The VPFO’s portfolio finance team is evolving to help us perform and grow

When we talk about finance at UBC, we often think about the VP Finance & Operations (VPFO) team leading the university’s $3.65 billion consolidated budget process. However, what we sometimes overlook is our own portfolio’s finance team who are responsible for almost $300 million of that budget.  


Carolyn Rhee-Thompson, the VPFO’s portfolio finance director heads a team of four finance leaders within the Comptroller’s division. They play an important role supporting the VPFO and UBC’s campus and its diverse community. On her core team: 

With such a vast range of stakeholders, no two days are the same for Rhee-Thompson and her team. “We’re always working on a variety of new and different things in support of the VPFO,” she adds. In the past couple of years, the VPFO Finance Portfolio team’s scope of responsibilities have expanded with the addition of a new integrated building management system (Planon) that is used for building and asset operations, maintenance services, support services, and as with most systems, there is a significant financial component. 

A hybrid of traditional finance and operational accounting 

Rhee-Thompson, notes that UBC essentially operates its own utility company, generating, buying and distributing energy to UBC core buildings and to partners, such as UBC Properties Trust.  

To support this, the VPFO Portfolio Finance team provides plays a hybrid role—providing standard finance-related services, such as budgeting, forecasting, reporting and analytics, but also operates the accounting function for the utility company. 

“It’s really fascinating, because Dee and her team that support Facilities’ Energy & Water Services are responsible for customer service, billing, as well as collecting payments from Ancillary buildings for UBC’s utilities and commodities that generates revenues for the university” says Rhee-Thompson. “They essentially manage all the financial elements of being a utility company including responding to inquiries when a “customer” has a question about their invoice.” 

Zero-based budgeting is setting a new baseline for our finances 

This year, the VPFO is also introducing zero-based budgeting as part of the VPFO budget process which has required the team to spend more time working in partnership with each division to guide and support them through this new approach. 

 “What I’m doing at the moment is meeting, after meeting, after meeting,” Tieu says, with a smile. “Communication is very, very important, to let people know what they can anticipate and what is expected from them. In the past, we would look at the budget history and base our budgets on that,” he explains. “However, zero-based budgeting is totally different. You start fresh, basically. You start from zero, and then you look at all of the possible costs in the budget. For example, at the paint shop, we may consider, ‘How many buildings at the university and the age of those buildings to calculate how much paint and materials we would need to paint the buildings for next year.’ So, the budget holder does a little bit of forecasting and researching instead of just taking a historical number and bumping it by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).” 

“What we’re trying to do is to ensure at all the levels that the priorities and nuances of each of the individual cost centres and their units are reflected in the big picture and align with the strategic objectives of the VPFO,” notes Rhee-Thompson.  

Better finance, a better VPFO, a better student experience 

The VPFO ensures the comfort of students, faculty, and staff to maintaining the safety and operation of the entire campus (ie., research labs), processes payroll and expenses, sets financial policy etc. These are the stakeholders that the Comptroller’s Finance Portfolio team within the VP Finance & Operations (VPFO) portfolio supports day to day.  the VPFO and UBC’s campus and its diverse community.  

“Every time I walk through campus, I see this younger generation that we are helping to succeed,” shares Tieu, “they have clean washrooms and classrooms, they have good air ventilation, and my clients’ services keep the campus running. My mission is that we are nurturing the next generation of leaders.”