Condensed and edited for clarity
Let us re-introduce you to Maleia Wilson, our newly-promoted Chief Financial Officer for the Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts.
Michelle Barclay: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2021. Please tell our readers what is in store for you in January 2022.
Maleia Wilson: Starting January 1 of 2022, I will become the Chief Financial Officer for the Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts after serving for several years as its Chief Budget Officer. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for me. Since graduating from college with my accounting degree, it has been a personal goal to become either a comptroller or a CFO. So, for me, this is a dream job.
MB: We are thrilled for you and for us. Congratulations! Let’s talk a little bit about your background and what led you to this job.
Maleia Wilson: I have had an interesting journey. My husband and I laugh about this often. I work one mile away from where I was born—Grady Hospital. Grady was the only hospital in which little brown babies could be born at that time, so I am a Grady Baby and a Georgia native. I left the state for a few years, but now have circled back to this spot.
MB: It is amazing how much change has happened in your lifetime.
Maleia Wilson: Yes. For the most part, I grew up in the Grant Park area, but my family moved to DeKalb County for my high school years. I graduated from Southwest High School at an interesting time, when integration was in full implementation. I went on to West Georgia College where I discovered that accounting was my love. I’ve always loved math. We have many mathematicians and math teachers on my mother’s side of the family. Although, I am the first accountant to join the math-lovers group of the family. I married my husband while in college, and he finished before I did. He took a job selling pharmaceuticals for Johnson & Johnson and his job moved us to Mobile, Alabama.
I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of South Alabama, and I stayed home with our children because he traveled so much over a huge territory covering three states. We decided one of us needed to be there for the kids since he traveled so often.
I didn’t start working until my son was in ninth grade. I started with a law firm doing corporate and individual income taxes while in Alabama. Eventually, we moved back to Atlanta when my son was in high school. I thought it was a great time for me to go ahead and start working on my own professional goals. I started with the State of Georgia at the Department of Natural Resources, which is a fabulous agency. I stayed there for 10 years—started at the lowest level, Accountant 1, and, over the years, I went to Accountant 2, then Accountant 3, then to Accounting Manager, then to Assistant Accounting Director, and finally to Accounting Director. It was so helpful to learn every step of the job. Eventually, I joined the Department of Public Health, and later I moved to the Department of Juvenile Justice as Accounting Director, where Drew Townsend was my boss.
Most recently, I joined the Judicial Council/AOC where I started as the Budget Director, which was critical for my career because it allowed me to see the inner workings of an agency. Because in the fiscal department, the stories are being told only through the numbers. As Budget Director, you can make a case to the accounting staff about the workings of the budget because you get to work with the program staff and hear their vision. Knowing the work from the program staff allows one to get excited about the work that everyone is doing for the agency and the state. I consider my time as Budget Director critical to being a successful CFO.
MB: You can see that fiscal work is part of the infrastructure for improving justice.
Maleia Wilson: Right. I think that part of the job helps lift the work of the CFO because you understand the agency, the players, and the programs—all collaborating to improve justice.
MB: Let’s pivot to the future. What are your goals for the future both short term and long term?
Maleia Wilson: Short term, I have some ideas for some efficiencies. There is nothing broken, but the beautiful thing about being at this agency for 4 years is that I can identify the efficiencies and needed innovation right from my start as CFO. Thus, my first order of business is to get to know the staff, go over skill sets, make sure everybody’s sitting in the right seat, and doing the right things, and that they love what they’re doing. If you enjoy your work, then you are open to more innovation and new ideas. I also plan to consult with existing clients on ways to serve them better. We have some talented people in the Financial Administration Division. Working with them to strengthen our relationships with our clients would be a win for me professionally, as well as for the Judicial Council/AOC.
A long-term goal for me is to become a government certified accountant. In other words, I am working on the qualifications to be the equivalent of a CPA for the government sector.
MB: Wonderful. Let’s switch gears, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Maleia Wilson: Almost every moment of my free time is spent traveling or figuring out where I’m going next. I absolutely love to travel. The most exciting thing about travel for me is that I get to anticipate what I’m going to experience in a place. I go with an open mind. I get in the taxis and talk to the drivers about their lives, where they go to eat, etc. I talk to the hotel staff and people who serve at restaurants to try and glean the culture. I love to try foods from all over the world. I work to let go of my American ideas and standards so that I can best experience new places and taste their foods and spices. I would eat street foods if I had a missionary stomach, but I don’t. Travel brings geography and history alive for me, which brings me joy.
MB: Favorite place?
Maleia Wilson: I would have to say that Ghana, West Africa is my favorite place. It is not the most modern, but I feel like I am on vacation while there. When I walk out of the airport, everything slows down. Even though there is lots of hustle and bustle around me, it feels like nobody is in a hurry. It forces me to slow down. My mother-in-law retired and moved there, which also helps to make our visits meaningful. We do a lot of visiting with friends, which is something I would love to do more of here in the States. We shop, do tours, drink tea, sit on the porch, and laugh a lot. The people are so gracious. I also fell in love with Athens, Greece, and the island of Mykonos. The water there is majestically beautiful, and the white buildings are striking. I think those are my two favorite places—Ghana and Greece.