Ronald Paprocki retires from the University of Rochester next month after nearly 50 years of being part of major decisions affecting the campus, the medical center and the community. (Photos by Kimberly McKinzie)
As senior vice president for administration and finance, chief financial officer and treasurer, he oversees matters ranging from emergency response plans to real estate ventures to food service.
One of his programs reached as high as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and earned commendation for improving campus safety. Other work garnered the university national recognition for its emergency preparedness.
As he prepares to mark his 46th and final year at UR on Jan. 15, Paprocki, 69, still marvels that it was a detour that led him on this path. He never intended a career with such financial responsibility. He did not have any background in finance when he graduated from UR.
“My degree was in French literature. I married my wife, Cathy, in my senior year and I was accepted to graduate school,” Paprocki said. “We agreed I would take a year off and work first. That one year turned into 46 years by a series of turn of events I had not predicted.”
Paprocki graduated in 1969 and took a position in the registrar’s office. He spent just more than a year there before moving to the College of Arts and Sciences, where he was recruited to different positions over the years: student-related support services, the pre-law advisory program and ultimately human resources.
In 1986 he joined the central administration and was named director of budgets, moving up to vice president for budgets and financial planning in 1992 and then senior vice president for financial affairs and planning in 1998. In 2000 he was named senior vice president for administration and finance and CFO.
“When I came to the university undergraduate program in French literature, I saw myself going on to get a graduate degree in comparative literature, except for that one year. As I went on, I was interested in the financial workings of the university,” Paprocki explains, noting he continued his education and earned his MBA at the Simon School.
“As a child of the ’60s with a humanist background, I evolved with the MBA. I sometimes joke about that. But what I learned was how to read and write. I don’t see that as alien to what I’m doing.”
Paprocki has worked closely with five UR presidents. He spent the last 10 with UR’s current leader Joel Seligman, who refers to Paprocki as the partner in planning he trusts enough to hand off a “no-look pass.”
“We have come to the point where we know what the other is thinking without even having to say it,” Seligman said.
The UR president noted how much he will miss Paprocki, and not just because of their excellent working relationship and his contributions to the university.
“Accomplishments are tangible and Ron has a long list of them, but even more important is his character. He is universally trusted,” Seligman said.
He credits Paprocki for improving the financial stability of the university and its ability to expand the way it has.
“The endowment draw was 6.8 percent 15 years ago. That is now at 5.2 percent under Ron. That is absolutely significant in terms of securing our future,” Seligman said. “We’ve been able to restrain expenditures and reinvest. We spent $850 million on construction projects, galvanizing $200 million in student scholarship support.”
The university’s credit rating also has steadily improved, Seligman added.
“He is able to focus on the financial stability but also the university’s academic and clinical aspirations. He has an internal gyroscope that gives him an uncanny balance,” Seligman said, pointing out one of Paprocki’s most important accomplishments was steering the development of the university’s campus master plan.
Paprocki presented the 20-year framework for the university’s development in 2008 and it won board approval. It was the first strategic plan to address the needs of all campuses and facilities encompassed by the university, Seligman said.
He worked to create a stronger infrastructure and supported the chilled water plant expansion and upgrade of 8,000 tons of chilling capacity. One of the primary operations provided by Central Utilities is chilled water for cooling. Chillers keep water at 41 to 45 degrees and pump it to buildings across the university.
Looking ahead, Paprocki has tried to plan for limiting factors that could impede growth.
“One is utilities. That’s why we built the chilling plant and electrical facility,” Paprocki said. “We worked closely with RG&E. We could not have built the Golisano Children’s Hospital without the new electrical facility.”
Surrounding the campus
There has been a strategy to the development Paprocki planned around the university.
“We’re in the city to stay. Development of surrounding neighborhoods is very important,” he said.
He led the development of Brooks Landing, a hotel, retail, business center and student residential project connected to the university by a footbridge over the Genesee River. The university is an anchor tenant in office space, and student housing there accommodates 570 undergraduate students in two student apartment settings.
To further neighborhood development, Paprocki initiated the University Home Ownership Incentive Program. He worked with local financial institutions to secure special incentives for employees buying homes in the historic 19th Ward and Plymouth-Exchange city neighborhoods.
“Homeownership helps create stable, vibrant neighborhoods. It’s also great to minimize the number of cars coming to campus. Employees living nearby can walk to work,” he said.
Since the program began in 2008, there have been 300 closings and more than $800,000 in incentives provided to university employees who were first-time home buyers in the city.
Perhaps the development Paprocki will be best known for is College Town. He led his team overseeing every aspect of the $100 million mixed-use project on 14 acres of university property in the city’s Mt. Hope Corridor.
