Lisa Rulney

Senior VP for Business Affairs & CFO, University of Arizona

By Tara Kirkpatrick

For more than 20 years, Lisa Rulney has invested her considerable business acumen and enviable work ethic to departments across the University of Arizona.

Today, as senior VP for Business Affairs and CFO, she is the school’s top business and financial officer, overseeing 3,000 employees and a $2.5 billion budget. Yet, ask Rulney to talk about herself and she would much rather talk about her team. 

“I am so proud of my team,” she said. “I really hope the people I work with feel that I have helped make them stronger.”

It’s this collaborative spirit of her position that she values the most, honed from a UArizona career working in Arizona Research Laboratories, the colleges of Education and Engineering and the Financial Services Office – all with supportive bosses who encouraged her to thrive.

“What I absolutely loved about my first year in this position is that I directly supported faculty,” Rulney said. “The faculty saw me as a resource and a partner.”

That was especially true after COVID-19 forced the shutdown of UArizona in 2020 and threatened immense revenue loss. 

“I am incredibly proud of the financial sustainability task force that we created,” Rulney said. “The day we made the decision to close campus, we brought all the finance leads together and started a conversation about mitigation strategies. We had to reach deep into the tool box.”

The task force would end up implementing 85 recommendations in just 15 months. 

Her office was also expedient in re-designing a university budget model that is more responsive and transparent for the university community. It launched in 18 months, compared to what’s usually a three-year process.

“Under Lisa’s guidance, the University of Arizona has improved upon its operational transparency and flexibility. We are incredibly fortunate to have Lisa at the university,” said UArizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins. 

An avid reader and podcast listener, Rulney is passionate about self-improvement. She has a steadfast 4:30 a.m. workout every day and enjoys hiking, camping and traveling with husband, developer Ross Rulney, and spending time with their two children and three grandchildren. The recipient of numerous leadership awards, she also serves on the Eller Executive Education board and is especially dedicated to mentoring.

Indeed, seeing students outside her office window each day is her best motivation: “I can look outside, I see the mission of the University and know this is why I’m here,” she said. 

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