Finance can be relationship-based too. Finance people are people too.
They don’t teach you that in business school.
John McAnuff, MBA, CPA works as Spurwink’s Chief Financial Officer and has been behind the agency’s financial curtain of health for a dozen years. Most people know John from financial meetings. But there’s much more to John than finance. He’s smart, accomplished, and is an interesting guy. He shared who he is below.
Why on earth do you choose a non-profit, behavioral health agency as the place to practice and build your career?
I left an accounting firm to join Spurwink, even though I was on the partnership track, because of quality of life issues. Spurwink is a place that understands people and offered me more flexibility and more family-friendly hours. Also, in an accounting office, I quickly learned that being a CPA at a firm with 100 other CPAs doesn’t offer me the chance to provide much influence. I thought I had something unique to offer. Working with clinicians and educators, I immediately can translate the expertise I have to people who don’t have my training and are appreciative of the knowledge.
What is the most gratifying part of your work at Spurwink?
Early on I had immediate input into the direction of the organization and informed some of the decision that were made about new services, lines of businesses, and unique opportunities. I like being part of a leadership, decision-making team and strategizing solutions with clinical and educational leadership to provide something helpful to people who need help.
Work here is never boring. No two days are ever the same. In the accounting firm, my partner predicted that I would become bored in 6 months. I have yet to become bored. Behavioral health is an industry where the rules are constantly changing, as crazy as that makes us! Services have had multiple funding cuts and it is exciting to work with the clinical and educational management teams to figure out how to adapt to those changes.
What is your greatest lesson learned from working with people in the clinical and special education fields taught you?
I have gained a much greater appreciation for the point of view and expertise of non-financial people. It’s not all about the numbers. We’re helping people. When I was new here, I may have been too eager and aggressive for those from a kinder place. But I have softened in the last decade (stop smirking if you’ve known me from the beginning).
The finance department has been pushing to be more of a customer-service focus and seeing the employees of Spurwink as our customers. Historically, finance has been more rules-based rather than relationship based. I know, surprising. We finally figured out something that the clinicians already know: Relationships matter. As part of our work we help program staff in a friendly, supportive manner understand how to work within the rules. I hope that we are more partners in problem-solving rather than perceived as blaming them for any deficits or poor financial performance. This is a new face for finance in the agency.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I’d have to say that it’s helping people grow. What I really like to do is develop our internal talent. We recently hired finance personnel in entry-level positions and given them opportunities to become more visible in the organization and try new things. We’ve been promoting internally in the last several years and I feel proud to see this growth. I’m even glad to help people move to other departments in their professional development.
Who are you – in a few sentences?
I’m a realist. In finance, the entire world can be broken up into debits and credits. I like to use data as evidence to gauge if something worked.
I’m optimistic about the human race. My wife reads a news headline and distresses. I contextualize it and say this is the safest and smartest country to live in, in this time, with regard to how people treat one another and how people treat people who are different. I use perspective.
I try to be creative. I help creatively figure out how the finances will work for a program that won’t necessarily generate a surplus but is a much-needed service with great potential, like adult case management.
What was your family like, as a youth?
I grew up in Brooklyn in and Irish and Italian and Jewish neighborhood. It was a melting pot of accents. I attended a little Catholic school for 1st – 8th grade with 2 teachers for 60 kids in each grade. My dad was a high school dropout and a bartender. My mother had no formal education and worked the deli counter in a supermarket. She moved here in her late 20s to find a husband after growing up on a farm in Ireland and not being able to find work in nursing, teaching or a convent. I have a sister in the health care industry with a master’s in public health who is VP of something, and a sister with a Master’s degree in education who teaches in Staten Island. My mom likes to say she has 3 masters! My parents never vacationed. Their life was about sacrifice. Those Catholics! I think that immigrant ethos drives me.
Can you describe your professional path toward an MBA in finance?
I love sports but am terrible at them. I became interested in math and began reading the New York Daily News sports page, keeping score of baseball and basketball games. I kept data in a notebook and calculated batting averages and sports stats. I wanted to be the general manager of the New York Knicks. My professional sports career ended there.
In high school, I debated in a model United Nations and political affairs forum. I wanted to be a political strategist for a campaign (Lee Atwell or James Carville). I was a political science and history major in college at Boston University. But Plato and Aristotle bored me – they weren’t enough real world. So I pursued my MBA at USM. I taught a course at the Muskie School of Public Health master’s program: Healthcare Finance level 2. I loved it. It was a lot of work.
And finally, what do you do for fun?
I’m a runner. I read – popular economics book (Tyler Cowen), presidential history, U.S. and world history. I especially like Roman history. Family time. Hanging out with my kids. Helping my kids succeed. Cooking. Yes, cooking.
There’s obviously more to John than just finance.
by Linda Butler & John McAnuff
Chief Financial Officer