UChicago’s Chief Financial Officer Nim Chinniah to join Northwestern

Chinniah says he accomplished everything he set out to do at UChicago.

By Christine Schmidt

After seven years as UChicago’s chief financial officer (CFO), Nim Chinniah is leaving the University for its neighbor up north. Chinniah will serve as chief operating officer at Northwestern University.

Chinniah said he considers the move a promotion. “The ability to go to another institution and do similar things…. It’s the right next step for me in terms of my career,” he said in an interview. “In some ways the roles are similar, but there’s a broader set of responsibilities and expectations that comes with it.”

Chinniah said that he feels he accomplished what he set out to do at UChicago, though “the work is never done.”

During his time at UChicago, Chinniah oversaw the University’s finances as it weathered the financial crisis of 2008. He presided over an upswing in the University’s institutional debt load, which last year prompted two federal financial regulators to flag the University of Chicago as at risk of credit downgrade. The University maintains that this is a strategic move that is necessary to improve the campus.

“The University’s planning balances programmatic opportunities with financial risks and resources. It is more than a financial plan; it is a long-term strategy for the continued excellence of the University,” Tim George (S.B. ’74, M.B.A. ’75), chair of the Board of Trustees Financial Planning Committee, has said.

As CFO since 2007 and executive vice president at UChicago since 2013, Chinniah was responsible for the Finance and Administration Division of the University, which includes Facilities Services, Information Technology Services, Transportation and Parking, Safety and Security, Internal Audit, Risk Management, the Office of Business Diversity and Commercial Real Estate Operations.

University President Robert Zimmer praised Chinniah’s diverse roles in an email to deans, officers and senior administrators.

“As Chief Financial Officer, he built a strong team that has helped align the University’s financial management with the academic priorities of our provost, deans, and faculty. He provided key leadership during the economic crisis, and helped to shape a financial planning and management model that is nimble and responsive, bringing together trustees, leadership, and financial managers across the institution,” Zimmer wrote on Monday.

At Northwestern, Chinniah’s role will expand to cover investments, global strategy, and the Office of Change Management, which plans future organizational and institutional ventures for Northwestern.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro lauded Chinniah’s work at UChicago in a press release announcing his appointment on Monday. “His steady leadership throughout his academic career, most recently as a chief financial officer at one of the world’s best universities, undoubtedly, will serve Northwestern well in the coming years.”

In an email to his staffers, the outgoing CFO said that the move was “with mixed emotions.” “It is hard to think of not being here and continuing the amazing work that we have done together,” he wrote on Monday.

Before joining UChicago, Chinniah served as deputy vice chancellor for Administration and Academic Affairs, among other roles, at Vanderbilt University for 16 years. He said he expects the experiences from both positions to carry on to his new post at Northwestern.

Chinniah will officially assume the role on September 8, one week before Northwestern’s incoming-student orientation. The position of the University of Chicago’s CFO is at present unfilled, but more information on the search for a replacement and an interim CFO will be released in the coming weeks.