Kate Motonaga (FEMBA ’97), UCLA Anderson’s new senior associate dean for finance, has worked in the finance and accounting fields for more than 25 years, managing budgets up to $1 billion. With a broad reach across functions, she held increasingly senior finance and accounting positions in companies that included Honeywell, California Steel, Avery Dennison and Kaiser Aluminum, followed by 10 years providing CFO-level consulting services to private and public-sector organizations.
Kate joined Anderson’s executive team as CFO less than two weeks ago. As she readies one of her two teenagers for college and absorbs the sticker shock of L.A. area real estate prices, she’s looking forward to settling down and settling in.
Q: You were already a senior financial analyst with what was then Allied Signal when you entered the FEMBA program at Anderson. What was it at the time that made you decide to pursue an advanced degree?
I wanted to be in management. At the time, Allied Signal (now Honeywell) required an MBA or a CPA for promotion. I was much more interested in the MBA route; they offered to pay for it and were very supportive of the time I’d need to dedicate to it.
Q: You studied business administration as an undergraduate, too. How early did you know you wanted your career to head the direction it did?
Too early… Even back in high school I was trying to figure out the return on my educational investment. I knew that if I wanted to go to college I had to figure out how to pay for it. I’ve pursued a path in both accounting and finance, which I have a personal tendency to group but are usually separate specialties.
My best subject in high school was algebra, which had me asking, “How do you convert a discussion or written paragraph into numbers? How does that translate?” I still do that to this day at a more sophisticated level. I know how important it is to understand what goes on behind the numbers and, as things change and evolve, how that will affect the numbers.
Q: Does coming back to Anderson in a professional capacity represent continuity for you? Or, conversely, will working in academe be a great departure from what you’ve done before?
As a FEMBA graduate, it all feels familiar in the sense of the community — the personalities I’ve encountered are very open, very friendly, highly intelligent, very focused on the future and the best interests of the school. That hasn’t changed, which is wonderful.
In universities you do fund accounting. I’ve done a lot of fund accounting but I’ve done it for governments. I’m used to red tape, the entire series of processes you have to manage… My background is varied; I’m used to many different audiences. But I haven’t actually worked in university accounting before. So it’s fun because I get to take a base knowledge and translate it into something different.
Q: What are your immediate responsibilities at Anderson?
The things coming up immediately are the budget process and the year-end P&Ls. As I get up to speed, I want to get to know the different audiences for each of those. Getting to know the processes, getting familiar with how we function… Understanding is critical to working with everyone. I’ve been finding time to meet with all the center directors and the other associate deans as often as I can. I am also looking forward to meeting with faculty. They play a significant role in everything we do. I want to know how the school works because the numbers won’t make sense unless I understand what’s behind them.
I enjoy the opportunities to use things like the budget process to bridge gaps in communication. And coming from the outside, I have no preconceptions. I can’t misunderstand something I don’t know anything about! I also have opportunities to learn the details from everyone involved and help them draw connections with each other — say, between an Anderson center and one of our degree programs that don’t naturally interact, and yet have common issues.
Q: How will you represent Anderson to the rest of the university?
On a functional basis, we report through the university so we have to be cognizant of external reporting and how we “roll up” as an entity. Feedback across departments really matters. For instance, UCLA Foundation handles all of our fund accounting, yet we’re responsible for all the use. So that communication is critical in terms of understanding where we’re investing money, how we’re investing money.
Q: What are you looking forward to most as you settle in?
I’m looking forward to living near the ocean again because I love the water. I grew up near it in the Boston area. I’m the person who takes off her shoes and goes down to the water anytime I’m near the ocean.
I am also excited to be living near old friends again. I keep in touch with several of my FEMBA classmates — intelligent, funny, successful, wonderful people. A group of us are getting together this weekend for dinner. These are relationships that have lasted almost 20 years after graduation.