If you’re good at languages, chances are you’re also good at math. Far from being the polar opposites many of us once thought, numbers and words have a lot in common. Both disciplines use deductive reasoning, require abstract thought, have well defined rules, and use logical patterns to communicate meaningful information. As the City of San Luis Obispo’s newest Finance Director, Brigitte Elke brings much more than her two degrees and 17 years’ experience with the City to the table. She is also fluent in five languages!
“We are utterly thrilled about Brigitte and what she exponentially adds to our team,” said SLO City Manager, Derek Johnson. “Her skills, talents and knowledge will play an important role in implementing the Fiscal Health Response Plan and developing the 2019-21 Financial Plan.”
Born the second eldest of six children raised in Interlaken, Switzerland, Elke recalls a near-idyllic childhood filled with outdoor adventure. Her father is an architect and her mother worked for the township before becoming a full-time stay-at-home mother. Largely rural, Interlaken means “between two lakes” and is surrounded by flowered meadows, majestic snow-capped mountains, and dense forests—the stuff of fairytale picture books and Disney movies.
“When I think back on it,” said Elke, “it was pretty amazing that we could just walk out the door in the morning with our sleds and not come back until dinner time. … It was a different time.”
Pointing to her maternal grandparents, Hans and Gertrude, as two of her most influential role models, Elke said that living with them during her college years allowed her to see the world through their eyes, the eyes of a different generation.
“They kept me grounded,” she explained. “They gave me a sense of what being a grown up really means.”
Elke earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business and a Master’s in Advertising. She would meet her husband, Robert, in 1994 when studying a year at the College of Marin. In 1997, she came to live in the US, when the company she worked for, PubliGroup Switzerland, partnered with a U.S. company, Real Media. Elke served first as Vice-President of Marketing and next as Managing Director in their San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.
The couple moved to San Luis Obispo in 2001 so that Robert could finish his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly. That same year, Elke was hired by the SLO City Finance Department where she ascended to Interim Finance Director earlier this year, before being named officially as Finance Director in September.
Embracing SLO City life with vigor and enthusiasm, Elke graduated from Leadership SLO in 2009 and has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including Friends of Prado Day Center and Festival Mozaic. In addition, Elke is quick to credit a series of mentors from the City, whose “unyielding support” she says, has been humbling. Since her appointment to Director, Elke reports that the most rewarding aspect so far is “the tremendous support of the Finance Department’s talented staff and the City’s leadership team.” Getting involved in the myriad of efforts the Department is undertaking this year will take some concentration, she says. Like what, for example?
“At this moment,” Elke said, “it’s the implementation of the second and third year of the City’s Fiscal Health Response Plan, and the new Cannabis taxation. … [plus] the compliance of homestay vacation rentals with the City’s TOT (transient occupancy tax) ordinance, and the pursuit of California legislation for the taxation of all internet sales.”
These latter two issues are at the forefront, she explained, not just to ensure income for the City, but also to create equality for the businesses and lodging establishments operating in San Luis. Understanding the larger economy means being better prepared for the future, she added. Toward that end, Elke has also been an active participant in the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers and the Government Finance Officers Association.
When she’s not in the office, Elke enjoys doing household projects with her husband, training her thoroughbred horse, C J, and working with her two McNab shepherds. Words and numbers, it turns out, are just two of her many talents.