“College town was one of the points in the 2008 master plan. We did not have an area nearby with retail amenities that so many peer institutions have, so it emerged as an objective,” Paprocki explained. “But also a major theme in our master plan was connection to community. It is gratifying to see how College Town is that. It serves not only the university but also the community as well. Some of the restaurants, such as Grappas, are becoming destinations.”
He was so instrumental in the transformation of the area into a shopping, dining and retail mecca that in May 2014 Paprocki Plaza was dedicated in his honor, and a plaque was placed outside College Town’s Barnes & Noble Bookstore.
Paprocki worked on several of the College Town development plans with Michael Smith, CEO of the Cabot Group Inc., which serves as an adviser to the university on several real estate issues.
“I have worked with Ron for two decades. He would say he is not a real estate guy, but he sure is a quick study. That’s what I came to call him, ‘Mr. Quick Study.’ On every transaction he has been very knowledgeable.”
Smith points to the savvy shown by Paprocki during negotiations on the College Town Parking Garage Condominium. It would serve the university better financially to own the parking spaces rather than lease them, Smith said.
“We were able to work it out so the university kept 900 and the commercial developer kept 550. Ron was terrific to work with,” Smith said. “He’s really just a really good citizen. Integrity is never a question. He is always insistent it is done the right way. That is good for the university and everyone as it is the leading employer here.”
It might sound surprising that College Town is not what Paprocki sees as his most significant accomplishment.
“People view me as a ‘money guy’ but one of the best things I think I have done is improve safety,” Paprocki said, speaking of his work in transforming the campus security department to a safety department.
Paprocki led the initiative in 2012 to train and install sworn peace officers within the Department of Public Safety. The move, he said, was prompted by concerns voiced by the officers themselves, and the changes resulted from a study he commissioned. The transition required legislation signed by Cuomo.
While the officers do not carry firearms, they feel the change has strengthened incident prevention and response efforts by giving them specific powers of arrest and new investigative capabilities.
“The transformation has had a great effect on the morale of the department. I look at that as a significant accomplishment. Our safety department is touted as one of the best in the country,” Paprocki said.
The university’s first 25 sworn peace officers were installed in 2013, followed by 27 more a year later. Paprocki believes there will be a total of 75 by the end of 2016.
Another safety initiative Paprocki led put UR in the national spotlight as the first private institution in New York to be certified StormReady by the National Weather Service. It earning the distinction in July for its ability to respond quickly and safely in severe weather.
Through the years and with all the honors and milestones, Paprocki points to a simple but important road he has paved that makes him feel he has made a significant accomplishment.
“The thing I’m most proud of is I’ve improved our community regarding finances and made it more transparent and clear to the board and university,” Paprocki said. “Up to a certain point technical expertise is important. After that, it’s the communication that matters.”
His efforts at UR earned him in 2008 the Financial Executive of the Year Award, co-presented by the local chapter of Financial Executives International and the Rochester Business Journal.
Paprocki credits people who helped him throughout his career by expressing confidence in him and promoting him. He, too, has helped recruit top professionals to serve with him, including Mark Fischer, who served 28 years with the State Police, including commander of Troop E in Canandaigua. Fischer was recruited to join the UR security department and is chief of the Department of Public Safety.
Another key member of the Paprocki team is Holly Crawford, deputy to the senior vice president and CFO, who will be taking his position in January once he retires. Crawford was selected following a national search.
“Holly has been deputy for eight years but she has been at my side for 17 years, and involved in many important activities,” Paprocki said. “She will be excellent and more than ready when all these roles fall under her in January.”
Seligman concurs and credits Paprocki for his skill in recognizing talent.
“When you ask why he has been so successful you see it is partly in how he has built an incredible leadership team,” Seligman said. “That’s his real gift to us in the end.”
Paprocki sees it as a privilege to be surrounded by so many great minds. His team does not end with those he employed.
“I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with so many of the brilliant faculty here at the university. When I think back to being a student graduating from this university and how I’ve had the honor of working here all these years. I cherish that.”
Looking ahead, Paprocki admits it will take some adjustment to no longer being “on call” 24 hours a day. He may have to learn how to relax. He is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren, splitting time between homes here and in Vermont, where he enjoys fly fishing.
He would like to spend more time outdoors, do some volunteer work and “figure things out as he goes.” His retirement has been a long time coming, but he has enjoyed his work and the people at the university.
“Joel and I have worked very closely together. If not for him, I probably would have retired a long time ago,” Paprocki said. “The university is on the move. I feel lucky to have participated in that process.”
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