Cyclist Steers School’s Finances

Written By: Meredith Lidard Kleeman

When Robert Karrs, MBA, isn’t leading the four-person team responsible for overseeing the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s $93 million operating budget, he’s probably riding his bicycle. An active cyclist, Karrs estimates he’s ridden more than 100,000 miles. You won’t catch him biking to work though. “I’m too lazy for that,” Karrs jokes.

In his role as director of finance, a position he’s held since 2018, Karrs works closely with senior leadership to provide input on the strategic direction of the School, which includes managing the $35 million in state appropriations and tuition and fees. Since his tenure began, Karrs has overseen a reorganization that resulted in an expansion of the Office of Finance and assisted in the implementation of a new campuswide financial system, a new employee reimbursement and travel system, and a forthcoming human resources system.

Karrs is known at the School for being very friendly and down-to-earth, according to his supervisor William Cooper, MBA, senior associate dean for administration and finance. “Robert is a problem solver and tries to be creative while still keeping us compliant,” Cooper says. “His steady hand, along with the talented finance team, keeps the School on track with the optimal management of our funds, including our endowment.”

Karrs came to Baltimore in 2011 for a position with the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology after stints at Duke University Medical Center and Yale School of Medicine.

After 30 years in academia, Karrs really appreciates the School of Pharmacy’s congenial environment. “There’s an understanding that the research, patient care, and education that we do comes first,” he says. “Everybody’s here for the same thing.”

His career in academia began at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSUHSC), after earning dual master’s degrees in business administration and Latin American studies from Tulane University. Karrs applied his graduate experiences to his first job at LSUHSC, where he served as the local coordinator for the university’s research center in San Jose, Costa Rica. In 2005, he was rated as one of the top business managers in the LSUHSC School of Medicine.

Karrs left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded the LSUHSC campus in 2005. But he stayed in academic medicine. While he acknowledges that his career trajectory was mostly practical — “Once you develop certain skills and talents, the next job often leads to a similar job that uses those same skills and talents,” he says — Karrs has felt connected to the mission of his workplaces.

He watched his friends accept finance positions in the private sector, but “I was happy handling money for people who were trying to cure disease and save lives, or make people’s lives better,” Karrs says. “In academia, there’s that sense that what you’re doing is important because of the end result.”

Before settling in Maryland, Karrs took a self-designed sabbatical in May 2010 and moved to Montreal, Canada, something he’d always wanted to do. He filled his days with museums and cycling trips, including on the Parc Linéaire Le P’tit Train du Nord, a recreational trail that spans 200 kilometers, or 124 miles, through the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec.

An avid traveler, his next excursion is to witness the total solar eclipse in Cape Girardeau, Mo., this spring. “I missed the last one,” Karrs says. “I went up to the roof of Pharmacy Hall with then-Dean Eddington, but if you’re not in the zone of totality you really don’t see anything. So, this time I’m not going to miss it.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Capsule Magazine.

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