Episode 180: Creating a Global and Executive Mindset with Ann Bordelon

June 22 , 2022  |  By Matt Waller

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This week Matt is joined by Ann Bordelon, Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration for the University of Arkansas. Ann has also previously served in executive roles at Walmart, Walmart Asia and Sam’s Club and serves on the board for America’s Car-mart and Portillo’s. In the episode Matt and Ann discuss the importance of co-curricular engagement as a student, building a global mindset throughout your career and transformational opportunities that are taking place at the University of Arkansas.

Episode Transcript

Ann Bordelon  0:00  
We have so much opportunity to make great decisions, very informed decisions beyond what we already do in a way that we've never done before.

Matt Waller  0:12  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the be epic podcast. I have with me today Ann Bordelon, who is the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration of the University of Arkansas. Ann has a tremendous background, she has worked in accounting, she was a senior manager with Ernst and Young. She was with Walmart for many years. She's on the board of several companies. And she's been now with the University of Arkansas for a couple of years as Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration. She didn't go to school here, and she majored in accounting and information systems, and graduated a few years back. Ann thanks so much for taking time to visit with me today. Appreciate it.

Ann Bordelon  1:16  
I'm really thrilled to be here, Matt, thank you for having me.

Matt Waller  1:18  
I'm really thrilled to have you on the podcast, you have been an engaged alum of our college and university for a long time, when you were a student here, not only were you an engaged student, but you were also involved in a sorority, which you still are engaged in to this day, and you graduated back in 1989. So your engagement with us has been pretty tremendous over the years. Would you mind taking a moment to just talk a little bit about your time here, when you were a student?

Ann Bordelon  1:55  
I would say that those four years that I spent on campus were tremendous, from many aspects, obviously, the educational aspect, but just the campus engagement aspect, really getting involved in different activities on campus, whether it had been Delta Gamma, my sorority, or Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting fraternity, which was I would say critical to me getting a job at the time, that was the one of the main pathways.

Matt Waller  2:24  
And wasn't your first job with Tyson in accounting?

Ann Bordelon  2:27  
No, with Ernst & Young.

Matt Waller  2:29  
Oh, Ernst and Young, ok. 

Ann Bordelon  2:30  
Right. And so, you know, Beta Alphs Psi was really the central career networking mechanism for accounting majors and I built a lot of relationships and that led to interviews and, and job opportunities. I was also involved in Beta Gamma Sigma and other groups within the college of business at the time. And I just think about the personal growth beyond the academic sense that I really experienced there. And I can't also deny, the athletics were also pretty good when I was here. So that was a, an added benefit. I was a fan of, of just about every sport that we had at the time and attended everything from track meets to football games.

Matt Waller  3:12  
You were really involved in our curriculum, right? You were a great student, or you wouldn't be in Beta, Gamma Sigma, you were involved in your sorority and athletics. I really think this co-curricular engagement is so critical for our students, we have so much to offer here. The cornerstone of our mission as a university is the academic side. But the complement to it, the co-curricular activities are just so rich.

Ann Bordelon  3:39  
I think that's absolutely correct. And I think that those are just as important in a student's growth and readiness for the world. I mean, you learn things in those being involved in those activities, whether it's, you know, Associated Student Government or, you know, a very niche club, it doesn't matter. I mean, you're getting social interaction, you're learning how to solve problems in a group, you might manage a budget, you have to do presentations likely, things that you know, might be in the classroom, but these are outside of the academic sense. And I think they give you maybe a little bit of a glimpse of what responsibilities you might have in whatever your career is. You take Greek life, for example, the women who are treasurers of their sororities today are running multimillion dollar budgets. It's crazy to think about that.

Matt Waller  4:34  
And then of course, the network you get from 

Ann Bordelon  4:37  

Matt Waller  4:38  
it goes on for the rest of your career. 

Ann Bordelon  4:39  
The network runs peer and external I mean, I think about the relationships that I built here in college with my college classmates, whether they were fellow accounting students or people that I knew from other activities. Those have been just important to me in my life as others, they might ebb and flow over time. But I think about the connections that I've maintained with classmates and how those people have either counseled me on my career or have helped me connect somebody else to something or connected me to somebody. I think that has been tremendously helpful just from a peer network. And then you layer on to that the number of professionals that you meet along the way through your either your activities or through recruiting, or because they've been a speaker in a class, the access to those people is tremendous. And even though I went to work for Ernst and Young, out of college, there were also people that I met with the other firms that I've continued to stay in contact with as well. And my initial contact with them was through a recruiting process. I think it's really up to the student to really leverage those relationships and every encounter that they have, you never know how that might be helpful in the future, or just somebody to connect with for the future.

