everyone’s contributions.
Q8. What do you value in your colleagues?
KH: Working together to solve our problems, and having fun while doing it. No matter what the challenges are, I believe that if you have a team that works together you can achieve anything.
Q9. What do you hope will be your lasting impact at UBC?
KH: In my role at UBC, I consider myself a trustee. This is not my money, and I want to make sure we’re using it in the best possible way and making the best use of the resources we have. Delivering strong financial accountability and sustainability is what I’m prioritizing, and what I want my impact to be.
To support this, I am building a culture where we’re optimizing financial rigour. I want to create a safe space for my team so that we can promote operational excellence and financial accountability, where we are all working together to prioritize and manage limited resources to support the academic mission.
Another priority that will support this is extending our longer-term financial planning, which will help us build trust across the entire organization. At UBC, we have historically been focused on the annual operating plan for the university. Within the Comptroller’s sphere of activity, the connection between the university’s actual historic performance (Financial Reporting), and the University’s projected consolidated performance (Operations, Endowment, Research, Capital & Related Organizations) is critical.
Developing a long-term plan — including not just operating funds but all funds — will help us have a solid picture of the university’s financial direction several years in advance.
Q10. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
KH: As humans, I think we already have a lot of powers. Look at the progress we have made over the years. I think we can do a lot together. But if I had to pick one thing, I would like to eliminate pain and suffering around the world.
Q11. How has the implementation of Workday impacted the way in which you and your team manage budgeting and reporting at the university?
KH: We have two main work streams in the Comptroller’s team — budgeting and planning, and financial reporting. So far, Workday has provided us with more financial rigour for our financial reporting, although we still have a lot of work to do to refine our processes. Next, we’re looking forward to introducing the Budgeting and Planning module through release 2 in Workday, and we’re very excited to build on that rigour and support our long-term vision for budgeting at UBC.
Q12. What are some of your priorities over the next year that will help support the university’s mission?
KH: While introducing the Budgeting and Planning module and enhancing Financial Reporting at UBC will be a focus over the next year, we’re also continuing to monitor and manage the impact of COVID-19 on the university’s financial affairs and mitigating as necessary. That impact will be a factor for us for several years, and our financial strategy to manage it will continue to be an area of focus. We are also continuing to build our team and focusing on developing the best financial processes and practices for UBC.
Interviewed by: Annie Mullins, Communications Advisor, VP Finance & Operations (VPFO) Portfolio