Robert Widigan graduated from UM-Flint School of Management in 2014 with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a concentration in Accounting. He has been the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the city of Flint, Michigan for over a year and explains that some of the most important things he learned while at UM-Flint were the core skills he uses every day. Such as, working on a team, handling big projects, staying organized, and managing stress. As our featured alumni of the month, Robert gives advice on working for the city, his path to becoming a CFO, and his favorite memories about UM-Flint!
Q: Where are you currently working and your title? How long have you been in this position or at this organization?
A: I am the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the city of Flint, Michigan. I have been here for over a year now
Q: What is your job like day to day?
A: Every day brings its own set of challenges. Therefore, it is crucial to understand clearly and have the department’s critical long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals in focus as you’re pulled in numerous directions. Day-to-day includes overseeing all aspects of the City’s finances, including preparation and administration of the City’s budget and financial reports, as well as accounting payroll, grant reporting, and purchasing. In addition, the CFO also oversees Fleet Management, IT Services, and Facilities. Recently, the day-to-day has primarily consisted of working with our partners in Lansing to find a solution to subsidizing the City’s underfunded pension fund. That goal was achieved recently with the newly adopted state budget, which included a $220M lump-sum infusion into the City’s pension fund, bringing it up to 60% funded, as required by state law. This funding will help ensure the City of Flint is financially sound for generations.
Q: Why did you choose to attend UM-Flint for your degree(s)?
A: It was clear that UM-Flint had amazing resources for students to be successful both academically and in their careers. To me, UM-Flint was a great opportunity to earn my degree while also remaining involved in my hometown.
Q: Share your best college memory
A: Attending home games at the Big House, Go Blue!
Q: What is the most important thing you learned while you were at UM-Flint?
A: Some of the most important things I learned while at UM-Flint were the core skills I use every day. Such as, working on a team, handling big projects, staying organized, and managing stress.
Q: How did your education at UM-Flint prepare you for what you are doing today?
A: Well, there is not much that can truly prepare you for being the CFO of the City of Flint. However, I will say the relationships I made and the passion for this community that I developed while at UM-Flint made it easy to say “yes” when asked to take on this role. When your hometown calls, you go.
Q: Who influenced you most during your time at UM-Flint and why?
A: Professor Chris Douglas. I had Sports Economics with Professor Douglas, one of the best classes I have ever taken. The class examines the economic issues pertaining to professional and college sports – such as labor relations and how franchises impact the local economy. I still talk about what Professor Douglas taught us in that class today. We have stayed in touch over the years; he has even presented at conferences I planned while working at the State of Michigan.
Q: Describe your career path.
A: Before joining the City of Flint’s Team as CFO, I served as the Finance Director for the City of Lansing. There I managed the Finance Team, oversaw short and long-term financial planning and financial operations of the City, prepared revenue projections and debt service requirements, and evaluated department operations, among other tasks related to the City’s financial health.
Previous to Lansing, I served as the Village Manager for the Village of Shelby in Oceana County, Michigan. In this position, I oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Village. Leading a small local government required me to wear many hats, including budgeting, community engagement, economic development, forging public-private collaborations, and working with local, regional, and state partners.
Prior to that, I was with the Michigan Department of Treasury for over four years. There my responsibilities included:
– Analyzing trends.
– Compiling local government data.
– Preparing reports for long-range strategic planning and recommendations for state support directly to local governments.
Throughout my career, I’ve developed substantial expertise in calculating and managing risk, cash flow projections, economic development, and planning, facilitating communications and decision-making between departments and administration, financial and operational management, labor negotiations, long-term financial planning and financing strategies, policy and ordinance development, and an understanding of State reporting requirements. This experience also taught me excellent skills in building lasting relationships with individuals and community members.
Q: Why did you choose to go into the career path you are currently in?
A: I have always been interested in government, finance, and economics, and I have a high drive and desire to help people and communities progress toward further success; this role as Flint City CFO allows me to do just that!
Q: What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
A: First, Take your time and be patient. Second, it’d be helpful to earn your Bachelor’s in Public Finance alongside a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. That will open many doors for you, from CFO to City Manager. Lastly, take an internship somewhere, like with the City of Flint!
Q: What is a long-term career or professional goal you have for yourself?
A: I would like to go back to school for my MBA.
Q: What is one of your proudest accomplishments so far?
A: My proudest accomplishment was helping carry the football across the goal line: pension reform in Michigan. It is unmistakable that Flint has had its share of disinvestment over the years.
Upon taking the role of CFO with the City of Flint, the City faced unrealistic annual pension contributions. FY2022 and FY2023, the pension contribution was about $32 million and was projected to increase to $40 million in FY2024. This drastic increase made pension contributions our most significant expense in the City’s budget.
While facing this reality, under my leadership we engaged in numerous meetings with state legislatures and our partners in Lansing.
All these meetings led to $750 million being set aside in the state of Michigan’s Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget to support underfunded municipal pension plans, helping to ensure a promise made is a promise kept to hardworking local government employees across the state.
This is a historic moment in Flint; thanks to the countless meetings and hard work, we helped ensure the City of Flint is financially sound for generations to come with this cash infusion of up to $220M into our pension fund. Based on recent analysis, $220M deposited into the pension plan will reduce our pension contribution for that following fiscal year to approximately $18 to $19 million, ensuring we fulfill our promise to retirees while maintaining City services.
Q: Fun Facts! (Examples: sports fan, long-term goals, favorite vacation, future travel plans/ideas, or come up with your own!)
A: I really enjoy golf (although I am really bad at it). Future travel plans include Puerto Rico in January, Mexico in February, and Honduras in the spring.
Q: What is something people may not know about you?
A: I was a paid-on-call firefighter for seven (7) years.