You spent several years at Ernst and Young. But your career at Walmart was quite impressive. I mean, you've held the position of Chief Audit Executive, you've held the position of CFO of Sam's Club, CFO of Walmart Asia, and many other positions. But the fact is, you held very senior positions with the fortune one company, which is remarkable. Would you mind telling us a little bit about that experience? I can't imagine taking that much responsibility.

Well, I'll tell you, it's funny, the reason that I even had those opportunities was because I was working for Ernst and Young and Walmart was my client. And a number of times Walmart approached me about opportunities. And I didn't really take any of them seriously until, until the last one. And I had a whole bunch of reasons why I didn't want to work for Walmart. And in hindsight, all of those reasons were pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, and they were my client, I knew a lot about them. And so I knew some of the warts and, and I knew some of the great things and some of those smaller things, you know, almost made me not think about working there. Now, I can't think about what my life would have been like, had I not, because I had so many tremendous experiences. You get either involved in or adjacent to projects that change people's lives. And I think about $4 generic drugs was a big thing while I was there. I didn't work on it directly, but I did tangentially. And I worked for a few years in the real estate function where I was VP of Finance for real estate. And the company was opening three and 400 stores a year, at that time. The ability to really understand how to allocate capital, when you have a lot of competing demands for new store growth versus, you know, maintaining a fleet or investing in e-commerce. I mean, there's just so many in e-commerce at the time was, you know, everyone wasn't really sure about it. Was it worth the investment? I think, obviously, that's proven, proven so but just being around those kinds of decisions being made, whether you're involved in the actual decision, or even just on the periphery, is such an opportunity to really learn and think about implications of those decisions in a way that, you know, I don't think in many places, you get that kind of opportunity at that scale and scope. Obviously, I also had the chance through my role as the head of internal audit, that was a global position, I had teams all over the world. And, you know, I learned before a pandemic, how to manage a team remotely, that helps me as I took on this role, you know, I joined the University during the pandemic, and most of my team I hadn't even met yet, because they were working remotely. I think about that global experience in internal audit all the travel into the countries that extended period of times and then later as the CFO of Asia living in Hong Kong, with my family, those are life experiences that you just can't put a price on and I just I feel like I'm probably a better world citizen because of those experiences and, and maybe a little more sensitive to cultural differences. I would certainly not claim to be an expert on cultural differences of any country. But I'm aware of what I don't know.

Matt Waller  9:47  
What a great experience living in Hong Kong over Walmart, Asia, I mean, going from Fayetteville to Hong Kong. That's a big difference.

Ann Bordelon  9:59  
It is a big difference. But because I had traveled quite a bit. You know, Hong Kong by international standards, certainly by Asia standards as an easy, easy transition, it was a long way away that, you know, that was probably the biggest transition, we left our daughter, while she was in college while we moved abroad, that was difficult, but we had travel experiences that I just don't think we would have otherwise done, Asia probably wouldn't have been a destination of choice for us, in our normal vacation life. So I think we certainly appreciate Asia and you know, I think it's a fabulous place. And we get to travel to amazing places, my son played little league baseball, and we would go play travel baseball in the Philippines or Taiwan, or instead of getting in the car and driving to Dallas for a tournament, we'd hop on a plane and go to Manila. It's a very different experience.

Matt Waller  10:57  
You have a wealth of experience in accounting and finance, and executive management in general. And now you're a senior administrator here, head of Finance and Administration for the university. Would you like to talk about any differences or how that has helped you? And maybe what made you interested in taking on a role like this?

Ann Bordelon  11:22  
Aside from some people twisting my arm to get involved in the process?

Matt Waller  11:27  
I was one of them. 

Ann Bordelon  11:28  
Yes, you were. I asked myself, would I be interested in this job anywhere else? And I'm, I don't think the answer to that is yes, I think my initial interest in this job was because it is the University of Arkansas and I have had such close attachment as a student and as a alum and donor over the years, it's been a big piece of my life and my husband's life. And so I think it's just another way for me to contribute. So I think that was a strong pull. After I retired from Walmart, I learned a couple of things about myself. I learned that I thrived in complexity. And I also learned that I really valued a strong peer group. And I did a few things after I retired from Walmart that were on a smaller scale. And I think that that's what I learned. And maybe complexity was there. But my strong peer group wasn't. And I came here, knowing that I would have a strong peer group that would push me and really challenge me in ways that would help me continue to grow and learn. And of course, there's no absence of complexity here. Actually, there's a surprising amount of complexity here. And this is a big job. It's not just finance, you know, it's HR and IT and facilities and construction and the police department and the bookstore and parking and transit, which nobody likes. And so you know, so this job has a lot of scope to it, maybe in some ways, a lot more scope than some of my previous jobs at Walmart.

