The Homecoming

Despite its status as the province’s sole world-class research school, with 97 Rhodes Scholars to its name, the University of Manitoba faces the same budget issues as any other public institution and must overcome them creatively. (Photo: University of Manitoba)

The University of Manitoba’s VP of administration, Paul Kochan, returns to his alma mater to helm all the institution’s nonacademic areas

University of Manitoba (U of M) alumnus and seasoned public-sector employee Paul Kochan is finding himself in charge of something he’d never imagined, coming from a background in finance and health care: real estate. The university’s development of 120 acres of land is now helping to expand Kochan’s expertise because today he serves as the school’s vice president of administration. In that role, Kochan is essentially in charge of all nonacademic areas of the institution, including not only the university’s real estate but also its finances, treasury, human resources, information technology, legal and fair practices, risk management, internal audit, change management, and sustainability.

Since becoming U of M’s vice president of administration, Paul Kochan has been helping the school with the financial and legal issues of an ambitious 40-year real estate project. (Photo: University of Manitoba)
Since becoming U of M’s vice president of administration, Paul Kochan has been helping the school with the financial and legal issues of an ambitious 40-year real estate project. (Photo: University of Manitoba)

Kochan spent 15 years at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, where he was responsible for the health care of an entire city, before he returned to his alma mater. “This was an opportunity to switch gears and go back to the place where I started,” he says. “I started my post–high school life here, and I’ll probably end it here as well; it’s a nice full circle.” Kochan’s parents and wife also went to U of M, and his children are currently attending, so the move was a natural one.

The school is virtually the only world-class research university in its province, and that distinction is quantified through 48 Canada Research Chairs in areas such as arctic science, palliative care, genetic modelling, nutrigenomics, and indigenous knowledge. The university also has the most Rhodes Scholars of any university in Western Canada, with 97, and it has collected them while operating with the third-lowest tuition levels of any of the 15 largest universities in the country.

Running such a large public institution requires Kochan to constantly collaborate with his team and senior management. On a weekly basis, he meets with a board secretary, four vice presidents, the president, and his assistant. For half a day, the leaders work through all the institution’s big-picture items, and Kochan ensures that their ideas filter down to his numerous teams.

Continually coming across Kochan’s desk are funding and tuition issues, which plague many public institutions throughout North America. Tuition had been frozen at low levels for a decade up until 2009/10, creating an unsustainable financial model that only recently began to right itself. “Private institutions can adjust their tuition rates accordingly,” Kochan says, “and we’re not a university like Harvard or Yale that has this immense endowment fund because of alumni.”

Therefore, when planning for the public institution, Kochan has had to be not only frugal but creative. One example of this came when a large golf course next to the campus sold its stretch of land to the university well below market rate as a sort of community donation. U of M launched an international design competition to determine the best use for the land, and the winning design included residential real estate for staff, faculty, and students, but Kochan wanted to take it a step further. He has been looking to attract clientele from other parts of the city as well, and one project that has already began to draw a wider group of people is the 33,422-seat Investors Group Field, home of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

How Are You Growing?

“On the personal growth side, I’m looking to upgrade my knowledge of university culture and governance and pension-plan investment strategies by participating in webinars and conferences and keeping current with readings.”

While the real estate portion of these projects has been new to Kochan, one aspect that could have been challenging has been right in his wheelhouse: the legal structure and the financing. There are some legal gymnastics that the university has had to do because it’s intending on making a profit on the development, even though it technically operates as a Canadian not-for-profit. This is where Kochan’s health-care experience and his accounting background have proven to be invaluable. “This is the major project that I’ll be a part of as long as I’m here, and it’ll probably go on beyond me,” Kochan says.

With a 40-year time frame, the real estate project is about setting the stage for sustainability. What’s next for Kochan seems to be a little bit of everything, but it’s all related to securing the future. With experience spearheading pension plans, he plans on doing the same at U of M to ensure the future of its faculty. The future of the built environment is being addressed through sustainability initiatives—the university’s water consumption is already down by half compared to 20 years ago, and the school is seeing similar declines in energy use. “If we’re going to be around for another 50, 60, 100 years,” Kochan says, “we have to ensure sustainability.”

While tuition restrictions have hindered the university in the past decade, the current real estate projects and Kochan’s own embrace of change have positioned the school to successfully take on the evolving education landscape well into the future.