“In Conversation with …” is a special feature of the Hart House Quarterly where John Monahan, the Warden of Hart House, chats with staff members and personnel who have fascinating perspectives to share and stories to tell.

In this edition, John talks with Stan Xiao, Director of Finance. Stan reflects on his first year at Hart House, tells us why he is excited about the start of the new academic year and looks ahead to the future as the House embarks on an infrastructure renewal journey.

John and Stan

JM: Stan, I’m delighted to be speaking with you today. How long has it been since you joined Hart House?

SX: This is my thirteenth month.

JM: Happy belated anniversary. What are your top-note thoughts about your first year?

SX: It's been good. This year has gone by very fast. I was taking some time to adjust to the new setting, the new team, and working through the budget cycle for the first time. Everything went quite smoothly. I look forward to another year.

JM: How is it possible that you look 13 months younger than when you started?

SX: It might be the youthful energy of Hart House.

JM: That was a lovely response.

SX: Thanks, John.

JM: What does it mean to be Director of Finance? What are your major responsibilities and projects?

SX: I'm responsible for all the financial aspects of Hart House’s operations from payment processing, procurement and payroll, and ensuring that we're compliant with the University of Toronto's policies as well as the broader public sector protocol, to budgeting and forecasting and developing various types of reports and analyses to help our leaders with decision making.

My portfolio also includes providing oversight to the Hart House Finance Committee, which is one of the governing bodies of the House, and also provides Financial Literacy programming to the U of T Community.

I'm very fortunate to be supported by a terrific team of experienced professionals: Duc, Elena, Kerry and Carol. They're extremely dedicated. It's their hard work that makes things go so well.

JM: They are a terrific team, I agree.

Now, you've worked at another university. Is there anything about Hart House and its finances that you find distinctive or unique compared to other environments?

SX: Yes, we have a very diverse portfolio. First and foremost, we have a student services mandate and receive substantial revenue from student ancillary fees. We also have the business operations that generate revenue to supplement our student fee revenue, and we have funds from donations. On top of that, we also have our own capital portfolio.

So, all these different pieces make Hart House its own entity within U of T, which is very interesting and challenging.    

JM: That's a good point. It's almost like Hart House is a microcosm of the broader University. Does that make it more frustrating, or more exciting, for you as a finance professional?

SX: I wouldn't say frustrating. I find it interesting. Having these different complexities gives us more things to think about when we are planning and strategizing. That’s something that makes this portfolio very exciting to manage.

I also think our governance structure, having multiple layers of governance–our Finance Committee, our Board of Stewards, the Council on Student Services, the University Affairs Board–makes this job very interesting.

JM: Absolutely. Do you find your job is mostly about managing the here and now or thinking about and planning for the future? What's the mix between strategy and day-to-day engagement? How do you balance those different responsibilities?

SX: I think it's both. Most of my time is spent with the near-term operations. But when we’re doing budgeting and planning, we have to look long term. Hart House is at a very pivotal moment. This is the year where we're seeing a lot of our revenue-generating businesses return, and we’re also about to embark on multiple years of major infrastructure renewal.

These are important factors that are going to impact our planning. It's essential that we continue to manage our financials well and that we convey our circumstances to our key stakeholders.

JM: Stan, it's only been 13 months, but you have made a hugely positive impression on your colleagues here. You're doing a fantastic job. With your talents, you could work anywhere, so why Hart House? What drove you to work here?

SX: Thank you very much, John. I really appreciate the support and encouragement.

A couple of things drove me to work here. First, I wanted to have the opportunity to continue to grow as an accounting professional and further develop my leadership skills. I have the opportunity to do that here at Hart House, and also I get the chance to work with students in the Hart House Finance Committee. That was a new experience for me, and I find it very rewarding–the ability to mentor students and see them mature in the time that they spend time with us.

JM: Are there any specific attributes of Hart House that you didn't fully understand until you got here, and they made an impression on you? Anything that stands out?

SX: I feel that Hart House is a very nostalgic place, not only in the sense that we have a historic building, but I think there are a lot of stories that took place in Hart House, a lot of memories surrounding the people who’ve passed through here. I get a sense of that through the stories I hear from my team members who’ve been here a long time.

Secondly, I feel the constant support and acknowledgment from leadership–from you, John, from Sherry Kulman, Chief Administrative Officer, and from other senior directors–and that is very motivating.

JM: That's very nice. Thank you, Stan.

So, as you and I speak, we are heading into the Fall 2022 orientation season. The University is preparing for what it anticipates will be the largest orientation in its history, with effectively three cohorts of students finding themselves on campus for the first time, all at the same time. What are you most looking forward to about this Fall?

SX: That's exactly it. The return of orientation activities, the return of all the students on campus. I am also looking forward to having Finance Committee meetings in person. I think that's going to be very exciting.

JM: Stan, thank you so much for being an integral part of the operations of Hart House. You’ve made a huge impact in the 13 months you've been here, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings.  

SX: Thank you so much, John. I appreciate the opportunity to chat.