"For any organization you are representing, there are tons of benefits from participating in outside organizations that maybe the naked eye doesn’t see a direct relationship between the two."
New jobs can be a significant adjustment, regardless of where the role exists in the corporate hierarchy. Whether someone is changing jobs because of problems at their previous job, or because of the opportunities the new one brings, everyone at one point of their career — from associates to executives — has a nerve-wracking first day at a new job.
For CFOs who must step in as leaders on their first day, adjustments can be difficult. Finance leaders may have a harder time in particular with these adjustments for a variety of reasons, as data has shown CFOs have the highest amount of turnover out of the C-suite.
After that first week becomes the first month, and the reality of the new role — its benefits and its challenges — becomes apparent. Kevin Bueso, formally the CFO of McHenry County, Illinois, is now six months into his new role as CFO for the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of the city of Chicago. Bueso is in charge of running the finances for the government agency that oversees all of the inter-city and suburban commuter public transportation lines within the city of Chicago and the commuter trains of the surrounding suburbs.
According to Bueso, his new role is filled with challenges, something he embraces. He oversees about 100 employees and is in charge of allocating billions of dollars of capital that funds Chicago's transit systems. The challenges, combined with his dedication to his family and his commitments to non-profit organizations, have provided him the opportunity to bring a new perspective into his new role at the RTA.
“For me, it was moving from a very traditional CFO role to a more strategic CFO role that is now having an impact in the region,” said Bueso when asked why he made the move. “And obviously also dealing with a lot larger amounts [of capital], larger numbers, and larger impact in the community.”
With transit ridership still down from the pandemic, and public transit’s safety has come into question across America, Bueso’s job is not easy. Chicago has been littered with violent crime, negatively impacting rider morale and ticket sales. In 2022, Chicago had more homicides than Moscow and most major cities in Mexico, and has been labeled as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S.
Crime, as well as other elements such as timeliness and cleanliness on buses and trains, impacts customer usage of public transit. While the working commuters will use the services out of necessity to get to their jobs, Bueso stresses the revenue being lost from lack of ridership for weekend service is noticeable.
“Say you have a family of five from the suburbs that wants to spend the day in the city, they might say [due to crime or cleanliness] I'm going to drive today, instead of taking the train,” Bueso said. “So, that is $15 or $20 per person of fare revenue that is not coming into the system anymore.”
If, as a strategic CFO, you are thinking the people that are unhappy about your platforms or products on social media in the newspaper don't impact your numbers, then you're not reading things correctly.
“This is where that strategic CFO role comes in,” because it is a combination of both KPIs and peoples' morale, Bueso said. “If, as a strategic CFO, you are thinking the people that are unhappy about your platforms or products on social media in the newspaper don't impact your numbers, then you're not reading things correctly; all that translates again into lower revenue, lower ridership, and a PR nightmare.”
Offer the Total Package to New Role
Bueso, an avid non-profit supporter and father, credited his commitments outside of his CFO role to his happiness and job satisfaction when he worked for McHenry County. In the RTA interview process, Bueso made it clear of his outside commitments from the start.
“McHenry County was very supportive of a lot of initiatives that I was involved in that were not necessarily directly related to my role,” Bueso said. “I was very upfront with going through the interview process with the RTA. When it was the second or third interview, I mentioned my involvement with the not-for-profit sector. It was also on the resume I submitted for the position.”
He said that CFOs who wish to take a new role but maintain other exterior commitments should promote those commitments as a part of the total package of what they have to offer. These outside interests and passions can be sold as an addition to your worthiness for the position, not a subtraction, Bueso said.
“In the final stages of the interview, one of the requirements was to put together a slide deck of why they should take me as their next CFO,” he said. “I made sure that I included at least three slides that showed that the benefits of my involvement in committees in the not-for-profit sector were benefits that may not be seen as directly related to my role."
I made sure that I ... showed that the benefits of my involvement in committees in the not-for-profit sector were benefits that may not be seen as directly related to my role.
According to Bueso, using connections made from one of his five non-profit roles to further initiatives at the RTA is one of the unique things he has to offer. As he seeks to overturn a policy that requires passenger fares to cover half of the RTA’s budget, Bueso believes his connections within the community may help drive support for that policy change that he says is necessary for the transit system to function past 2025.
“For example, within that strategic CFO approach, we have to address the fiscal cliff, and we are going to require a lot of support from a lot of organizations that will embrace and champion our goals of requiring more funding from the state, and even getting rid of that requirement says passenger fairs must cover half of our operating expenses," Bueso said.
“A lot of the people that are needing any kind of fair reduction or fair subsidies or fair programs are people that are served by the not-for-profit community," he said. "So if I'm a board member for an organization that is serving a large population that we also as the RTA serve, then I have those connections that I can be like, you know, we are we have a coalition that is addressing public transit, I would love for our board members to join, and I have been able to do that.”
This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will post June 22.