Matt Waller  13:12  
And of course, we're very fortunate in that you were willing to take this role on, I really do think when you're working somewhere, that you also have a heart for the place, it makes a difference. 

Ann Bordelon  13:26  
It does. 

Matt Waller  13:26  
You graduated 89. I started here as a visiting assistant professor in 94. So not that long later. And you know, three of my kids have graduated from here. My fourth one is a rising sophomore. I feel really attached here. The more engaged you are, the more connections you have to something. The more it helps you think long term in your decision making, you know, and I've seen that from you and your role here. You really do think about the institution, the good of the institution and you think long term. And not all universities have that because there are some people that are really just taking it purely as a job, and nothing else. So I'd like to talk now too in addition to being head of Finance Administration, the Vice Chancellor for Finance Administration, which has a very, as you say, broad scope, there's no question about that. You are also on the board of directors of some companies, including at least one I know that publicly traded, America's Carmart.

Ann Bordelon  14:39  
They're both publicly traded Portillo's went public back in October of last year.

Matt Waller  14:45  
And you've had so much experience with publicly traded companies now with the university but I would imagine the experience you're having in these two board situations is probably even broadening your experience further in your, would you tell us a little bit about that?

Ann Bordelon  15:06  
Sure. I joined the board of Carmart in 2019. And then Portillo shortly after the country shutdown on the pandemic. It was just a year ago that we had our first in person board meeting, after I joined the board. That was an interesting transition as well. But I would say I really loved the board work, I do get a lot out of it myself. While I feel like I'm contributing to those companies as well. Both boards have a great set of directors that I work with that all have different experiences on both boards, there's some private equity experience, there are family offices, on one of the boards, you know, CEOs of other well known companies on the boards, and so just being around that kind of thought leadership is super helpful. Every day, I hear things and those board meetings that are totally applicable to my job here. You know, and when you learn about what's going on with both companies are consumer related companies that mean Portillo's is a restaurant company and America's Carmart is a integrated used car dealer dealing mostly with very low income households. And so I learned a lot about the consumer. I learned a lot about the economy, and learn a lot about what's going on in the Human Resources arena. Are things that we are experiencing here at the university. Are those being felt in other industries? The answer is yes. The things that we're experiencing here is unfortunately no different than other industries. And so there is a lot of crossover. It may not be industry specific, but it certainly topically correct. And then of course, you know, cybersecurity is a board topic, every board meeting. And it that also helps me in this role with IT being under my purview, that gives me another checkpoint, about what I'm hearing in these meetings helps me to ask better questions of the team here at the university to make sure that we're protected here the best we can be. So that's just a little snippet of that. But you know, I think, you know, Carmart's been public for 20 plus years, and they are a billion dollar, I think this year, and then Portillo's is a fast growing just under a billion dollars right now, really understanding those companies at different stages of their lifestyle, even though Portillo's has been around for many, many years. They're just now a public company in really understanding governance for a new public company and a governance for a smaller company that's been public for a while, but has great growth prospects as well. And really, you know, making sure that we're implementing the best governance that we can as a board for those companies. That's been something that's been really fascinating for me.

Matt Waller  18:09  
So and with your wealth of experiences and knowledge and your rich history here at the university. And I know you're thinking long term. Do you mind talking a little bit about the transformational opportunities we have here at the University of Arkansas?

Ann Bordelon  18:25  
I think I naturally try to take a long term view of things. But one of the things that's a hot topic in higher ed, as you know, is the enrollment cliff. And because of demographic circumstances, in a few years, the number of 18 year olds nationally will decline. And obviously, that's a challenging situation for higher ed, that depends on new freshmen coming in. And schools are thinking about different ways to capture different parts of the market, maybe non traditional parts of the market, but also how do we make sure that we hold on to our fair share, and maybe even grow our market share of students here within the state? There's a couple of things that come to mind. So I think that transformation, while it sounds like a big word and a scary word to a lot of people, I mean, transformation doesn't have to be revolution.

