The Strategic CFO is more than a chief accountant who ensures compliance—they are a strategist, leader, and visionary. We recently launched a new report with ERS, The Strategic CFO: A guide for school districts. The report includes 3 mindsets and 5 core functions shared by CFOs, including a few of our alums, who help their districts change the status quo and align resources to strategy.
One example of a truly Strategic CFO is Ron Steiger (The Broad Residency 2005-2007), Chief Financial Officer of Miami-Dad County Public Schools. Read more about his role and how he approaches his work, remaining focused on students.
What inspired you to pursue your role?
My interest has always been to help solve the large public issues we face as a society. I feel the most important in the long-term is ensuring all our citizens are educated and offered an opportunity to succeed, and thus building and sustaining a strong public education system is where I choose to focus my career. As for my inspiration to be the CFO, my answer is the same as famous bank robber Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks…because that’s where the money is. The budget of a large urban school district like Miami-Dade is where academics, community, communications, strategy, human resources and politics all converge, connecting all those in a cohesive and positive way is a role I enjoy.
What initiative are you currently focused on?
You mean besides the usual management of a $5.4 billion and 40k employee organization? One of our top priorities from a business management side is eliminating disparity in purchasing for local small and micro African-American, Asian and Women owned vendors. To ensure sustainably strong and healthy public schools, we need strong and healthy communities. One part we play in that effort is working to make sure that our procurement practices go far beyond the legal requirements in getting these historically under-utilized companies to be an integral part in supplying our system’s goods and services. This complicated effort involves getting the entire organization working as one on everything from capacity building, to targeted marketing, to procurement procedural changes; but nothing is as important as indoctrinating the importance of the effort into the culture of the entire organization.
How does your work connect with your organization’s long-term vision?
Budget and strategy must be intrinsically linked or there is little hope of any organization’s long-term vision to come to fruition. In Miami-Dade we have spent the past decade using what we call the Values Based Budget approach, where our budget best reflects the values of our entire community, willfully cutting out all things that do not. Our long-term vision is solely focused on student achievement, and through the budget process we have prioritized only those efforts and programs which guide us towards that goal. My continuous work is to help the organization continue on that path despite the strong unrelenting pull to divert our limited resources to solve the short-term issues and distractions that pop-up on a regular basis.
How do you incorporate stakeholders in your financial decisions and planning, both internal (e.g., school leaders) and external (e.g., community members)?
We have found that the annual budget process goes far smoother when the final work product isn’t just the best thinking of cabinet and Finance staff, but a reflection of all stakeholder input, especially school leaders and community members. To that end, we have separate annual committees for both principals and community members that meet on a regular basis to discuss all the financial decisions and planning issues the District is facing. This includes the process all the way from revenue assumptions to final budget recommendations that will go to the Superintendent and School Board. Additionally, we will have Board Member and community workshops and/or town hall meetings to hear additional priorities for consideration by the committees who will eventually each take their decisions to the Superintendent whose final recommendation goes to our elected School Board for approval.
How do you define success within the finance organization?
Our ultimate definition of success is no different than that of every other bureau at Miami-Dade County Public Schools: student achievement. Within Finance, each department has its own metrics upon which it is evaluated, but all together they can be summarized as having a financially healthy organization: from a strong fund balance to a finding-free audit to improved credit ratings to delivery of a world-class health plan. In 2008 our District learned the hard way that when our financial pillar is crumbling, it is near impossible to focus on teaching and learning in a successful way. When our organization is financially healthy it can deliver the results that allow our students to succeed academically, personally and civically.
What aspect of the CFO role most surprised you?
The groupies! Well at least the vast amount of public interest in all parts of the financial operation of the school district.