Bierman named Executive in Residence


Michael Frederiksen

Matt Bierman addressing the SGA on October 17, 2015

Talis Shelbourne

Western Illinois University’s Budget Director and Interim Director of Business Services Matt Bierman was recently honored with the title of Executive in Resident for Western’s College of Business and Technology.

 Bierman talked about how he got his start as an undergraduate student at Western and rose to become one of the university’s top administrators.

 “I didn’t plan in my career to be a college administrator; it just kind of happened,” Bierman said. “As an undergraduate student at Western here, I was very involved in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. The thing that kind of changed my career trajectory was my involvement on campus, and specifically me being a resident assistant in the residence halls. I’ve always had an interest in business and the financial side and this kind of allowed me to put those two together. So that’s why I’m sitting here today.”

 Now, he is in a position to handle the majority of the school’s finances, and as budget director he has the final say as to where the school’s money is allocated.

 “I wear two hats right now. One is the budget director, and in that role I develop and monitor the institution’s budget,” Bierman said. “There’s a lot of people that are involved in that.  I’m the one who does the final ‘put-it-together.’ I also am very involved with setting the rates of tuition and fees. My office is responsible for doing all the reporting to our board of higher education, the legislature, and the governor’s office.

 “In my other role as the director of business services, I’m in interim capacity. There, I oversee the accounting functions, payroll, all our receivables from students, and procurement activities. So any flow of money coming into or going out of the institution, I’m trying to make sure that’s managed.”

 Describing himself only in terms of these two roles, however, is somewhat misleading; Bierman is not only involved in Western’s budget, he also spends time volunteering on the Macomb School Board and advocating on behalf of the university during a recent trip to Springfield, Illinois.

 “I found a great value in being on the Macomb school board,” Bierman said. “My roles are all voluntary outside of the university and I hope there are people in this community that benefit from my leadership.”

 Working with Western’s finances, Bierman admits that the current state budget crisis has changed how they are able to operate.

 “Well, it certainly has affected some things and we’re having to monitor things in a different way and sometimes more regularly than what we would normally,” he said. “So cash flow is something we monitor very closely right now.”

 It’s also important to Bierman that people understand exactly how the crisis is affecting Western.

 “Because the state doesn’t have a budget and we don’t have a budget from the state, then we’re kind of having to front that (cost) and figure that out, and also to make sure people understand where we can and can’t spend,” Bierman said.

 While Bierman has helped the school adapt to the difficulties it currently faces, he credits much of his success to his ability to invest smartly while helping maintain program standards.

 “To the success of Western in this process or any success that I’ve had has to do with being able to properly articulate the problems and develop solutions to address those and coalesce around that,” Bierman said. “And I think that we’ve had a group here at Western — and have for many years — that has a very conservative view on the financial side, yet is willing to take some risks where we need to take risks. Yet, we have been able to establish a base of reserves to help us get through difficult times and challenges and now we’re living in that, so that has paid us dividends to do that.”

 Graduation tools like proper student engagement are one of the many subjects Bierman plans to address in his executive residence keynote speech.

 “One of the things that I’ll probably talk about to the students is taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,” Bierman said. “Now there have been several opportunities during my career and sometimes those opportunities don’t look like opportunities — they look more like challenges or a hurdle to get over, yet it really is an opportunity. So I will talk about the need to accept those opportunities and figure out how those can help you and make you grow.

 “The other thing that I will talk a little bit about is the need for students to engage themselves. It’s the responsibility of the students to engage in class and seek out the knowledge that our instructors and professors have. (And) those who come here, never interact with anybody — just go to class, take the tests, and go home — they’re missing an opportunity.”

 Some of his future plans include expanding instead of cutting the future budget.

 “I’d like to once in my job be able to say to the campus that we are going to increase budgets as opposed to decrease them,” Bierman said. “Since I have been in this role, we’ve done nothing but hold, hold, hold, hold, cut, and cut. And I think that it’s time for us to figure out what we need to invest in. I would love to be able to have an opportunity where we could really consider some new types of initiatives and new programs that could really make this institution great for the next 10 years.”

 However, Bierman said communication is key when it comes to working with the budget.

 “Budgets are really about communication and in my philosophy, it’s a tool,” Bierman said. “It’s not set in concrete, but it’s a tool that has to be flexible and it’s not something you use to beat over somebody’s head. It is what it is and there’s only so much money and we have to figure that out. We’ve got to work together, so, the more collaborative it can be the better off we all are.”