And we have time. And so I think some of these things that I'll talk about are going to I think happen over time. But we do need to rethink the way that we do things or maybe challenge some of the traditional structures that we've had over the next few years to make sure that we are well positioned for that potential cliff and the uncertainty that it brings. You know, recently we've announced an employer of choice opportunity or initiative, I guess is a better word. And a lot of people think that's really because of the pandemic and the current economic environment that we're in where people are, you know, have people have left the workforce, the great resignation, the great retirement, whatever this was going to happen, regardless of whether there was a pandemic or not. The number of people entering the workforce is lower than the number of people exiting the workforce, and maybe the pandemic accelerated some of that. But it was inevitable anyway. And we're finding in just about every job type, especially specialized jobs, that the number of people being educated for those jobs, whether you're talking about doctors, or nurses, or skilled trades, or IT professionals, and there's just not enough people entering those fields for the demand that there is for those jobs. And we have to position ourselves to be in the shortlist of people when, when they're looking for jobs, we need people to say that they want to work at the University of Arkansas. And you know, I think over time, either probably both of these things are true. The benefit of being a state employee at a university has eroded over time, the gap between the premium that might have been for the benefits that we offer, has narrowed versus other options somebody might have. And we also don't tell our story very well, we haven't had to tell our story in the past. And we need to change both of those things, by figuring out a way to tell our story, be as competitive as we can, whether that's in salary or other kinds of benefits. And so there's a whole suite of work going on there. The other thing that we're taking a look at is really our procurement processes. We launched an RFP, to identify a partner to help us with this. And I know that the RFP was launched as a cost containment, which is kind of a scary word. This is more about procurement practices, and making sure that we're making the most of our procurement practices, and getting the most benefit of the volumes that we're ordering around campus not necessarily stifling those volumes or creating more bureaucracy. This is about actually eliminating some bureaucracy, but giving people efficient channels to make procurement decisions that would result in making our academic dollars go farther, because at the end of the day, we need to keep the cost of education low here at the University of Arkansas, if we want to maintain our student base over time. And so this is one way that we can maybe manage the cost rather than having to rely on tuition increases to continually fund inflation or other things. And so there's a whole body of work going on. But we're really starting to talk about data and how we use data here at the university to make decisions. I think we leverage a miniscule amount of data currently, and we have so much opportunity to make great decisions, very informed decisions beyond what we already do, in a way that we've never done before. That's going to require us to, you know, invest in some capability here centrally within the university, leverage some structures we already have, like institutional research. And we know that we have pockets of great data people on campus. And how do we coordinate all of those people and activities in a way that we are using those strategically at the top and help help data guide our decisions? I mean, we'd have data, but it's I'm not sure that we're leveraging it to the extent that we really could and use data to really check the soundness of alternatives that we're evaluating data is going to be a big thing for us. I know it's a big thing for us academically. It's a big thing for us, research wise. It also needs to be a big part of what we're doing administratively.

Matt Waller  24:05  
Yeah, we should practice what we preach.

Ann Bordelon  24:08  
That's right. That's right.

Matt Waller  24:10  
Especially in the business school. Yeah, we do talk a lot about that. We've started implementing more data, analytics and tools, but you're right as university we've got access to so much data. The transformational ideas you presented, which I love. They're wonderful, are synergistic. I mean, if we have a really good approach to data analytics, we'll be able to tell the story.

Ann Bordelon  24:41  
That's exactly right. I think when you have data, you can tell a story matter, you can visualize a story. You can eliminate certain arguments from a conversation, because you have data supporting it doesn't eliminate all argument but it does eliminate some I think, I think it also helps with the confidence and the trust of an organization, when you can present the story supported by data in a way that people can understand. And I think that goes a long way with employee buy in, as well as other stakeholder buy in on what you're trying to do.

Matt Waller  25:24  
Well, and thank you so much for your service to our university and really our community in so many ways. I really appreciate you and thank you for sharing your wisdom with our listeners. 

Ann Bordelon  25:37  
Well, I sure appreciate it Matt.

Matt Waller  25:40  
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching be epic B E E P I C.

Matt Waller

Matthew A. Waller is dean emeritus of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and professor of supply chain management. His work as a professor, researcher, and consultant is synergistic, blending academic research with practical insights from industry experience. This continuous cycle of learning and application makes his work more effective, relevant, and impactful.

His goals include contributing to academia through high-quality research and publications, cultivating the next generation of professionals through excellent teaching, and creating value for the organizations he consults by optimizing their strategy and investments.