Gayle Gorrill retires after 15 years as VPFO

- Jody Paterson

Gorrill and part of her team at a 2019 celebration.

What do team building, complex property deals and 1,200 problematic rabbits have in common?

Answer: Gayle Gorrill, the recently retired UVic vice-president of finance and operations. In her lively 15-year campus career, she presided over a long list of complex and quirky issues like these for the university. And, as her many fans will attest, she did it all with the grace, keen insight and good humour she’s known for. 

“She is a service-oriented, people-first kind of leader who has supported her entire leadership team to ensure we are listening to our teams and our clients in order to create the kind of environment where we all feel welcome, a part of something bigger, and that we can each make an impact,” says UVic Associate Vice-President Human Resources Kane Kilbey. 

Gorrill was the first woman to be hired into the VPFO position when she arrived at UVic in 2006 from the University of Calgary. It’s a big job, managing almost 650 employees in 10 diverse departments, which collectively encompass almost all of the university’s operations outside of academics, research and external relations.

One of the first things Gorrill concluded after contemplating her big new portfolio was that a focus on  team building was needed. 

Human resources, financial operations, internal audit, financial planning, facilities management, campus security, university systems, legal services: what was the common cause that would connect every employee in the VPFO team? How best to celebrate the contributions of a team whose essential work is often invisible unless something goes wrong? 

“What we determined was that the whole portfolio exists to help others,” says Gorrill, who retired in December. “That’s our common cause. And, given our role is to provide services, we’d better be really good at it.”

And so the Service Excellence Initiative was born. Its guiding principles aim to foster employee engagement that supports service excellence. Gorrill and her leaders worked to achieve that by bringing people together across departments to get to know each other, and to appreciate the interconnectedness and value of their collective efforts.

“Before the pandemic, for instance, we would have a reception twice a year for everyone across the portfolio who had been hired in that time, and everyone was welcome,” says Gorrill. “We’d do events, too: A hammering contest, ‘pop-up’ fundraisers, bocce tournaments, winter hot chocolate gatherings, potlucks, and even a Price Is Right-themed open house complete with games like ‘Cliff Hangers’ and ‘Plinko.’”

Gorrill’s efforts on behalf of UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada helped secure not only a new location for ONC at the Queenswood site and money for renovations, but critically important funding for operations, says ONC President and CEO Kate Moran. 

“She has been instrumental in our success,” says Moran. “She’s responsible in managing funding, of course, but she’s also innovative. She has the ability to find solutions where others find barriers.”

UVic owns more than 135 commercial, retail and office spaces, and 45 residential properties. Many of those properties were being managed in different ways when Gorrill arrived at UVic—and not optimally or with clarity of purpose in every case. 

Gorrill responded by making significant changes to UVic Properties. It’s a wholly owned subsidiary of the university that now manages such landmark properties as the Vancouver Island Technology Park, Queenswood Oceans and Climate Campus, and several high-profile downtown buildings left to UVic by the late Michael Williams. 

One such landmark property was Dunsmuir Lodge, built privately in 1974 as a luxury rehabilitation centre on 40 hectares of North Saanich wilderness. 

The late George Poole had donated the lodge and property to UVic in 1985 in the hopes that it would become a conference centre, but it never quite worked for that purpose. As well, the land is sacred and is spiritual traditional territory of the local Pauquachin First Nation.

It fell to Gorrill and her team to find a solution. That came in 2018, when Ontario-based Homewood Health bought the building and 11 hectares of property for use as a substance abuse and mental health recovery centre, with the remaining 29 hectares sold to the Pauquachin First Nation. 

“There’s value in being the new person, because you see actions that need to happen and don’t yet know how hard it will be to take those actions,” recalls Gorrill of a task that ultimately took 11 years.  “The closure and subsequent disposition of the Dunsmuir property was absolutely the right thing to do, but it took a long time.”

Over the years, Gorrill was instrumental in moving forward on many initiatives that will be part of the UVic campus far into the future, including CARSA and the new student and housing dining project.  

Gorrill may have left the campus job, but the university remains very much a part of her life. Her two children are both UVic graduates, and one is now a UVic employee. 

Former UVic chancellor Murray Farmer’s description of UVic as “big enough to matter but small enough to care” captures her own feelings about the university, says Gorrill. She experienced that sense of caring first-hand during three major health events while at UVic. 

“I get the greatest joy from seeing the people around me doing well and enjoying their work,” says Gorrill. “The fabulous part of a great team is that they can do what they need to do with or without you. I put out a note when I left saying the sign of a great leader is that when they leave, everything just carries on because of that great team.”


In this story

Keywords: leadership, administrative

People: Gayle Gorrill

Publication: The Ring

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