VP Lawrence Durling: The man behind the money

    Lawrence Durling is looking forward to a less hectic life after he leaves his job as vice-president finance and administration at STU. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

    Lawrence Durling started his university career at the University of New Brunswick, where he earned a business administration degree.

    But he has spent much of his life at the top of the hill.

    Durling, 63, joined St. Thomas University in 1991 and will relinquish his role as vice-president finance and administration after this semester.

    He will then join former interim president Dennis Cochrane at Atlantic Education International, where he will assume the title of vice-president finance.

    The corporation, owned by the New Brunswick Education Minister, is involved in the recruitment of international students to New Brunswick high schools and the sale of New Brunswick school curriculum to other countries, Durling said.

    With new president Dawn Russell starting her term this year, Durling felt like it was time to step away. He says he’s leaving for “a combination of circumstances.”

    “I’ve been here for quite a few years now and it would be appropriate for her (Russell) to get someone in the position that would be here for an extended period of time.”

    As the one making many of the financial decisions, Durling isn’t often in the spotlight.

    Students see him at the J.B. O’Keefe Fitness Centre, where he faithfully works out every day as part of his mantra: you must have a sound body to have a sound mind.

    “It takes a disciplined approach in order to maintain that regimen,” he admitted.

    But even if students haven’t seen Durling, perhaps they’ve felt the changes and development he has helped introduce. Since Durling started at the university, everything from the administration structure to the size of the campus has changed.

    “It’s developed in every fashion in the time frame that I’ve been here,” he said. “I’m not taking any significant amount of credit for that development. It certainly has been a great experience to be part of it.”

    STU really began to morph into what it is today when Daniel O’Brien came on the scene as university president in 1990.

    O’Brien expanded the number of buildings on campus, the program offerings and wanted the school’s liberal arts identity to be seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

    “He was instrumental. He came to the university with the full recognition that in order for the university to survive, that it had to change,” Durling said.

    Having the opportunity to work under O’Brien’s vision is one of Durling’s proudest STU experiences.

    “It provided a great experience for me in that he was a person that had a vision, he was a person that could make decisions. He was supportive of the people that worked for him.

    “It’s been great to have had the opportunity to witness that sort of very transformative change occur.”

    While he’s been part of many positive changes during the past 20 years, as the keeper of the university’s purse strings, Durling has also had to make some tough decisions.

    Durling sees himself as a facilitator and over time, has learned that if people understand the reasons why you’re making negative decisions, they’re more likely to accept them.

    “You have to have the resources in order to do the things you want to do. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t a match between the level of funding and the list of needs and wants that people have expressed,” During said.

    “The key thing from my point of view is for people to have an awareness of the circumstances and there are a lot of no’s that go on in the decision making process. You can’t say ‘yes ‘to everything because the resources aren’t there.”

    And as he steps away from the job, Durling has high hopes for the institution he’s called home for so long. He believes STU can grow more, so long as it’s sustainable growth.

    “I think the university still has a lot of development opportunities. We’ve taken it to a different level in the last 20 years.

    “With the new president and new strategic planning exercise underway, that has the potential to strengthen the institution further.

    “The key thing will be to continue to make sure that the university continues to be on sound financial footing. I think with a smaller institutions, that’s extremely important.”

    Durling hopes his new job will help him transition into retirement. And after 20 years of having little schedule flexibility between September and May, he’s looking forward to a less hectic life.

    “It has to happen at some point. I feel good about it.”