A Conversation with People Services Manager, Teri Sugai

Teri Sugai came to UC Davis mid-career looking for a change after working long hours for a small family-run company. She started off her journey at Davis in Central Payroll but hoped to
enter a more HR-focused position. In 2008 Teri made the switch to work at Facilities, before helping to create the Shared Service Organization as we know it today.

Ben: You played a significant role in creating the SSO. Tell us about how it came to be, how that led to today, and what your role was. 

Teri: Back in 2008, I worked in facilities, which at the time was one of the largest administrative divisions on campus. We had about 800 to 1000 skilled employees and ARM/FOA decided that they should consolidate, so instead of hiring entirely new staff, we did just that. A project manager, who along with myself, my supervisor at the time, and the HR supervisor came up with a concept and we virtually went out and talked to every client to convince them what a great idea it was. It was really interesting going out, talking to people, and almost everyone said the same thing, “what am I going to do, I’m used to having my person down the hall.” You have to remember that back then, Shared Services was somewhat new in the private sector but virtually unheard of in higher education. These are really different environments.

The campus did not want Shared Services. People didn’t want to give up their work and they didn’t want to give up their individual people in their departments. So, I told them, you will still have your person down the hall, they’ll just be around the corner, and you won’t be able to see them. 

Ben: From my perspective, coming in fresh, the SSO looks like a well-oiled machine. I found it somewhat easy to adapt and understand the structure and movement of things. What was the point where you realized you needed Salesforce or was that something that comes from the outside? 

Teri: They said, “we’re going to use this case management system,” and all of us were like, “What? What is that?” But I’ll be honest with you, once the staff started using it, they loved it, the clients loved the concept. If someone calls you about something, you can look and find that case right away. To me, that was the huge benefit of using a case management system. Plus, there’s a lot of automated routing. We had really built this environment of open sharing because the staff wasn’t afraid to talk about their mistakes. They talked about them as their learning opportunities.

The other thing that happened was, as we started bringing on new clients, it made me realize that we had built a really good trust system within our clients. However, we’ll never be done improving, getting better, learning something new.

There are two kinds of people – there are people that just want to learn one thing and do it really well. Then there are other people like me who don’t just want to know how but want to know why we are doing it, what the process is, and if there is a better way, we can do it. I’m that way about everything. 

Ben: When you are leading a monumental project like this, how do you keep it together? What’s your thought process so it doesn’t become overwhelming? 

Teri: You really have to do your homework and have a really solid and pretty detailed plan upfront. Some of the plans can be very high level, but when you’re getting into committees and things, the milestones and those types of things have to be specific. The people who are on the committees have to know what they are doing, they have to do an assessment of every tool, system, people that are doing the work have to be interviewed, etc. 

Ben: Another big project that you played a considerable role in was the implementation of UC Path. Could you tell us a little bit about that process? 

Teri: Yes. It was rolled out in phases. Initially, it was identified to bring consistency across all of the ten campuses and five medical centers because as you know, at UC Davis everybody does things in a different way, and it’s even bigger out there at the different campuses. People implement policies differently, they interpret collective bargaining contracts differently, they have different processes for things, and so ultimately this was supposed to be a cost-saving and was supposed to bring consistency and continuity across all of the campuses. We had to find out what people wanted, what worked best, what’s was more efficient, etc. 

Ben: You work on a lot of big projects, does any of this carry on to your personal life? 

Teri: One of the things I’m really interested in is researching anything. I’ll see something on TV and think, “I wonder how that works. I wonder who that is. I wonder what their background is. That led me into genealogy. I don’t know a lot about my parent’s background, so I signed up for Ancestry.com one day and some of the things I found out were really cool! I was never a big history or geography person in high school or college. Now I really want to know – why did this group of people do this? What was going on in history that caused this thing to happen? So I got into history. This translates well into my work life. I drive my teams crazy because as soon as we start talking about something, the wheels start turning in my head. 

Ben: What lessons have you learned throughout your career? 

Teri: I’ve been through a lot in my life and learned that things happen a whole lot better when you have a positive attitude. Always believe things can happen. Believe in hope.

Also, we all made mistakes. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you don’t know what you are doing, admit it! If I had to tell anyone anything, my number one thing would be to always be kind. Kindness solves everything.

As well as this, I learned that you need to set healthy boundaries. How can I tell my staff one thing if I am not modeling it myself? If my family has something going on, I am there. I prioritize my health; I prioritize my family’s health. The message has changed over time to one of taking care of yourself. I do this because I love what I do. I really do.