Julie Bates had taken the Law School Admission Test and been admitted to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. But the Alma native had a nagging feeling that there was something besides law in her future.
So she took the advice of her Arkansas Tech University adviser and enrolled in a master’s degree program at UA Little Rock, which sent her down an entirely different path — one that led to a staff job at the state Legislature, then to personnel and budget roles at the state Department of Finance & Administration, and finally to the state Department of Higher Education, where she worked in institutional finance.
That laid the foundation for a busy career as CFO for the growing Arkansas State University System. Since 2011, she’s improved the system’s reserves and liquidity, putting it in line with Moody’s A1-rated public university median. And she’s helped merge two community colleges into the system — ASU Mid-South in West Memphis and ASU Three Rivers in Malvern — and is now adding a four-year institution, Henderson State University of Arkadelphia.
Bates considers the ongoing Henderson merger, which includes efforts to clean up its troubled balance sheet, “probably the greatest challenge I will face in my career.” But she said she enjoys working with financial directors across ASU campuses, including Jonesboro, Beebe, Mountain Home and Queretaro, Mexico. As a CFO, she said, she loves her role in helping ensure college affordability “for students who also face financial hardships, but want to achieve their dreams.”
Bates said being a CFO is different today. “You have to be so much more strategic,” she said. “I think ... if anybody was coming into this, I would say your job is not just about keeping the books. Your job is to help your CEO and your board, or whoever you work for, meet their strategic goals.”