New CFO arrives at Lab with a wealth of experience
Just a few weeks into her new job as PPPL’s chief financial officer, Kristen Fischer is settling into the challenging job of overseeing a budget of approximately $85 million and managing all financial operations. And she’s bringing her own outgoing style to the task as she forges relationships with people inside and outside of PPPL.
Fischer comes to PPPL after working 16 years at the New Jersey State Office of the Attorney General where she oversaw a $1 billion budget as director of budget and grant operations.
Fischer says she enjoyed working at the Office of the Attorney General primarily because of its public service mission. “I always felt honored to sit beside the Attorney General at budget hearings,” she said.
Now she has a similar feeling about helping scientists and engineers at PPPL with their goal of making fusion a viable energy source. “I will devote my time and work ethic towards helping them meet the mission they’re so passionate about,” she said.
A wealth of experience
“I'm really excited to have Kristen on board and I look forward to working with her,” said Adam Cohen, PPPL’s deputy director for operations. "She has a wealth of experience from her roles with the State of New Jersey, and brings a new perspective to a critical area of operations, that is: the business operations."
A native of Freehold Township, N.J., Fischer studied psychology at Rutgers University. She went on to get her master’s degree in business administration at Georgian Court University while she was working full-time. During part of that time, she was pregnant first with her daughter Julia Rose, now 10, and then son Andrew, 9.
She started her career working for the Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Affairs and left that position after two years to work for the Office of Legislative Services as a non-partisan fiscal analyst, advising lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on the cost of legislation. She also helped prepare the state budget. After a few years, she returned to the Attorney General’s Office where she said she had “wonderful mentors who really showed me how to do my job well.”
The keeper of the purse strings
Fischer rose through the ranks – eventually becoming budget director about six years ago. It wasn’t always easy being the keeper of the purse strings, she said. She was the person who had to go to division heads and tell them their funding was being cut. But she was also the one who gave them the good news – like telling officials from the New Jersey State Police there would be funding for new helicopters or new initiatives to improve security.
Fischer worked closely with the staff from the Treasurer’s Office and Governor’s Office to develop the yearly budget. She would assist New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa (who was recently named by Gov. Chris Christie to temporarily fill the seat of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this month) at budget hearings where legislators peppered him with questions. “It was fascinating – a very memorable experience,” she said.
When she saw the PPPL job advertised, Fischer said, she was mulling over a career change, not because she was unhappy – she liked her job – but because she was ready to try something new.
“I wanted to do something that gave me greater responsibilities and this opportunity allowed for that,” she said. “Plus, it’s Princeton – the importance of educating leaders of the future at the level that they do and to be surrounded by national experts is tremendous.”
She began work just a few days before PPPL Director Stewart Prager’s State of the Laboratory address on May 28 and when she came home, “I said to my husband, ‘I’m in awe.’ It’s amazing what they do here.”
But she admits that “there’s a learning curve” when she faces tasks like trying to procure supplies for a magnetic coil that will be built here at the Laboratory and then shipped for use on the massive international ITER fusion experiment in Cadarache, France. “That’s part of why I came here – because I felt I can apply my skills to different challenges.”
Trading commutes and office settings
Fischer says she has traded a 45-minute to an hour-long commute from her home in Manchester, N.J. but she has also traded highways leading straight into Trenton for country roads leading to PPPL’s more rural setting.
Her husband, Brian Fischer, is a special education teacher at Wall High School and Fischer and her family share a devotion to helping people with special needs. Fischer had a special relationship with her aunt who had Down’s syndrome. Fischer’s daughter, Julia, has raised funds for the Special Olympics.
As a busy working parent, Fischer spends most of her spare time ferrying Julia to violin lessons and Andrew to travel baseball games as well as overseeing the care of a new puppy, a Maltese-Shih-Tzu mix named Gracie Lorraine. Family vacations often involve the Fischer’s’ large extended family. When she does have some free time, she enjoys puttering around the house and gardening.
A mission to learn about PPPL
At PPPL, Fischer has made it her mission both to figure out how the Lab works and to meet people. She has been making the rounds of various departments to introduce herself and talk to PPPL staff about what they do. She also has been building relationships with people at the U.S. Department of Energy and at Princeton University, where she has already met with Nilufer Shroff, the chief audit and compliance officer, and will meet with Carolyn Ainslie, Princeton’s vice-president for finance and treasurer.
Fischer said she was eager to take part in a retreat with her staff planned for June 13 and is looking forward to hearing other PPPL staff members’ ideas. “I am very approachable and open to people’s suggestions and ideas for improvement,” she said. “I have an open door policy. I’m friendly - please say hello to me if you see me! As far as managerial style, I am a good listener and I want to learn, so please be patient and educate me.”