Whether it is volunteering with local organizations, teaching English as a second language computer classes, donating his time to assist school districts with budgeting decisions, or raising his children, McHenry County (Illinois) CFO Kevin Bueso has the ultimate work-life balance. When speaking about the biggest difference between being a finance executive in the private versus public sector, Bueso paid homage to the things he can do outside of his career — things that he argues many CFOs in the private sector never have the chance to do.
Benefits of the Public Sector
Many executives let their careers define their lives, but Bueso doesn’t think like that. “In the [private sector] on a Saturday, you may have to go in and just roll up your sleeves and get stuff done,” Bueso told CFO. "That is more often than not and so, there goes my weekend. Instead of having available time to volunteer at a local organization or spend time with my family, I’d be spending hours in an office, crunching numbers and closing reports. For me, that is not ideal.”
Talking about the perks of private-sector CFO jobs, Bueso thinks his career working for public municipalities offers the same amount of life experience and interesting opportunities. “I've met some really cool people,” said Bueso. “People that are very influential in the community that have careers that have taken off in the political arena, and you just never know who you'll meet when you're out there in government,” he said. “So without having to pay $1,000 or something to go to a fancy dinner, I have had those experiences already.”
When it comes to salary, Bueso talked about how it was a hopeless pursuit to keep up with his colleagues that went into the private sector.
“When I began work and was pursuing my MBA, I met some pretty amazing people that were very business-driven,” Bueso said. While many of his friends had mid-level jobs in banking or pharmaceutical companies, conversations about raises began to make their way into his social circles. “My buddy got a huge promotion, he was already making a six-figure salary,” said Bueso.
Buseo was then an accounting clerk in a union job. "When I got a promotion, I thought that was unheard of in the public sector,” said Bueso. He quickly learned that his salary increase to $42,000 from $32,000 paled in comparison to the raise his friend received: to $320,000 from $160,000. He was blown away. "I thought that was crazy," he said.
High salaries come at a cost, according to Bueso, as he seems to thrive on the notion that his free time doesn’t have a price. “Yes, [in the private sector] there is the fun, there is the [salary] part, and it is great for some people, but it all comes at a cost that you may not recover from later in life.”
Allocating Capital, Combating Inflation
Overseeing a county of a little more than 300,000 people — the sixth most populous in Illinois — Bueso takes pride in his career, believing he is truly making a difference in the community by not only running the county's finances but also providing a public service. “I appreciate that in the public sector you tend to be seen as a public servant, providing more of that community support that’s needed to run villages and municipalities and counties,” he said.
Despite the flexibility a CFO in the public sector can have, the job still comes with all the trials and tribulations of being a private-sector CFO. Currently, Bueso is juggling a ton. While being in charge of allocating funds to maintain a court system, a police department, public work services, and more, Bueso is also dealing with looming economic troubles.
When asked about how inflation is hurting the county most right now, Bueso spoke about rising costs of necessities. McHenry County, located on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, usually purchases three snowplows every year for $250,000 each. Due to inflation and supply chain issues, those plows now cost $415,000 a piece.
I appreciate that in the public sector you tend to be seen as a public servant, providing more of that community support that’s needed to run villages and municipalities and counties. — Kevin Bueso, CFO, McHenry County
Inflation’s impact has also caused Bueso and his team to strategize ways to preserve the value of the $60 million in federal funds received as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act last year.
The plan is to partially supplement the state budget with dividends from the federal funds. According to Buseo, a significant portion of the federal money is invested in financial instruments such as mortgage-backed securities. Unlike the principal of the investment which is tied to all different kinds of federal rules on where it can be spent, the dividends have absolutely no restrictions. These dividends are making McHenry County an extra $600,000 per year, said Bueso.
“In the past two years, we have seen an infusion of cash like I've never seen before,” he said. Outside of investments, the county has created access for industries within the county to apply for some of the federal funds. “We opened up a grand portal for the community, and we have received over 150 applications,” said Bueso. “So far, we have awarded about $10.5 million, and that includes a lot of support for our strong industries.”
In the past two years, we have seen an infusion of cash like I've never seen before. — Bueso
Those industries include manufacturing, housing, health care, metals, and senior services. “These are programs that are designed to make sure that they are not a ‘one and done’ kind of thing; they make sure that the level of service stays [consistent] in the county for a long time,” he said.
While all of his county’s investments are heavily fail-safe and regulated by both state and federal laws, Bueso believes this proactive approach of investing the funds rather than sitting on the cash, something he presumes many other municipalities around the country who received funding are doing, is the best move for the future of the county.