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Xavier Magazine | November 18, 2017

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Profile: Suzanne Abel Burke

By France Griggs Sloat

Suzanne Abel Burke
Master of Business Administration, 1988 Chief Executive Officer, Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio

I Quit | Burke has held a lot of jobs in her life—many high-powered—but there was only one she quit outright. As an 18-year-old, she worked at a bar in Fairfield, Ohio. On her first day she was told when she was done taking tickets at the door to go clean the bathrooms. She told them that cleaning bathrooms wasn’t in her job description, and she wasn’t coming back.

Horsing Around | She believes she developed her leadership skills from Tony the Pony, Kelly and Spirit. The string of horses she owned beginning at age 11 were fun but also taught her responsibility. Every day before and after school, she had to feed, water and brush them. Oh, and ride them, too.

Old Timers | She also spent a lot of time at her elderly neighbors’ house. “I used to tell the Dendlers when I was 6 years old, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to run a nursing home so I can take care of you.’ I loved hanging around with them.”

Crystal Ball | They must have made a positive impression, because she minored in gerontology while studying marketing at Miami University. Her first two jobs, in fact, were in promotions and administration at retirement communities.

The Business of Money | Wanting to build up her financial experience, Burke took a job as a budget analyst with Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1988—the same year she finished her M.B.A. at Xavier. Once her talents were spotted there, it would be a long time before she would work with the elderly again.

Promoted | She was promoted to assistant deputy director of the Child Support Enforcement Agency in 1990. The first week, the deputy director quit, and Burke was handed the job.

Again | It happened again in 1994 when she was promoted to chief financial officer of the Department of Human Services. Two years later, she was put in charge of managing the transfer of ownership of Riverfront Stadium to the county and the agreements with the Reds and Bengals in their new stadiums.

And Again | Since then, she’s been promoted to county budget director, where she was responsible for a $1.8 billion budget, then to director of the Department of Job and Family Services, and finally, to interim county administrator in 2005.

Full Circle | Burke left in 2005 for the Council on Aging because she wanted to get back to her first love—serving the elderly. The agency helps older people remain in their homes by providing trained employees to prepare meals, help with bathing and housekeeping, offer transportation, and train family caregivers. “Who wants to be in an institution?” Burke says, recalling her elderly friends. “We want to make sure there are many alternative choices for these people.”

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