Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer
By Sonya Adams
Dan Hitchell, Trinity’s new vice president of finance and chief financial officer as of July 2016, is responsible for the strategic oversight and management of the College’s financial resources and operations.
Hitchell, who reports to President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, comes to Trinity from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, where he served as vice president for finance and administration and treasurer. In an announcement to the campus community about Hitchell’s appointment, Berger-Sweeney wrote, “Dan brings to Trinity the ability to frame complex financial issues in straightforward terms, to create feasible solutions, to plan and implement capital projects, to manage the College’s debt portfolio, and to steward the College’s resources.
“He has in-depth experience operating in the challenging financial environment that liberal arts colleges — and all of higher education — face today,” Berger-Sweeney added. “This breadth and depth of expertise, combined with Dan’s outgoing and collaborative manner, were primary factors in the search committee’s recommendation and in my decision.”
Prior to joining Ohio Wesleyan in 2012, Hitchell served for six years at Webster University in St. Louis, where he was associate vice president for resource planning and budget, and, before that, for 15 years at Saint Louis University as director of financial planning and budgeting. Hitchell holds a B.S. in quantitative business analysis from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and an M.B.A. from the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana.
What follows are excerpts from an interview with Hitchell earlier this year.
What about Trinity attracted you to the position?
It was an amazing opportunity to come to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country at an exciting time. Trinity has wonderful faculty, students, alumni, and executive leadership in President Berger-Sweeney that I admired. During the hiring process, I felt like I connected well with the team at Trinity. Then I had the opportunity to meet with Joanne, and I realized that there’s something special happening here.
How do you view your primary responsibilities?
I am responsible for the College’s financial and physical assets, and I oversee the offices of accounting, budget, facilities, and human resources. It is my job to take the long view with respect to thinking about Trinity’s financial health and sustainability. What really makes it hit home for me are the three portraits hanging on the walls of my office, among them Samuel Seabury, the first Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, and Samuel Tudor, a prominent 19th-century entrepreneur and leader in Hartford’s business community. I am certain that Trinity had someone like a vice president of finance back in Tudor’s time, in 1862, and I am confident that in 2062, there will be someone like me. These portraits remind me that I am one in a long line of people with this responsibility.
What have been your priorities since you arrived in July?
The first thing has been to try to get to know the campus and the culture here. I have been very happy … it’s a very welcoming institution. Beyond that, I am focused on various aspects of the budget, including budget planning and ensuring a balanced budget. Facilities have also been a big priority. I have been heavily involved in Constitution Plaza, in selling 200 and in leasing back space in 10 and 1. Also, we’re moving forward on the Crescent Center for Arts and Neuroscience, and I have been working closely with Tom Fusciello [assistant vice president for construction, facilities, and operations] on that. We also focused a great deal of effort on responding to the balcony collapse that happened at one of our off-campus properties last fall. That was a terrible incident for our community, and we have worked hard to understand its cause and to put into place practices to prevent such events from happening in the future.
What do you feel is your greatest strength?
I have worked at a Division I school [Saint Louis], a very entrepreneurial school [Webster], and a very traditional liberal arts school [Ohio Wesleyan]. I have had the opportunity, through the good graces of others, to see a lot in higher ed. When something comes up here, I’m probably not seeing or experiencing it for the first time.
What do you see as your biggest challenges here, and how to you plan to face them?
Trinity faces the same challenges as other schools in the liberal arts sector, yet I think we are better equipped to address those challenges than most. We have all the prerequisites for success — a smart, dedicated faculty, wonderful students, passionate alumni, talented administrators and staff — all groups that are concerned about the well-being and longevity of Trinity. Those are all the components you need, yet still the environment is very challenging. Our costs for recruiting students, primarily in financial aid, and our health care costs for our faculty and staff are growing faster than our ability to generate revenue to pay for these increases. We are a sector under stress. I think it is important to keep an open mind and to recognize that there has to be a different way to do whatever it is you want to do. Is there a better way to do it and still maintain your mission and your quality? Those two things can’t change, but there are a lot of other things that we can do differently to get the same result.
What is the importance of the College’s endowment?
An endowment is one of the cornerstones of a school’s success. It is a physical expression of the commitment of alumni and friends of the institution. The growth of the endowment in both investment returns and in new gifts will be an important part of our success.
What do you see in Trinity’s financial future?
I see an institution that is well on its way to completing the strategic plan that we are in the process of laying out now. I see an institution with an active and vibrant downtown campus and with a real connection to Hartford. The strategic plan is key. For many institutions working on a strategic plan, there’s one group over here working on the plan, and there’s another group over there working on the annual budget, with little or no interaction between the two groups. At Trinity, one will influence the other. The strategic plan has to take into account the resources that we’re currently generating and that we need to operate, and the budget has to take into account the items that are in the strategic plan that will facilitate our success and needs to fund those items. The strategic plan and the budget must be interactive and intertwined.
What is the one surprising thing that others may not know about you?
I enjoy riding my motorcycle, a Yamaha FZ6R. Riding is a good way to relax and focus after a long week at work.