Public Policy Associates has selected Terry Gardner to become its new chief financial officer. Terry has vast experience as a business leader and financial expert. He has helped launch startups, restructured organizations, and guided implementation of strategic plans. Most recently, he was chief operating officer of the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, which has been a client of PPA. We talked to Terry about his past and future.
What brought you to PPA?
(PPA CEO) Rob Fowler was the chair of the board at the Michigan Health Endowment Fund when he was with the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), and I was the foundation’s chief operating officer. Rob was an incredibly engaged board member. He is a great thinker and a great person. I sat there over the years and watched him process things and ask questions, and I just said to myself, I would love to do something with this person. The stars sort of aligned. When he was phasing out of SBAM and I was phasing out of the Endowment Fund, we had lunch one day with same exact thing in mind. He said, “Terry would you be interested in working with me?” I said, “Rob, I was thinking the same thing. I would love to.”
You have been involved in running several different organizations in your career. Is that intentional?
I love building things. My last four jobs have involved building from the ground up, or almost from the ground up. It’s exciting to see a plan come together and see a business grow. It’s infectious because it creates all sorts of good opportunities for people to grow and challenge themselves. And the process creates a wonderful culture. I really enjoy being at that front end part of developing something. After a while though, it seems that things settle into place, and that’s where I get a little antsy. At that point I train my replacements and then go do the next thing.
How do you approach your role as CFO?
I look at an organization and identify ways to make it better, smarter, faster. I’m an efficiency nut. Can we do this and be more efficient? Administration is overhead and it actually becomes a burden that prevents the people who are generating the revenue from doing what they do best. You need a certain amount of it, but I try to make the organizational infrastructure and burden a little less. Hopefully I can make the systems a little easier or maybe bring in new systems that help people do their jobs better.
What new business opportunities do you see for PPA?
One of Rob’s ideas came out of the work PPA originally did for the Endowment Fund, basically setting up the organizational structure, and perhaps the back office for new entities. This is like a project Rob is currently working on with Launch Michigan, where business associations and education leaders are working to improve public education.
PPA basically ran the Health Endowment Fund for its first year, and now Rob is guiding Launch Michigan as it grows and puts its system together. With the right finance systems and business person, it could be a line of business we provide for other associations or nonprofits. PPA can be where a new entity can come to get its organization up and running rather than hiring a bunch of back-office staff. I think we can put together a business unit to do some of that on an outsourced basis for startups and nonprofits.
What’s your passion outside of the office?
Everybody knows me as a big gardener and no, not just my name. I love my garden. I actually built the enclosure with the trunks of trees I cut when clearing part of our lot. It’s where I go to decompress. I head straight out to the garden when I get home. I’m always trying new things. This year was 3 varieties of potatoes and onions and a whole quadrant dedicated to various greens. I love being an amateur farmer. My favorite grantees at the Health Endowment Fund were food related. Across the entire state, from Partridge Creek in Ishpeming to Keep Growing Detroit in Detroit, their support for local farmers and education is priceless.