Leadership award 2021: Nicole Adams provided smiles and accounting excellence to UFV in uncertain year

Nicole Adams’ stellar career in accounting and finance happened almost by accident.

She was working an entry-level position at Vancouver’s Science World in the 1990s when her boss noticed her talent for numbers and immediately saw her potential. She moved Adams, who had previously worked in banking (where she thought her future lay), into the accounting department where she quickly moved up the ranks.

“I was fortunate to have a great boss who was really supportive,” says Adams, now the Director of Financial Services at UFV. “She was actually the one that recommended I enter the certified general accountant program.”

Since deciding to pursue accounting, Adams, who earned her CGA designation in 2005 (now known as CPA), has been able to continuously make an impact. Now in her 17th year in the finance department, she is an invaluable asset to the university’s leadership team, especially during the pandemic year when maintaining fiscal stability and strategic planning were essential.

For her extraordinary ability to demonstrate leadership and calmness during the past year, Adams was honoured with the 2021 UFV Leadership award.

“This past year has been challenging for so many, but Nicole’s positive and caring attitude shone through, keeping her team motivated as they continued to deliver services on campus while many moved to remote work,” says Jackie Hogan, CFO at UFV. “She is a true servant leader — she listens, empathizes and encourages.”

As the Director of Financial Services, Adams leads a team of 20 that is responsible for the university’s financial operations, payroll, external and internal reporting, and providing analysis and financial recommendations to key decision makers at the institution. She is also co-chair of both the University Fees, and Banner 9 Project Steering committees, as well as a member of the Operations Continuity Committee and chair of the Fees Continuity committee.

The community feeling and variety she experiences on the job are part of the reasons why Adams, a popular figure on campus, opted to work in the post-secondary sector instead of for a large private accounting firm.

“I was pretty confident I wasn’t going to become an auditor,” she said. “I’ve been more drawn to the managerial side and strategic planning and being there to support the university community as a whole. My work does vary from day to day – it’s both challenging and exciting.”

However, no strategic planning could have prepared Adams and her team for the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 global pandemic disrupted normal operations at the university.

“The first thing we had to ensure was the health and safety of the employees based on WorksafeBC and public health mandates,” says Adams. “And being that we still needed to get essential work done, there was no opportunity for a gap: our employees needed to be paid, and we needed to continue to provide support to the university community. The institution continued with academic programming — except for a short pause to reconfigure to a remote format.”

“So, there was really no option other than for us to figure this out.”

With classes and the workplace transitioning to remote, Adams’ team had to address challenges and make “sure we were moving in the right direction, implementing changes fairly quickly and making adjustments as we went along.”

This meant allocating resources for students and employees, budgeting efficiently and providing financial transparency for the university’s leaders. Ensuring compliance with internal controls, which included providing electronic and digital options in a field that previously relied heavily on literal paper trails and in-person signing.

Adams was able to implement mandatory changes while keeping a glass-half-full attitude in a trying time. She holds virtual weekly meetings with her teams where they collaborate, share best practices, and support each other. Adams says the successful response to Covid-19 is due to the exceptional team that she has the honor of working with.

“She takes a people-first approach to managing her team and works with her staff to find ways to meet their personal deliverables; she does this with respect, trust, and appreciation of each person,” says Hogan.

As the return to in-person classes and working at UFV seems to be around the corner, her signature optimism once again shines bright. Being positive and prepared is what helped Adams keep the ship afloat the past 14-plus months. It’s the way she has always lived her life.

“If you’re positive, then hopefully that extends to the team.”

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