DOLLAR$ & SENSE - Alumna controls purse strings at Trine University

To a great many people, Jody Greer speaks a foreign language. It’s one that creates high anxiety for some and utter bewilderment for others. But perhaps most intriguing of all is her ability to reference it without abandoning English.

Greer communicates in the international language of business: numbers. And as vice president for finance at Trine University in Angola, Ind., she’s quite fluent with them, to say the least. “Numbers have always clicked with me, and I think I inherited some of my grandpa’s traits in that area,” said Greer, who credits her business-savvy grandfather as her inspiration to study accounting in college.

Today, this Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast alumna manages Trine’s business office, where she develops and tracks multi-million-dollar budgets and prepares a variety of financial statements and forecasts. And while calculating liquidity ratios and evaluating long-term debts aren’t akin to mastering French or Spanish per se, there is a common theme between the language of business and the languages of culture and tradition: They require careful translation and interpretation in order to be understood and made meaningful.

“You have to learn to be proactive instead of reactive with people,” commented Greer, Trine’s only female vice president. Most importantly, she added, “You can’t sweat the small stuff.”

Many business executives consider chief financial officers to be the emblem of trust for an organization’s brand, and these individuals prove to be the most vital when they possess an in-depth knowledge of the operation and avoid spin while recommending financial direction.    

Trine President Earl D. Brooks II views Greer’s contributions in a similar manner. “There is a high level of appreciation and respect for Jody’s leadership and what she has accomplished in her role as vice president for finance. It has produced monumental results for the university,” Brooks said.

While a good portion of Greer’s career path has been in higher education, her personal journey toward a college education was a decision deferred. After completing high school in 1979, she married, gave birth to her eldest daughter and worked in a factory in Huntington, Ind. Following a divorce years later, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Jeff, married him in 1988, and welcomed their youngest daughter soon afterward.

It wasn’t until Jeff offered encouragement that she seriously considered advancing her professional skills.

Despite her challenging dual role as wife and mother—compounded by a fear of being out-of-place—Greer faced her self-doubts and enrolled at Ivy Tech–Northeast at age 29.

Not only did Greer succeed at her family–school balancing act, she did it remarkably well. In 1992, she received the Melvin Curtis Award for Academic Excellence. The award is the region’s highest honor for a graduating student based on academic achievement and community service. “From what I remember, I was awarded this honor for all of the mentoring I did with my classmates,” said Greer, who typically received the highest grades in her classes.

After Ivy Tech–Northeast, Greer accepted a part-time position with the City of Fort Wayne, where she worked with several CPAs. “As I worked with them, they noticed my strengths in accounting and began encouraging me to become a CPA,” Greer recalled. “At first I thought, ‘No way!’ It was tough enough to be a mom and earn an associate degree.” 

But with Jeff’s continued support, she accepted the challenge posed by those coworkers and entered an accelerated bachelor’s program at a local university. Upon degree completion in 1998 and passing the CPA exam two years later, she began scouting for employment opportunities near Jeff’s HVAC business based out of LaGrange, Ind., in 2002.

Greer soon landed the controller position at Tri-State University (now Trine), where she has been mentored into her current role. Since accepting the vice president title in 2008, her position uniquely encompasses full controller responsibilities—responsibilities that can put her at odds with colleagues.

“As a CFO, it seems you have to always be the one saying, ‘No.’  There are never enough resources, and everyone wants more than what is available,” she commented.

“You have to learn to say ‘no’ in a nice way.” And as Greer can attest, “no” is a foreign word itself to some individuals.

Alumnus succeeds in HVAC profession

If Jeff Greer’s vocation had proven to be a bust for him, he could’ve blamed his oldest sister, Carole—and for good reason. She selected it for him.

Matching Greer with Ivy Tech Community College’s associate degree in HVAC wasn’t meddlesome interference on her part; it was an expression of love and goodwill to help him find a satisfying career.

“Carole told me to do something meaningful with my life,” said Greer, who was laid off from his post–high school construction job in the late 1970s with a now-defunct mobile home manufacturer.

The brother and sister duo traveled to Fort Wayne from their LaGrange, Ind., home to review a roster of academic programs at Ivy Tech–Northeast, where they somewhat randomly determined his fate.

Greer appears to have had few, if any, regrets.

Despite a national recession awaiting the new graduate in 1982, he found HVAC opportunities in Texas with a fellow alumnus before returning to northeast Indiana four years later.

And after a period of working for others, Greer purchased a van and became an independent contractor from his home, launching Preferred Maintenance in spring 2001 and knocking on the doors of potential customers. “I knew I’d succeed as long as I was fair and honest,” he said. “I think people appreciate that more than anything.”

In 2005, his brick-and-mortar business opened in Angola, Ind., where it caters to corporate and residential clients within a 100-mile radius. All the while, Greer, along with his wife, Jody, are proof that business acumen runs in the family—a family where an outspoken big sister isn’t such a bad thing.