Helen Yung — Get to Know UBC’s New Comptroller

A multi-faceted leader with a passion for people, Helen Yung joined UBC this month from Vancouver Coastal Health where she most recently served as Executive Director, Controller and Financial Services. With over 20 years in financial leadership roles under her belt, she brings with her an extensive roster of experience and qualifications in financial planning, budgeting, accounting, and… pharmacy?

We asked Helen to tell us more about herself, her background, and her views on leadership (and found some surprises along the way). Read on to learn more about Helen as she steps into the UBC community.

What quality do you most admire in a leader? What’s your leadership style?

I admire leaders with integrity, vision, and a heart dedicated to service.

Integrity is key for leaders to earn trust with their teams and partners, as well as respect in the organization. With trust established, a clear vision shared through leadership is crucial for the team to visualize what success looks like — and to be motivated to work together to achieve it.

Dedication to service means leading with humility and courage, and being driven by the goals of the team and the organization instead of personal goals. I admire leaders who are authentic, walk their talk, and do the right thing!

In terms of my own leadership style, over the years I’ve gravitated towards leading through influence. Influential leaders strive to encourage engagement, collaboration, and personal growth for their team members, and ultimately impact the behaviour of the people they lead. At UBC, I want to influence others to learn and grow, and to take ownership and accountability for the collective goals we are pursuing together.

What gets you excited about each work day? What excites you about working with us?

I get excited when I can make a positive impact. With over a hundred years of stories and achievements behind it, UBC continues to transform and innovate as a global center of learning and research. I am so thrilled to be part of this community, and to contribute to the academic mission of the university through my role in the VPFO.

What do you hope will be your lasting impact in the VPFO and at UBC?

“A focus on financial and environmental sustainability, both locally and globally, is critical so that we can continue to thrive in the future.”

I hope that I can build on the strong foundation of UBC’s Strategic Plan and make an impact through sustainability, people, and culture.

A focus on financial and environmental sustainability, both locally and globally, is critical so that we can continue to thrive in the future. And people and culture are central to the successful implementation of any transformational change in the VPFO, as well as the wider UBC community. As a leader in the portfolio, I want to develop people and help foster a culture to support our VPFO values and strategy.

What are your favourite qualities in a teammate?

I value teammates who are supportive, encouraging, and have an open mind. We can all use more encouragement to lift each other up — positive reinforcement works! And an open mindset creates opportunities to foster growth, acceptance, and understanding.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

In my previous role, I was able to support and sustain the turnaround from a significant deficit budget situation to a surplus — without compromising quality or service delivery. I’m very proud of what I accomplished through that challenge, and I learned that crises or pressure can truly foster resilience and innovation.

How do you like to recharge? What does a typical weekend look like for you?

Spending time in nature helps me recharge. I like to take walks so that I can literally “stop and smell the roses”! My typical weekend involves rest, both physically and spiritually, as well as spending time with family, and the inevitable chores in the house.

What is the best advice you have to give?

“Life is like an obstacle course — full of challenges. But the journey and what you learn along the way can be more important than the final destination.”

Embrace every challenge as an opportunity. Life is like an obstacle course — full of challenges. But the journey and what you learn along the way can be more important than the final destination. Looking back, I learned and grew the most during difficult times.

What is something people don’t know about you?

I studied pre-pharmacy in my first year, but I ended up being intrigued by my elective accounting course — and the rest is history! I also have a theology degree, which surprises people. Even though these disciplines are all quite different, I make good use of them in both my personal and professional lives.

What makes you laugh?

Seeing the good in people and the beauty of life gives me joy. There are little things in everyday life that make me laugh — watching sitcoms like Friends with my daughter, or seeing my niece’s dog playing with his toys and doing funny things. When I make a silly mistake I get a good laugh at myself as well.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned, in your career to date?

I have worked with numerous teams in my career, and one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is the power of collaboration.

No two people are the same, and everyone can bring something different to the table. People naturally tend to gravitate towards working with people who are similar to themselves. But it’s incredibly valuable to have new perspectives added to the conversation, and to create a respectful space for nonconforming ideas to be raised by others. That’s the kind of environment that helps team members bring out the best in each other, and achieve growth for themselves and for the organization.