20 Questions: Kathryn L. Mullaney, St. Lawrence University

Kathryn L. Mullaney, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer of St. Lawrence University, Canton.

  • Age: 60
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology, Union College, Schenectady. Graduate of the General Electric financial management program.
  • Career: Twenty years at General Electric, lastly as manager of finance for locations in Binghamton and Valley Forge. Eighteen years at St. Lawrence University in current position.
  • Family: Married to husband, Brian, two children ages 26 and 24, and a granddaughter, 5.
  • Last book read: “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.

NNYB: How does a young woman with a biology degree end up in finance?

MULLANEY: I had a liberal arts education, that’s how I ended up in finance. I ended up at work at G.E. as a temp right out of college. The reason I got a job at G.E. was because of a connection to Union. I had been assigned to G.E. as a temp and when my boss was talking to me one day he said, ‘What’s up with you?’ I said I graduated from Union and he identified with that. The rest was history. The liberal arts education teaches you how to speak well and use your analytical and communication skills. It’s prepares you to be an effective individual. That’s why it resonates here with me.

NNYB: How did you go from a corporate finance career at G.E. to a career in the education realm?

MULLANEY: I worked for G.E. for 20 years and ended up as a manager of finance until the aerospace business was sold to Martin Marietta. If the business had not been sold, I would still be with G.E. I loved that company. But Martin Marietta was run very differently. I started looking for an alternative. I looked for a long time within the corporate finance world and it was almost like going from the frying pan to the fire. It was the mid-1990s and it was very difficult, especially in the defense industry because it was consolidating. At the time I was on the board of trustees at Union College so I had one foot in the door in that industry. I started looking for a job in the Chronicle of Higher Education and just started applying to ads.

Kathryn L. Mullaney has spent 18 years navigating St. Lawrence University through a tough economic climate but says the school is in a position to sustain itself for many years into the future. Photo by Jason Hunter.

NNYB: What was the transition like after 20 years at G.E. going into academia?

MULLANEY: I worked in aerospace, it was all defense. I loved my job with G.E. but when I came here it became more emotionally as well as professionally satisfying. The only thing I had to adjust was the cycle of decision-making. It takes longer to make a decision here than it does in the corporate world. We have a collaborative decision-making process here. We don’t have an attitude like, ‘The president said it and that’s how it shall be,’ like in a corporation. We have to have the discussions and the collaboration to make sure from every perspective it makes sense. Every decision has an impact.

NNYB: Did you have any concerns with making the switch in careers?

MULLANEY: One of the things I was worried about, a personal worry that never came to fruition, was that at G.E. all I had to do was call corporate and tell them how much money I needed to pay the bills. Here, we have to generate our own cash. There’s no bigger organization that is going to step in and fix anything that might not work here. We have the responsibility for the whole shooting match. When I worked at G.E. the finance managers moved quite often so you could see how other businesses did it and learn the best practices and improve every organization as you go. I never thought I would see myself staying in the same organization for 17 years. I love my job. Part of it is because I have responsibility for the whole thing, all the way from making sure we have enough money to make payroll to making the business decisions at the Best Western to the investments. It’s a very broadly defined position as compared to the compartmentalized G.E. That’s been a real pleasure.

NNYB: In 2010 there was restructuring after Thomas F. Coakley, then vice president of administrative operations, retired. You assumed responsibility of the bookstore and university inn, what challenges did that present?

MULLANEY: The biggest challenge was not having Tom. He and I were two people on the senior staff that had a finance background. To have two people on staff with that sense made a big difference. It was a professional collaboration that gave each of us a confidence in what we did.

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