TJC's Caruso thrifty ways saving college big money
In the less than two years since Mike Caruso has been at Tyler Junior College, he and his staff have made a significant effect on savings.
By signing new contracts and eliminating others, he's saved the college hundreds of thousands of dollars, and positioned the campus bookstore to bring in more revenue.
"I think probably the most important thing is ensuring that the taxpaying dollars are being spent correctly," Caruso, 53, said of his role as director of campus services. "And I believe the other big thing is minimizing the risk to the college."
In his position, Caruso oversees purchasing and contracts, fleet management, property and liability insurance, duplication and mail services, records retention, property management and campus wide moves and setups.
That's quite a list for one person, but he has a team of seven working with him.
Some of their recent successes include signing a new housekeeping contract saving the college $500,000 during a five-year period.
Caruso transitioned TJC from renting fleet vehicles to buying eight of its own, saving at least $200,000 throughout a five-year period.
A bookstore contract that's being finalized has the potential to garner an additional $3 million in revenue during the next 10 years.
And those are just a few examples.
TJC President Dr. Mike Metke wrote in an email that Caruso has excellent skills and experience in purchasing and management.
"Because of those skills along with (his) personality and temperament, he has saved TJC hundreds of thousands of dollars in negotiating contracts and in finding the best deals available," Metke wrote. "Mike enjoys doing his job and does it very well. His eyes light up when he squeezes out every last cent."
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Caruso is one of five children. His childhood memories may be many, but words from his father are what stand out.
"My father always told us to control the things you can control and don't worry about the things you can't control ..." he said. "In a certain degree, I try to use that same philosophy, thought process in my contracts. If I can't control it, I'm not going to worry about it, but if I can control it, now I need to worry about it and manage the contracts accordingly."
After graduating from high school, Caruso took a year off and worked as a store clerk. That experience was short-lived but provided motivation for him to go to college.
"I remember being on my knees stocking shelves, and I remember this guy standing over the top of me (saying), 'When are you going to get done? When are you going to get done?'" Caruso said. "And that's when it triggered in my brain after a year of going through that mess; I'm not going to put up with this. That's when I decided to go back to college."
He paid his way through school working at a wholesaler by day and attending classes at night.
After earning his bachelor's degree in management from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University), he moved to Alaska where his brother lived. He spent about two years there and worked as a commercial fisherman and customer service representative for an electric company. He also started work on a master's degree.
Upon returning home to Philadelphia, he earned an MBA and eventually got a job with the Marriott Corp. Contracts Division. There he learned the ropes of the profession from the ground floor up, he said.
To some the reading of contracts might be tedious, but to Caruso it's the differences in each one that make it interesting. Reading the scope of work is like a window into what's happening in different industries and professions be it marketing, information technology or construction.
"You start to realize my goodness, look at all the new stuff going on in this world that ... the average person doesn't see because they're not behind the scenes; they are on the other end," Caruso said. "So it can be boring because you're reading some of the same language over and over again. But then, when you read that scope of work, that's what makes it challenging. And then what makes it even more challenging is having someone sitting on the other side of the table there and you're going back and forth with those individuals and that's what I love is the bartering and the negotiation end of it. So it's just not only reading the contract, it's constructing the contract and that's what I love. ... When you get into the business terms, that's when it becomes creative and daring."
Today, Caruso and his office manage about 200 contracts. One of the things he did after coming on board was bring in template contracts. Previously, TJC had been signing the other party's contract which always put the college at risk, Caruso said.
Now, the college has its own sample contracts that have been reviewed by legal counsel. These are sent out with request for proposals or qualifications. He said the college is open to signing the other party's contracts, but not without Caruso reading over them and giving a heavy edit if necessary to ensure they are balanced.
Throughout his career which includes eight years with Marriott and about 16 years with The University of Texas System, he has managed more than $1 billion in contracts. That includes one $800 million contract when he was at UT Southwestern in Dallas.
Although he is proud of what has been accomplished at TJC, he has more goals for the future. Caruso wrote in an email that some of these include starting an electronic contract database for tracking purposes, monitoring old existing contracts and bidding them accordingly, and continuing to implement cost-cutting measures to provide the college with savings.
When he's not in the office, Caruso enjoys fishing, refinishing antique furniture, and watching his son play baseball. He also praised the influence his wife and the rest of his family have had on where he is today and he thanked Metke and Sarah Van Cleef, vice president for business affairs/chief financial officer. He said his position right now is his dream job and he loves working at TJC.
"Working for those folks, they understand the value of having someone in this place," Caruso said. "And the fact that they trust me that I'm doing the right thing, I really want to thank them for giving me the opportunity."