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UZH News

New Vice President Finances

“The University Cosmos Fascinates Me”

Daniel Hug took over as Vice President Finances at UZH in February 2023. UZH News interviewed him to find out about his first impressions and his plans for UZH.
Alice Werner, translation by Caitlin Stephens


Daniel Hug took over as Vice President Finances at UZH in February 2023. (Photo: Frank Brüderli)

Daniel Hug, you have been in office as the new Vice President Finances at the University of Zurich for eight months. Have you settled in yet?

Yes, I feel very much at home. In the last few months, I was able to explore all corners of UZH and visited many institutes, departments and units – both to introduce myself and to get to know the structures and see the work on the ground for myself. The conversations with various colleagues helped me to understand UZH as a complex whole. Two things struck me in particular: one, that UZH is made up of even smaller and more diverse parts than I had imagined. And two, the remarkable passion with which UZH members approach their research, teaching and other work.

For many years you worked for a multinational company in various leadership positions in Switzerland and abroad. What made you decide to move into the world of higher education?

Desire for something new! The university cosmos fascinates me. Before applying, I looked at how UZH is organized with its many – very disparate – units and already suspected that the challenges here would be different, but by no means less interesting. I have not been disappointed! The diversity of the place is a big draw for me. I really enjoy the daily exchange with UZH members from a wide range of disciplines and areas of responsibility. It’s important to me that an organization has a broad culture of discussion, and I’ve found that here. Another thing I like about working at UZH is the opportunity to collaborate on long-term processes.

In your previous working life, the timescales and pace must have been quite different. Have you found your patience tried since coming to the university?

(Laughs) Don’t worry, my cup of patience is still full, partly because I’m learning so many new things. But it’s true, of course: in industry you always have to be able to react very quickly to external factors. Projects at UZH are longer term, and the involvement of a wide variety of interest groups requires time. However, I don’t think projects are run any less efficiently here, provided they remain dynamic and productive. In fact, long-term thinking in this way can lead to more durable decisions.

What experience from your time in international financial management will be important for your work at UZH?

One thing is my experience of working abroad. If you’ve lived and worked in other countries and cultures, you learn to deal with a wide variety of views in an inclusive yet goal-oriented manner. When you’re outside of your own culture, you’re more dependent on other people and thus you quickly lose the illusion that as the boss you know best. Another is my experience with complex challenges in financial management – for example the task of balancing overall financial control in an organization with the necessary financial autonomy of the individual units.

As Vice President Finances, you are responsible for and will shape UZH’s finances. How satisfied are you with the current status quo?

My overall impression is good. There is a strong sense of responsibility toward our funders. That is true of the faculties, institutes and departments, as well as of the central services. In addition, many processes have been standardized and optimized in recent years – for example, the new contract management tool, AVA, or the new expenses tool are very efficient and service-oriented. But I also see some room for improvement.

Such as?

Creating a standardized, university-wide understanding of financial management. The individual faculties, departments and institutes are well organized and the most important financial processes are clear. But I have nevertheless noticed some redundancies in the processes. I would also like to see more support for the departments in financial matters beyond the day-to-day business. This is especially important when departments or clinics provide services or treatment to the public, as they then face particular operational challenges. In general, I want to see a better balance being struck between centralized and decentralized activities, although the autonomy of the units remains without question.

What measures do you and your team want to take to further develop the financial organization of UZH?

We’re going to draw up a finance strategy containing specific measures by the end of the year, in consultation with our most important partners. One basic plan, which will set the direction for other measures, is to reallocate some of the existing resources from my directorate to a new unit which will support the faculties and departments in financial matters going beyond the day-to-day business and represent their financial interests within the central Finance Office – for example when financial processes are being reviewed. This will improve our services overall, and we expect higher demand as a result. In addition, with the Financial Management of UZH project, we have a well-developed program to make the distribution of roles responsible for the central financial processes (EFP, budget, forecast) in the various units more precise. This project will be implemented in the near future.

Longer term, we also want to create new possibilities in terms of efficient use of resources. Because our funding is allocated by the government on an annual basis, meaningful financial planning over the course of several years poses a particular challenge. We need to find ways to absorb cost fluctuations and give the units more flexibility over the course of more than one year, so that in one particular calendar year they can spend less or even a little more and carry over the difference. The mentality of having to use up an annual budget hardly leads to the most efficient use of funds in my opinion.

Do you have any other ideas for your new role?

I’m not a fan of rigid hierarchies – I prefer the concept of inclusive management, i.e. a manager who motivates and enables employees to make an active contribution and allows them to risk making mistakes occasionally. This requires a certain degree of transparency on the part of the manager, as well as professional development opportunities for employees. I think something like job rotation around different finance roles across UZH would be a good idea in this regard. It is also important to me to offer attractive career prospects for the young talents of tomorrow – for example in the form of project work or trainee programs. In this way, UZH could become an interesting starting point for careers in finance, similarly to the opportunities currently available in the private sector.

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