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  Lisa Turchan, BBA '81

Lisa Turchan, BBA '81, Makes the Grade as CFO at LA School

1/21/2011 --

Reserve fund grows from $100,000 to $10 million under her direction.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When most of us see a celebrity in a tabloid magazine one day, we don't see her running late to algebra class the next. Or see famous parents fidgeting at the start of a parent-teacher conference. But for Lisa Turchan, BBA '81, it comes with the territory. As chief financial officer at the prestigious Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., she sees the rich and famous come and go. Right now she's more concerned with concrete and drywall.

Turchan is overseeing a $35 million project budget for the school. Funds are earmarked for the creation of new buildings. With groundbreaking set for spring, and construction ramping up as soon as school ends for the summer, Turchan is consumed with permits and plans as well as financing, bidding, and ensuring school operations are not impacted during the project.

"There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things that need to line up all at once," she says.

Having launched her career in accounting at Deloitte & Touche, Turchan is well-versed in making finances align. Accounting and finance were areas where she always excelled, but after a number of years in the firm's Chicago office, the lure of life outside the midwest brought her to Los Angeles. There she embarked on a 17-year stint at Fox Entertainment Group, ultimately rising to senior VP of finance for the licensing and merchandising division. She spearheaded financial efforts behind such Fox powerhouses as "The Simpsons," "Home Alone," "Family Guy," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And while the role was "a great deal of fun," Turchan felt something was missing. "When I started looking at what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I thought about the great experience I had at Michigan and the professors who helped me. I wanted to give back."

Turchan saw the opportunity at The Buckley School to apply the knowledge she gained in the business world to benefit an educational institution. "Buckley is a great school," she says. "But like most nonprofits, they needed a little more structure and business acumen, and somebody with strong skills to get them to the next level. Historically, the focus in the education world is very short-term, school year to school year."

Expanding that short-term thinking was one of Turchan's first hurdles when she assumed her role in 2004. Many schools operate under a year-to-year model of "get the money and spend the money." Turchan pushed the school to budget for an annual surplus, as opposed to an annual break-even. She also initiated a multiyear master plan which increased student enrollment and revenue and sought ways to drive down expenses through competitive bidding and other opportunities to increase purchasing power. As a result of her efforts, the school's reserve fund has grown from $100,000 when Turchan arrived to more than $10 million today.

To achieve such success, Turchan required the support of the school's board of directors and head of school, as well as faculty and staff, who can be notoriously territorial when it comes to budget issues.

"Our goal was to not cut programs, to not lose headcount unless it was through attrition, and to find ways we could rebalance and reformulate without cutting faculty positions," she says. She was able to sell the importance of a long-term vision even though much of her audience lacked her business-minded way of thinking.

"To transition from an environment where you're constantly thinking about the bottom line and how to beat the competition into one where you're collaborating with your competitors to create a better educational experience was a shift for me," she says. "At the same time, I had to show my constituents that I could run the school like a business, without sacrificing the end product. In the end, for us it is all about the students and their educations."

To that end, Turchan devoted plenty of time to enhancing relationships, establishing trust, and buildling credibility with different stakeholders. Her credentials certainly helped in that regard. "Educators are really big on where people went to school. So knowing I went to a top school like Michigan gave them more confidence in my abilities," Turchan says.

With six years under her belt and the master plan in full swing, the finance expert now sees how the goals she set upon arrival are paying dividends for The Buckley School.

"Our community here is so wonderful," she says, "and students at Buckley feel like it's cool to be smart. Being able to take my business knowledge and apply it to such an environment is the ultimate prize."

—Amy Spooner

For more information, contact:
Amy Spooner, (734) 615-5068,