University of Minnesota works to fill senior positions

The administration also is reorganizing and combining the responsibilities of the positions

Kevin Beckman

Last summer, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter retired and Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock resigned, taking with them decades of combined experience working for the University.

As the University searches for their replacements, University President Eric Kaler reorganized and consolidated the positions’ responsibilities.

Kaler said the two departures offered the opportunity to combine some of the University’s senior leadership spots and create a new position — the senior vice president for finance and operations — that will oversee the school’s financial functions as well as facilities management and human resources.

While searching for the new position, Kaler appointed Associate Vice President Mike Volna to interim CFO. Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Mike Berthelsen was elected to lead University Services in its interim period.

The new senior vice president will pick permanent replacements for the leaders of facilities, finance and the Office of Information Technology, Kaler said. Until then, Berthelson, Volna and Bernard Gulachek — interim vice president for OIT — will continue their roles.

“It’s an opportunity with interim leaders for the new person to rearrange as they want to,” Kaler said. “But … all three of those [interim] leaders have decades of experience at the University and are doing a really great job in filling those roles.”

The University established a search committee in April to fill the position and contracted the search firm Witt/Kieffer to source and recruit applicants.

Kaler said the search committee has narrowed the list to three applicants, and he expects a final decision will be made soon.

A smooth transition

Berthelsen, who has worked for the University for 23 years, has served in four different roles prior to being appointed as interim vice president, including financial and budget officer for the school’s facilities management office — the largest department in University services.

There, he oversaw land care, production and distribution of energy and maintenance of University buildings.

Berthelsen said his years of experience at the school made the transition into his new role smoother, but the interim position encompassed many more responsibilities than his previous job.

“I knew the leaders. I knew their organizations. I knew about the programs already,” he said. “In this role, I just have to get to know all of the programs a little deeper.”

As interim vice president, Berthelsen is responsible for overseeing all other components of University services, including public safety, the University Police Department, health and safety and auxiliary services such as the University Bookstore.

Berthelsen also led discussions with the University’s Board of Regents about the school’s housing strategy and answered Regents’ questions about the renovation options for Pioneer Hall.

“We’re glad to have an engaged board in what we do,” he said. “It gave me a chance to get to know a lot of them more, and pretty quickly.”

During the interim period, Berthelsen will work on the University’s six-year capital plan and help negotiate a TCF Bank Stadium lease with the Minnesota United soccer team while their stadium is built in St. Paul.

Connecting thread

Volna has worked in various finance and accounting roles at the University for 24 years and said he was left a sturdy framework to continue the University’s accounting while the school searches for a replacement.

“I started this interim role with a real strong foundational base of understanding about the University’s finance [and] mission,” he said.

As interim vice president, Volna has handled real estate transactions, capital requests to the legislature and the University’s debt strategies for projects such as the Bell Museum and the Athletes Village.

He also acts as the senior administrative representative to the Board of Regent’s Finance Committee.

“In this role, I’m kind of the thread that connects everything that goes through the finance committee,” he said. “So I really have to be on my toes.”

Volna, who reported to Pfutzenreuter for 14 years, said his and other finance members’ experience made the continuation of Pfutzenreuter’s work a seamless transition.

“When Fitz retired, he left behind a really, really strong team,” Volna said. “I’ve got to continue on with the flow like everybody else, but at some point I’m going to take an exit ramp, so I have to be mindful that I don’t change a lot of things.”

While Volna had been heavily involved in the University’s financial strategies before assuming his new role, he said the interim vice president position allowed him to look at familiar operations in a different light.

“I think everybody should stretch themselves once in a while, and this has been one of those opportunities for me,” he said.

Editors Note: A previous version of the story incorrectly classified administrative departures. The text above has been corrected.