As Chief Financial Officer for the Ministry of Community Affairs, Joel Burke has a lot of responsibility balancing on his shoulders.
A trailblazer, at not yet 27 years old, he is believed to be one of the Government’s youngest CFOs to date. Mr. Burke’s meteoric rise however is no flash in the pan. He got where he is today in the time-honoured way: displaying an impressive aptitude for the job, putting in long work hours and honing a steely work ethic.
This herculean drive paid dividends, earning him both his certified public accountant (CPA) qualification when 21 years old, and his master’s in business administration a year later. Achieving so much, so quickly, has marked Mr. Burke out as someone to watch and, with a background in audit, internal finance, client accounting and funds, he has the skills to match the complexity of his job.
During his first stint with Government, he served as Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Tourism. It was there that Mr. Burke and his Chief Financial Officer produced that Ministry’s first-ever “clean audit”.
He later went on to work in the private sector, as a hedge fund manager for a niche financial services firm. That job involved managing a portfolio of client relationships while delivering a high quality service in the preparation of Net Asset Value calculations, financial statements and other fund performance-based reports.
His time working outside Government was to arm him with a wealth of directly transferable skills. “My chief take-aways from that time are always having that client-focused mindset (irrespective if they are external clients or fellow employees/internal stakeholders),” he said. “My work ethic never allows me to quit or lower the quality of work which I, or any of my teams, produce. I am still actively striving to find that work-life balance but when you have staff, especially a deputy CFO who works as hard as you do – it pushes me to always give my best.”
Enticed back to the civil service, he sees the Chief Financial Officer’s post as a way of making a qualitative difference in the lives of the greatest number of people in a way that working for a handful of high net worth clients did not.
As the Ministry’s principal financial adviser on strategic and operational matters, Mr Burke’s duties are complex and wide-ranging. His job involves monitoring performance in every aspect of the Ministry and its entities, culminating in preparing the entity and executive budget.
Gone are the days when CFOs had their heads buried solely in the spreadsheets. Mr Burke is part of a new generation who scrutinise the entirety of the Ministry’s operations. He is just as likely to be found off-site, at one of the Ministry’s residential care homes talking to senior staff about expenditure, as sitting in on high-level finance meetings. This hands-on approach keeps him in tune with all branches of the Ministry and helps in assessing the viability and scope of its affairs.
“My responsibilities on a daily basis are dynamic and can range from review of Ministry’s financial activities to providing advice to the directors of the departments,” Mr. Burke advised.
Marshalling the books means bending columns of byzantine figures into columns which balance with no errors. Making the Ministry’s figures tell true takes painstaking attention to detail, and the ability to harness and supervise his 12-member accounting team, while working to strict deadlines.
At year-end it is his signature that signs off on the annual financial statements, annual report and audit schedules. “I’ve been fortunate enough to join a dedicated and professional team,” he explained. “The Ministry, by its very nature, has a strong commitment to social justice and this spirit is evinced by many of my colleagues.”
Not long after returning to core Government, Mr. Burke successfully guided his current Ministry through a difficult budget process.
He is energised by his job and the direct impact that the work of the Ministry has in the community.
“This is all definitely the culmination of years of hard work behind the scenes,” he said. “I am grateful to everyone in my support system who encouraged me. I pay that forward by making myself available to mentor and train those that report to me directly and indirectly.”
In the short-term, Mr. Burke aims to strengthen his finance teams and bring them to a level where they are all empowered, engaged and the most “top notch team within core government”.
“With this, comes strong and effective internal controls, high quality financial reports to the Chief Officer and senior management and of course the ultimate goal of achieving continued unqualified audit opinions,” he suggests.
“In the long term, my goal is become an accountant general, or the Chief Officer of Finance and Economic Development – the Financial Secretary. Some may view these as unattainable goals, but with hard work and my continuing commitment to excellence, all things are achievable with God,” he said.
As well as being a Level 2 candidate in the Chartered Financial Analyst qualification, the 2013 Round 1 Proud of Them awardee for academics also has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a double concentration in accounting and finance, and the chartered alternative investment analyst qualification.
“It is an honour and a privilege working with CFO Burke despite my working a short time in the Ministry of Community Affairs,” said Acting Chief Officer Teresa Echenique. “He is hardworking, knowledgeable and overall an asset to our Ministry and the entire Government.”
“It is persons like CFO Burke that will contribute to us being a world class civil service. I look forward to continuing to work with him and seeing his brilliant contributions to our country,” she added.
His interests beyond work include following the financial markets and managing a portfolio of stocks, options, exchange traded funds and futures. “Occasionally I will lend my accounting advice to small entities in how to properly manage and maintain adequate accounting records,” he remarked. “I am also father of an active and brilliant four-year-old and look forward to welcoming a son this March.”
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