As Chief of the Finance and Acquisition Branch, Jolene McGill uses her love of numbers and people to further the work of NCEI and its many divisions. From budget planning to execution, Jolene manages more than a dozen finance staff to support the work of 450 employees across NCEI.
On any given day, she’s working with numbers and interacting with people—physical scientists, geophysicists, meteorologists, oceanographers, astrophysicists, computer programmers, technology specialists, communicators, and administrators.
A skill that serves her well, she says, is the ability to communicate technical financial information in a meaningful way, tailoring it for whomever may need it. “Most NOAA customers are scientists, IT specialists, programmers, or managers who did not specifically choose finance as their desired line of work,” Jolene remarked. So, in many respects, she’s a translator and a guide.
What does the Finance and Acquisition Branch Chief do?
On an average day, Jolene is immersed in putting financial data into context and communicating it. Her work consists of a variety of responsibilities:
- Monitoring all of NCEI’s financial activities
- Certifying the availability of funds and authorizing certain expenditures
- Addressing questions and concerns about financial policies and practices
- Communicating financial information to decision makers
- Coordinating closely with the many individuals who see to funding a product or service
Daily, she attends several meetings, signs off on multiple items within financial systems, sends and receives scores of emails, and engages directly with dozens of people within NOAA by instant message, phone, or in person. As she puts it, “The Finance and Acquisition Branch maintains a high tempo year round.”
The backbone of her work and the success of the branch is her staff, she says. A group of 13 execute the day-to-day business of NCEI’s finances. “Without them, nothing is possible,” Jolene says. She takes responsibility for setting the finance and acquisition priorities to best support NCEI’s mission. She’s equally interested in her staff as individuals. She dedicates time to knowing what excites them to come to work every day because she believes people are an organization’s most valuable asset.
How did you end up working with NCEI?
Maybe it’s a good thing that Jolene, a North Carolina native, reconsidered her first career: teaching. She taught secondary education for two years before applying at NCEI’s headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina. At first, she worked in the Director’s Office as administrative support staff. Before long, she was serving as Executive Assistant to the Director, coordinating travel, supporting National Climate Assessment activities, and handling Congressional briefings.
But accounting stayed on her mind. After earning a master’s degree in accountancy at Western Carolina University, she made the leap into budgeting and accounting at NCEI and eventually took over the Finance and Acquisitions Branch in 2016. Though she values her formal education, she attributes the successes in her current leadership role to wide-ranging life experiences and her focus on people.
“You need to be able to meet customers where they are,” psychologically rather than physically, she says, “and anticipate issues before they arise.”
What challenges have you dealt with in your career?
The number one challenge she cites in her career is change. Even though she embraces change when it’s needed and often advocates for it, she realizes it doesn’t fall under everyone’s definition of fun. So, she adapts. “I do everything I can to ease people through the stages of change, but when uncertainty exists or unanticipated information enters the picture, I have to pivot quickly to reduce anxieties that drain individuals and keep them from confidently going about their workday.”
Jolene uses these skills in her personal life, by juggling the demands of her career with motherhood. She’s recently kindled a newfound desire to travel the world and enjoys playing volleyball, working out, practicing yoga, and laughing with friends.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Inside NCEI to learn more about our dedicated staff.