28 Jun 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Margaret Mitropoulos


by Shona Simkin

If you’ve ever submitted an expense report at Harvard Business School (HBS), it’s likely been processed by Margaret Mitropoulos, the assistant director of financial operations and reimbursements. We asked Margaret about what’s changed in the 22 years she’s been here, what she likes to do in her spare time, and for a few examples of memorable reimbursement requests.

Where are you from?
I grew up and still live in Arlington. I can walk everywhere, which I love. I live in the first house my parents bought. We moved to a single-family home when I was 18 months old, but they kept this house and my brother and I ended up living here. Now my niece and her family live upstairs. A lot of my friends from high school are still here in Arlington. It’s nice.

What is your role, and what does it look like day to day?
I manage travel reimbursements. The University has a lot of policies, which are all based on the IRS guideline that allows universities, colleges, and not for profits to reimburse their employees, nontaxable, for things that have a business purpose. I get so many emails from people asking about what they can and can’t do, or how to process things—I’m constantly answering questions all day long, which I like. I also manage the corporate card and PCard program and the fellowships that we give to our students. I do a lot of things!

I always go into work with a list of what I’m going to do that day. Does it ever get done? Very rarely. I never know what’s going to happen. There are certain times of the year when we know things happen—like now it’s year-end so we’re getting everything thrown at us. But I just never know what I’ll come across on any day. We have faculty, students, and staff traveling all over the world. I’m available when they need anything. It’s fascinating. Anytime there’s a disaster–like the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004–we’re working to get anyone traveling in that area home as quickly and safely as we can. The safety of our students, staff, and faculty is the most important thing for us. If we need to get someone home, we’ll work to make sure it gets done.

What was your career prior to HBS?
I went to Babson College, majored in finance, and went into the banking world for about 20 years. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I became a bank auditor for BayBank and the National Bank of Greece. Then I thought, “Hmm, I live so close to Harvard, I’ve always heard it was a great place to work,” and voilá here I am 22 and a half years later. I’ve been in the finance office from day one.

How has your job changed in the past 22 plus years?
I’ve worked through four financial systems—we started with Star, then Web Voucher, HComm, and now we’re in Concur and BuytoPay. Everything was paper until we went to Concur in 2017. Now employees upload everything into the system, which makes life a lot easier. Until COVID hit, we still received paper from non-employees, but then no one was in the office, so we came up with a process where they scan and email everything. Paper is pretty much out of the picture right now. That’s been one of the biggest shifts.

The School has also grown significantly in 22 years, so there’s a lot more travel—more faculty, more staff, and more students going to different places. I’m fascinated by how much the School has grown.

What are some of your favorite parts of your job?
My favorite part is that I get a good insight into what’s happening at the School. I know what conferences people are going to, where the Dean is going, what people are planning, or when alumni are coming back. I find it fascinating that everyone is always trying to push the limits—which is a good thing, they’re trying to do something new—but we always have to try to gather the whole story and see what’s going on. I feel like I have a great overview of what the School is up to.

Most of us in our office have been here for quite a while, so I owe a lot to them. It’s a great group to work with; we all help each other. The community is very important at HBS and I notice that a lot. I’ve had some surgeries, and when my parents passed, my office and the School were super nice—they really care about their people. I also like that in my job I deal with every department, because everyone has expenses. Whether they’re traveling or need supplies. I am very fortunate that I get to know a lot of people.

I like what I do, but it can be challenging at times because unfortunately people do things before asking if they can be reimbursed for it. Then we’re in the position of telling them that we can’t pay for it, and they’ve already spent the money, but luckily it doesn’t happen that often.

What are some of the most outrageous requests for reimbursement that you’ve received?
I have two funny ones. One person was doing business for HBS and then extending the trip for a vacation. They wanted us to pay to transport their surfboard. It was a good try! We had to tell them no. Another time we had someone flying to HBS from Asia when SARS first hit, and they flew first class, which is not allowed. I had to go back and ask why they flew first class and they said, “Because of SARS.” Did they think they all didn’t share the same air?

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love spending time with my nieces and their children. That makes me really happy. I have two great nieces who are two and a half and nine months old, and my great nephew is just two weeks old. He lives upstairs with his mom and dad and his big sister. Aside from that I love to travel, and to take pictures as a hobby, mostly of the kids. I also love walking, the beach, and all Boston sports.

I most love going to Greece; being Greek myself it's my favorite place—Santorini is my favorite island. The first time I went to Greece I was five and I’ve been nine times, which isn’t a lot because a lot of Greek folks go every year. It was quite the culture shock for me. My mother was from a little town in southern Greece with no electricity or running water, so for a five-year-old that was pretty fascinating. I was also fortunate to go on the first FIELD Global Immersion trip to Poland, which was a lot of fun, and also to China and Peru. Peru was one of my favorite trips because I took a few extra days and went to Machu Picchu, and that was fascinating. Right before COVID I took a family cruise to Alaska, which was a lot of fun because there were probably 15-20 of us.

What would you be doing if you weren’t at HBS?
It’s funny you ask that because I plan on retiring in a few years. I love children, so I’d love to be one of those volunteers who hold babies in the hospital nursery. I will probably help my niece with her children, and I hope to do more traveling. I'm planning a trip to Greece for a couple months when I retire.

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