Like the many students she’s surrounded by, Julia Hanigsberg scans her phone for Twitter updates every few minutes.
It’s one of the things that’s made her stand out as vice president of administration and finance at Ryerson University.
“Social media has been a great vehicle for me,” says Hanigsberg. “You only make good decisions if you have good input and good information, and one way to get good information is through the relationships I’ve created on Twitter.”
While the relationships she’s created may continue, her time at Ryerson has come to an end. The social-media savvy VP is set to leave the university Friday, to take on the role of CEO at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
Hanigsberg began her journey at the hospital as a volunteer for five years. She was on its board of trustees and ultimately the chairperson of the board of trustees before stepping down to apply for the current position.
The largest pediatric rehab hospital in Canada is nothing new to Hanigsberg, whose eldest daughter of 18 years has been attending programs there since she was a kid due to a developmental disability.
“It’s really an extraordinary institution and it would have had to be an extraordinary place to make me even consider leaving Ryerson,” she said.
She looks at the half-empty bookshelf behind her and laughs. She says it’s already started to feel too surreal. Her office for the last four years is soon going to belong to someone else – Janice Winton who will take over as interim vice president. Winton is currently the chief financial officer of the university.
Hanigsberg first came to the university in 2006 as a general counsel and secretary of the board of governors. In 2008, she served as Interim Dean of the Chang School before taking on her role as vice president in 2010.
As vice-president of administration and finance, she oversees nine divisions ranging from internal audits to campus sustainability to financial services. That’s around 650 employees. That doesn’t include all the students she tries to keep up with and connect with through social media.
In fact, she says if she could wipe out email completely, that’d be okay with her.
“To me Twitter is infinitely easier than email. If I could get rid of email and just focus on Twitter, I’d be fine. I’d have no productivity issues. It’s the flood of emails that keeps me awake at night,” she said.
Social media is about being connected, says Hanigsberg.
“My philosophy is that I want people to understand the motivations for what I do. It’s hard to build trust unless people know who you are,” she said. “It shows someone cares and Ryerson’s paying attention…It just fosters dialogue and then all of a sudden, it goes from being a complaint on Twitter to being an email where we’re really talking to each other. I think it changes things.”
She said a big part of is it being able to hear the voices of students – to know what’s going on. It’s part of her philosophy and the legacy she is leaving behind – people first.
When asked about Hanigsberg biggest contribution to Ryerson, President Sheldon Levy agreed. “I think that when people look back, it won’t be the Student Learning Centre…it will be the accommodation of people first,” he said. “I thought she did a great job of bringing together people for both recognition and celebration… and it was clearly with attention to the individual and not to the corporation as if it was a part of the individual.”
For Hanigsberg, her biggest accomplishments were expanding the people-first ideology, her transparency and communication throughout it all, and being a big part of broadening the university’s reputation, alongside Levy.
During her time here, Hanigsberg has been a part of the building of the Image Arts Centre, Mattamy Athletic Centre, Student Learning Centre, recent Church Street development and the new residences to be built on Jarvis Street. They will be the first residences to be built in over 20 year.
“What really has hit me over the last while since the announcement is that people seem to really feel that I’ve made an important impact,” she said.
She hopes to make a similar impact at the hospital, expanding and making it more known. “It should be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.”
While Hanigsberg may be taking her skills over to the hospital, she leaves with some advice for Winton: “I think it’s so easy to get so focused on the dollars and cents, that you lose track of the big picture, which is that you’ve got to be moving. You’ve got to be changing. You can’t stand still.”