At this time last year, Jake Harman wouldn’t have imagined that he would be working for Yeshiva University, let alone see himself having the role as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the University.
Before taking his current position at YU, Harman worked at KPMG, one of the nation’s largest accounting firms, where he served many different positions. Right out of college, Harman rose to become one of the firm’s audit partners, a position which he retained for sixteen years. After that, he took on roles in Mergers and Acquisitions, the firm’s forensic accounting group, and finally, as an audit partner in the firm’s office of general council. “I have a perspective of a number of different sides of the financial world,” Harman explains. However, with the firm’s mandatory retirement age, Harman left KPMG after 37 years of experience.
Even before leaving KPMG, Harman had a connection with YU. During his early years with the firm, he already began a working relationship with the University. “My firm was one of the auditors of YU, and I happened to have been on the YU account.” After his retirement at KPMG, Harman “got involved with a couple different organizations. One of which was Yeshiva University.” With some of the connections he had developed with YU board members and trustees, Harman became aware of some of the financial problems the university had been facing. “It became apparent that they could use some help with all that was going on.” Soon, Harman was approached and asked to take on the responsibility of helping the university reach a level of financial stability. As Harman puts it, “It made sense for them and for me.” After several meetings with the YU board, Harman recognized that given his experience, he could assist the university as Chief Financial Officer at this vital time: “I said to myself, ‘You know what? It’s an interesting challenge at this stage of my life.’ For the next chapter for my career, I decided that this was the right thing to do. And I joined.”
So what does Harman do as a CFO? From the time he steps into the building on Monday to when his last phone call ends on Friday afternoon, Harman works on monitoring how financial assets are being distributed to the various places around the University and evaluates whether YU could be doing things more resourcefully. CFOs are generally known as the ones who oversee the financial activities for an entire company. A CFO has to worry about the numbers of an organization, the balance sheets, financial statements, and the firm’s business measures, as well as be well versed with the institution’s accounting.
Within the CFO’s Office, there are many different departments which work with Harman to ensure that the organization’s financial sector is running smoothly. Within YU, there are a multitude of sub-sections. There are offices for Accounting, Budget, Human Resources, Auditing, Investment, Procurement, Risk Management, Task Compliance, and Treasury - all under the umbrella of the “CFO’s Office.” Part of the CFO’s job is to be constantly connected with all of these offices in order to better understand how the university is currently doing financially, and what they could do doing better. “You look at how the resources are being deployed around the organization and at whether or not the organization could be doing things a little more efficiently,” summarizes Harman.
A CFO of a university especially has to be cognizant of balancing providing a high degree of education, having top faculty, and creating a warm environment for students with retaining a revenue stream which can support the university. Harman explains, “There is always the challenge of how much you can get from tuition and how much you can get from other sources, because you can’t just keep continuing to raise tuition.” Rather, one of the efforts Harman is engaged in is looking for alternative ways to generate revenue from new resources. “All those things, are my job. It’s exciting and it’s a challenge, but it’s a great organization,” Harman says.
Harman recognizes that YU is unlike any other educational organization in that it provides both a quality secular education as well a center for sincere Torah learning in a way that similar organizations cannot replicate. Harman acknowledges YU’s uniqueness as a factor by itself which can help continue to draw students in, and help the university become financially stable, “Nowhere But Here” at its finest. “The business model is here for us to bring those individuals in. The key is to make sure that people fully understand that this is an organization that is fiscally stable. I think once that happens, everybody wins.”
Harman currently resides in Woodsburgh, New York, with his wife, his daughter, who recently graduated from the Cardozo School of Law, and a son, who is currently attending Baruch College. Though concerned with his fatherly responsibilities, it is clear that Harman is genuinely devoted to building up YU’s financial health. Whether evident from the meeting-packed days, or late work nights, Harman is fully committed to bringing change to Yeshiva University. “It’s not just a 9-5 job,” he admits. “I work together with a number of the other department heads…we could be on the phone [until] 10 or 11:00 pm at night.” Especially in this pivotal time in YU, Harman believes that in order to have his job, being committed is a prerequisite. “In order … to make this a successful transition to a stronger financial organization, you have to be passionate about it and you have to be willing to put in the time.” With Harman so dedicated to YU, a future of financial strength is certainly possible and within reach.
Looking ahead, Harman believes that the transformation of YU’s financial state is not so far away. Although it is a process, he expects significant development to be happening “over the course of the next year or two”. Harman has faith that change in YU’s financial future. “I think at the end of day, everyone is going to recognize that the university is going to be in a better place.”
Aside from Harman’s qualifications, credibility and experience in the world of finance, he feels that the changes being implemented in YU are only possible because of all the loyal and dedicated staff working with him. “The people here are great, the board is terrific, the leadership is terrific, and I think everybody has a commitment to making sure that we get through this challenging phase.” Harman also recognizes how the YU community as a whole is supportive of the changes he and his office are trying to create.
Beyond Harman’s fundamental goals of helping YU move towards financial fortification, Harman envisions having a financial operating system which really supports YU as a whole. “They’re going to see an organization that is healthier, managing to live within its means, [and] that [is] going to be able to offer certain new models of education.”
Harman looks forward to continuing to strengthen Yeshiva and find ways to implement the necessary changes. “I think at the end of day, everyone is going to recognize that the university is going to be in a better place…I think that’s going to be better for everybody.”