Anthony “Tony” Ferrara, the senior vice chancellor for Finance and chief financial officer for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, knew he wanted to be an accountant since his freshman year in high school.
That’s not a career choice you hear very often from high schoolers, but Ferrara vividly remembers the circumstances that led to his lifetime calling.
“I know it’s really kind of weird, but as a freshman in high school, we had a career class,” he says. “I always liked math, and this accountant came to talk to us one day, and I said, ‘that’s what I want to do.’”
Ferrara has been doing just that at UTHSC since 2005. He plans to retire at the end of August, closing out 18 years of guiding the financial reins of Tennessee’s statewide public academic health science institution and a 43-year career in higher education financial management.
“To this day, I still like doing it,” he says. “I like that there are some challenges to it.”
Rest assured, helming the overall financial management of an academic health science center with an annual budget of $680 million, more than 3,800 faculty and staff, and an enrollment of more than 3,100 would be challenging. Additionally, his duties include the operations of accounting, budgeting, compliance, contracting, and cashiering.
During his tenure, Ferrara has accomplished much, including:
- Developing a quarterly financial report consolidating all segments of the health science center
- Establishing a campuswide budget request process to provide for input from deans and vice chancellors in preparing a consolidated UTHSC budget supported with metrics
- Serving on multiple steering committees responsible for the transformation of UTHSC’s faculty practice plans in partnership with core affiliate hospitals in Memphis and across the state
- Increasing compliance with state reporting requirements on non-competitive contracts and improving the overall management of campus-wide contracting
- Serving as the secretary to the UTHSC Advisory Board, treasurer of the Memphis Research Consortium, the UTHSC representative to affiliated faculty/physician practice plans, and the UTHSC representative to university and system committees, including serving as the UT System HIPAA Privacy Officer
UTHSC was the first public university in the state to set the minimum wage for full-time employees at $15 an hour, thanks to a structured plan of annual increases for the lowest-paid workers over several years that Ferrara designed with former Executive Vice Chancellor and COO Ken Brown.
Still, Ferrara says it is not the tasks, but the people he will miss the most when he leaves UTHSC. Like clockwork most mornings, Ferrara walks with a colleague or two across the campus from his office in the Hyman Building to the Madison Plaza Building to get coffee at Starbucks. The coffee is secondary to the main attraction of seeing and greeting folks with whom he has worked for almost two decades.
Jackie Cotton, his executive administrative aide for 16 years, describes Ferrara as a friend, even though he was her supervisor. “I’ve learned a lot from him,” she says. “I learned how to be good leader. He lets you do your thing, and he knows when to pull you back, but he pushes you to another point.”
Above all, she says, Ferrara has had his eye on what is best for the university. “Usually, the finance guy is not the most popular person, because he is the one saying no,” Cotton says. “He was thoughtful in his process. He always has the person and the university foremost in any request.”
UTHSC College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP, says she is grateful to have worked with and learned from Ferrara over the years. “Tony is a problem solver and is a great partner in tackling complex processes and collaborations,” she says. “Through all my work with Tony, he has led steadfastly and critically thinks through issues to resolution with a calm demeanor.”
Anna Norris began working as the executive administrative aide for Ferrara when Cotton retired last year. “This past year has been amazing,” she says. “I have learned so much. Every day has been fun and enjoyable, except for the days that start with ‘I have a challenge.’ Those days, well, just ask Tony about those days.”
The lifelong numbers cruncher has plenty of exacting work lined up for retirement. He’s been a woodworker since he was a child. “My dad started me,” he says.
He has built intricate Nativity scenes, so many that he gives them away to friends. “I saw one and I said, ‘oh, that’s cool. I could make that,’” he recalls. “The next thing I know, my wife went to the store and bought one. I didn’t like the one she bought, but I traced it, and I made it.” He works in his shop at home. “It’s called the garage,” he says.
Great nieces and nephews are proud owners of wooden animal train sets he built by hand. Not much of a reader of plans, he generally works without them.
“I have all my fingers,” he says. Ferrara enjoys his hobby so much that he jokes he might have to get a part-time job at Lowe’s to finance it.
He also plans to travel with his wife, Kathy, and spend more time with their three adult sons.
Ferrara has had a distinguished career in finance in higher education. Prior to joining UTHSC, he spent four years at Binghamton University in New York as the vice president for administration. He has held financial leadership positions at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the University of Illinois. He has achieved a long list of professional activities and appointments at the various institutions.
In 2020, he was recognized a CFO of the Year honoree by the Memphis Business Journal.
“Tony Ferrara has been a great steward of the resources made available to UTHSC,” says Phil Wenk, DDS, chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Tennessee, chair of the UTHSC Advisory Board, and an alumnus of the UTHSC College of Dentistry. “As vice chancellor of Finance, he has helped make UTHSC one of the greatest institutions for training our future health care professionals. I’m proud to call him friend and wish him all the best in his retirement.”
For UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, Ferrara has been a steady hand on the finances of the university he joined a bit more than a year ago. “Tony’s passion for supporting strategic growth and improvements at UTHSC, coupled with his steadfast support of our entire UTHSC community and his encouragement of so many of us as colleagues, has been very inspirational,” Chancellor Buckley said.
The campus is invited to a retirement party for Ferrara Thursday, June 22, from noon to 2 p.m., in the Mooney Library Building, Room 201. Ferrara will stay on at UTHSC through the summer to help with transitions.