Long-time GFOA leader Jeff Esser looks back over 35 years as Executive Director.


GFOA Executive Director/CEO Jeff Esser will retire on June 30, 2017. Government Finance Review sat down with Jeff as he reflected on his career with the association, changes in the profession, and his thoughts on state and local government finance.

Q When you retire this summer as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer at the end of June 2017 and become Executive Director Emeritus, you will have completed a long career with the Government Finance Officers Association. Tell us how long you've been involved with state and local government.

A My career with GFOA spans 38 years, the first three running GFOA's Washington, D. C. office and the last 35 years as Executive Director/CEO. Prior to that, I worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures, so I have been working on behalf of state and local government for more than 44 years.

Q What are the biggest changes you've seen in the government finance profession during this time period?

A I have seen significant increases in the level of training, education, and professionalism over these past 40-some years. Surveys of the GFOA membership reveal that today's finance directors are better educated and more focused on continuing to hone their skills through ongoing training. When I joined GFOA, or what was then called the Municipal Finance Officers Association (MFOA), in 1979, many finance directors were primarily focused on the mechanics of a financial operation and producing annual financial reports. My observation is that the role of the CFO has evolved considerably into a more forward-looking role of strategic thinking, long-range financial planning, and advocating for fiscal sustainability.

Q What have been the major changes at GFOA since you became Executive Director?

A In terms of metrics, the number of members has increased from 9,000 to more than 19,000, with similar increases in attendance at training events and the annual conference. The organization 's primary focus was on accounting and encouraging governments to produce high-quality financial reports, the issuance of debt, and disclosure of financial information. Since the early '80s, we've expanded our scope to offer the same high-quality training and publications in many other areas of finance including budgeting, cash management, pension and benefit administration, economic development, technology, performance management, and strategic planning. GFOA also has taken on the role of helping develop the next generation of finance leaders...

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