An Office You Might Not Have Heard Of Is Out To 'Transform Purdue'

Mar 14, 2018

Many changes are planned under the auspices of Transform Purdue.
Credit Wes Jackson / https://www.flickr.com/photos/boilermakerwes/3608649743/

This story starts with a meeting Purdue Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Bill Sullivan called with a man named Tim Werth.

“When I sat down with Tim, the first thing he did after introducing himself was to say ‘I want to tell you something about my background,'" Sullivan says.

It related to Werth’s time at a now-defunct company called Adelphia Communications.

“Before I even asked, Tim offered up: ‘I have this issue and I want to tell you about it and it’s going to stick with me for life and that’s the cross I have to bear,’” Sullivan says.

“I can’t imagine every trying to justify or make excuses for Adelphia," Werth says. "But rather, just hitting it head-on and saying I should have done and acted in a different way.”

Werth talks frankly about how he pleaded guilty to charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud as he helped prosecutors bring down the corrupt father-and-son team that had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from the telecommunications giant.

“I’ll never be out from under it, for the perspective of the scars that it’s left; the lessons I’ve learned. And frankly, I don’t care to be out from it. I don’t mind talking about it, I don’t mind bring those that work from me in on it and sharing those lessons learned,” Werth says.

MESSAGES ACROSS THE TRANSOM

Though Werth wanted to talk openly about it, Sullivan says he’d heard mostly worried whispers, even getting, as he says, missives under his door asking if he knew. He held a meeting, telling team members to air their concerns, and then the work began.

The office has divided its work into three main chambers, trying to find ways to streamline the school’s human resources, general ledger and facilities management. Werth says some of the issues seemed obvious, so there weren’t a lot of conversations with other schools about whether they’ve dealt with similar challenges.

“Did we go through a significant benchmarking exercise? We didn’t," he says. "But we utilized what we understood our problems to be as the basis for trying to figure out how we could solve those.”

So he’s embarked on a mission of making computer programs communicate with one another, eliminating sheets of paper and unnecessary signatures from processes and trying to make it clearer how the school spends its money – the latter of which has been a bugaboo of Sullivan’s.

“The complexity of 19,000 funds with 8,000 cost centers, et cetera, et cetera – the numeric possibilities of where somebody could record an expense were some 125 million different places,” Sullivan says.

Werth wants those numbers shrunk significantly.

“We’re now down to, I think, 17,000. Last June it was 19,000. And our design is to get to 62,” Werth says.

AN INEXACT SCIENCE

“This is an experiment,” says Giles Johnston, a chartered engineer in Great Britain who’s written books on what’s known as business process re-engineering – the type of overhaul Transform Purdue is attempting.

“Business process re-engineering, you can do a lot of maths behind these things and work out what’s going to be more efficient," Johnston says. "But a lot of the changes that people need to make – which can be behavioral in many cases – you’re not really sure what the outcome is going to be.”

Johnston says Werth will have to be careful not to alienate people around him who may be more resistant to change or may feel it hurts them or the University.

“There’s always a risk you run with BPR-type approaches – that you crush the soul of what’s going on out of the process.”

Werth says he’s trying to field those concerns.

“You know, everybody asks us the question, like: ‘Am I going to have a job?’ And my answer is: I don’t know. I mean, it depends, right? If you are somebody that your only job is to take a piece of paper and enter it into SAP, then I hope I have eliminated that role,” Werth says.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR TRANSFORM PURDUE

Some changes have already been implemented, but the office has hit a significant snag installing new human resources processes. Those were originally slated to be in use at the start of 2018. A few delays later, Sullivan now says the new human capital management system won’t be online until 2019.

Around the same time the latest delay was being announced, Purdue’s HR Vice President Denny Darrow left the school. It’s unclear if he was fired, but both Sullivan and President Mitch Daniels insist the timing was a coincidence.

Daniels has said since his installation as president that he wants to make the school “more businesslike,” as was his mantra about the state while its governor. Werth says that may mean more trimming of support staff.

“We should, and will, need less people to support our business processes moving forward – if we’re successful," he says.

With HR changes pushed off a year, the next goal for Transform Purdue is to have new reporting processes in place later this year to more closely track the school’s finances.