Welcome to a Spotlight Special Edition as we wish UNT Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bob Brown a happy retirement effective May 7. Under Bob's leadership over the last seven years, UNT, his alma mater, is on excellent financial footing, even with the hurdles of COVID-19, and boasts a powerhouse finance and administration team. A grandfather, wine connoisseur and world traveler, Bob and his wife Carol have plenty of ground to cover in retirement, and he'll start by trout fishing near his home in Colorado. Click the button below to hear from Bob about coming home to UNT, his successes there and even a tidbit or two that his colleagues might not know about him. Plus, you'll never guess his favorite movie, although it does have something to do with a really big fish. So, click. Happy retirement, Bob, you've earned it!
You came back to UNT, your alma mater, seven years ago and what made it the right time, what was special about coming back?
I wasn't looking for a job when the opportunity came available here, and I was contacted by the university's consultant to come and possibly join the staff and meet with Dr. Smatresk. My decision really had to do with him. My interview with him told me he was the right leader for an institution that was going through some troubles, I was convinced that I would have his support, and then, third, I just love and bleed green, and it would be an opportunity to come back to my alma mater and make a significant contribution.
President Smatresk said in your retirement announcement that UNT was in serious financial trouble when he hired you. What was the situation?
The situation back then was that there was strong evidence that the University of North Texas had some serious financial mishaps with the use of state funds. The other issue that was surrounding us was that our accounting systems and accounting records were not in the shape that you would want them to be to run a modern organization. So we had the dual task of helping the university with its relationships with the state and the expectations that the state had for us because of that, and to really reconstruct and redesign the accounting and budgeting systems.
You have clearly left UNT in a better position than it was when you arrived. What do you consider your greatest successes?
My greatest success might include the work in 2014 and 2015 to get us on square footing again. But I think more than that, is I’ve been able to identify and develop an extraordinary staff that contributes an awful lot to the university and its success. I’m very comfortable as I move into retirement that whoever takes my place is going to have folks who can rally around him or her and the institution, and get the work done. We are financially stronger than we were before. Working with our System colleagues, we have a strong accounting system and a strong finance system -- that was a big effort on behalf of all of us. Those are certainly important, but I think I helped the university grow its enrollment, grow its physical structure, become a more beautiful campus – I was passionate about the outside of the institution and what it looked like for our students and for those who visited. I think those all tick the list, but the greatest thing is being able to work with everyone in finance and administration and develop a strong culture and a strong leadership team.
You probably never could have imagined your last year on the job would be managing the university through a global pandemic. How difficult has it been with so many financial hurdles and so many employees working remotely?
One of the things about the folks who work in finance and administration is most of us had to be here. I was only absent from campus for just a few weeks before returning. I did do remote work on and off, sometimes one or two days of the week, but I was here as were my people. When you have the police and you have facilities and risk management and emergency management, that work can’t be done at a distance, it has to be done face-to-face. I was blessed with being able to interact with those folks on a regular basis, honestly, a lot by Zoom because that’s what the safety protocols demanded, and I wanted them to be safe and I wanted myself to be safe. But that began melting away in fall term when students came back and we all had to be here and started meeting more face-to-face. I think the work during the pandemic allowed UNT to contribute to continued growth in a financial position at UNT System and UNT World, but I think the most important thing it did was allow us to serve a record number of students That was the big surprise, the COVID surprise, we had a very, very strong summer enrollment followed by an enrollment increase of 4% in the fall and another enrollment increase in the spring, and so I think the hard work of finance enabled us to respond to growing enrollments with less resources.
What calls in retirement?
I’m going to spend a lot more time with my grandchildren and family. They all live locally. Directly after leaving, I’m headed to my home in Colorado for a month, and 28 days after retirement, I’ll be spending 23 of them trout fishing somewhere in Colorado. We’re travelers and we will travel the world once the world opens up, but we have a number of trips planned for the United States through the remainder of the year. But, family, friends, faith and then we’re going to see the world.
What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
Wow, I’m such an open book that, I talk about my wife and who I am and what I am all the time so that’s a pretty hard question. Perhaps that I’m a collector of Santa Claus and have an extraordinary collection of the representation of the gift-giver from lots of cultures all around the world. The only time my whole collection has been out is when the whole thing was in the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas, when they had a display of the entire collection. That might be something that most folks don’t know. They certainly know I’m a wine connoisseur and I love to travel associated with finding and discovering new and good wine. We just got back from the Oregon wine country, the Willamette Valley, and tasted Pinot Noir, and we are regulars in Napa and Sonoma and have regular routes and are members of many of the wineries up in that region. Favorite international destination for wine is Tuscany. It is as beautiful as the pictures that you see, and the people are as warm and inviting as legend has them. And the wines are pretty darn good, too.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE…
Book?: Grapes of Wrath. It was a great expression of a time in American history and showed struggle and overcoming struggle, it resonates with me in a lot of ways.
Movie?: Jaws. I’d like to give you some grand intellectual thing that is expressive of some deep thought, but the first time I saw it I thought, "wow, this is pretty spectacular," and I jumped three or four times. When you can be that engaged and have you on the edge of your seat, that’s pretty cool.
Restaurant?: I like Don Camillo. It’s a great little Italian restaurant, fun folks and the food is fantastic. I highly recommend the chicken marsala.
Any last words for UNT World before you ride off into the sunset?
It’s been an extraordinary seven years and the people that work in UNT World have made it extraordinary. I’ve had great colleagues in the past; I’ve never had so many great colleagues at one time, all aimed at making sure the mission of the institutions happens. And we have three great universities and a fantastic law school and strong system leadership. That’s really been a highlight of the last seven years.