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AZ MVD Director Eric Jorgensen: Setting a New Pace through Efficiency and Leadership

|February 28, 2016|

Q.  Where did you grow up?

A.  Kind of all over. I was born in Logan, Utah, then we moved to Kansas City, Missouri and then Michigan for a while. We finally moved to Arizona, and have lived in Mesa from fourth grade until now, aside from my college years. I’m nearly a native.

How did you find yourself moving all over the country?

My dad was a doctor. He was from Utah, did his med school in Kansas City and his internship and residency in Michigan. Then he brought us all to Arizona when he started to practice medicine.

What were your early influences?

My dad was a really big influence. I never realized when I was a kid what a hardworking person he was. He was just my dad. He was a doctor and very busy all the time and then he helped with the house and kids and did all the yard work – until we were old enough (smile). He was always very active. I remember he would tell us, “if you see something that needs to be done, do it.” That saying has stuck with me and I now say it to my kids. I was also active in Boy Scouts and my church youth group. There were a lot of things that taught me I could overcome even the hardest challenges.

Were you an Eagle Scout?

I was. I earned my Eagle Scout a little late – right before my eighteenth birthday! My boys are boy scouts, but they are a little further along. And, now, I am an assistant scout master. I’ll be at Camp Geronimo with my troop in a few months.

What did you study in college? (How did an economist from Columbia end up back in Arizona?)

I started as a chemistry major at ASU and I loved chemistry. But I served a mission for my church and went to Argentina, which changed my outlook. I still loved chemistry but wanted to do something else – public policy. So, I ended up at Brigham Young University and received my undergraduate degree in international politics. Then I went to Columbia for a master’s degree in international affairs with a concentration in economic policy. I saw that economic policy was an area where a lot of decisions were made that impact people’s lives very directly and that few people truly understand.

When I arrived at Columbia in 2000, the job market for my program was really hot – 80 percent of graduates had job offers at the end of the first year – and we even had a seminar we had to take that covered the ethics of accepting job offers. Then 9-11 happened and everything collapsed. When I graduated, the same number – 80 percent – didn’t have job offers. I had my own data management consulting gig going at the time, so I stuck with that. About a year after graduation, I took a step back and thought about how expensive it was to live in New York. I realized I could do my work anywhere, so why not go back to Arizona? So we packed our bags and moved back, with no job and no clients. I started networking and found a friend who told me about a position at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The rest is history.

Wait, so you are a chemist that became a political science major and then ended up in economics?  Those are really different disciplines.

Yes. My wife is a physics teacher and she always reminds me that I gave up “real science” and studied the “soft sciences.”

Were you in leadership roles when you were younger?

Yes. I was in Scouts and served in all sorts of leadership roles, along with some in my church group. When I was on my mission, I had some great leadership experiences. At one point I was assigned to run the southernmost region, which was quite far from mission headquarters. The mission president told me to think of myself as a “mini-mission president” and run the operations because it was just too far for him to travel. Remember he is telling this to a 20-year-old who is leading a bunch of other 19 and 20-year-old kids. I didn’t know it at the time, but I started earning the reputation of being someone who made decisions. I would inform mission headquarters, but when a problem arose I would remember what my dad taught me – “when you see something that needs to be done, do it.” Later, after my mission, I ran into one of the assistants to the mission president and he said, “oh, you’re the one!” So that was one of the leadership experiences that shaped the way I like to lead.

You said that all shaped the way you like to lead… Would you say you have a particular leadership style? You are very well respected so you must be doing something right with how you approach people.

I hate being micromanaged. Give me a goal and the guidelines and let me figure out how to achieve them. Better yet, let me set the goals. At the state, I recognize we have a variety of guidelines – statutes, rules, procedures, some we can change, some we cannot. I believe in taking off the shackles where we can and saying, “here is the goal, run with it and come to back to me if you encounter an obstacle that you can’t surpass.” I have been fortunate to serve under some great leaders who have managed that way; I’ve thrived that way and I think most people do. So I try to give people ownership of their projects and assignments and say, “here are the guidelines, here is the goal, go forth and conquer.” Some people get nervous, but you gain confidence once you have successes. It is very important to set people up for success, not failure. I also think that it is important to be tough, but fair. Keep the expectations and accountability high, but be fair about how you approach it.

Not many people know that you have a background in technology, more specifically software development. Tell me more about your technology interest.

I went to B.Y.U. for my undergrad and realized living takes money. And, I’ve always had an interest in technology. So I got involved in a project that took print media and converted it to searchable digital media. I worked on that project and showed that I have a logical mind that could write macros and such. I ended up working for a technology company doing HTML and technical Web design. Eventually we received a contract with the Salt Lake Olympic Committee to design the information system. I was assigned to do the interface that the public and press would use to look up information and stats on the athletes and venues. They asked if I could learn how to program in Java, so I read a few books and that was the start. The project was a success. I found that it was also lucrative so I kept doing it. Technology changes fast, so I’m not much of a coder anymore, but I’ll still write SQL queries if I need to find some data – I geek out every once in a while.

Does a technology background help you today?

Having a technology background helps me think logically, appreciate automation, and understand what type of information we have, collect and store. And when people tell me that it can’t be done I know from experience that that’s not necessarily true. There is probably a way to try.

You have held a number of different roles in state government, beginning your career at the state at the JLBC. How has this experience shaped your perspective of government operations?

It’s been a great benefit. Starting with the legislature – it’s a high level view of government operations. When I was at JLBC, it was about how we could allocate scarce resources to achieve the right government outcomes. It was high level and we knew that so the agencies had to figure out how to implement the budget decisions. The legislature and governor will set the priorities and the agencies will implement what is decided. I think coming from the legislative side to the executive side working in the agencies was a great benefit because I saw how we fit into the rest of the system. I could see what the state priorities were and how my agency could help meet those priorities.

Also, I picked up the other side of the coin, which has been an experience. Before I left JLBC, I worked with one of our analysts on a fiscal analysis of a proposed new benefit for first responders. We had to make some reasonable assumptions to estimate what it would take and we left actual implementation to the agency.  At the time, I had no idea that that program would be the first program I would have to implement when I went to work for ADOA, which was quite the experience. When I looked back at the fiscal note we wrote I saw our assumptions and realized how much was really in the details and lost in those assumptions.  It was eye opening. Now that I oversee multiple programs; it helps me remember to spend some time talking to my teams about how we are going to implement programs, remembering that they are the experts.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for MVD? And, the biggest challenges?

They are probably the same things. We have an image to overcome.  I was just at the movies and the trailer for Zootopia came on that includes a scene in which the DMV is manned by sloths. The theater was cracking up, and I’ll admit, it was amusing to me.  Then someone behind me said “that is so true.” Now that was painful for me! We are painted as having a slow process and one of the most visible manifestations of that process is the wait time at an MVD office.

So this is a great opportunity for us. Using technology can help us move transactions online and become more efficient. We have one of the best sets of online services as an MVD nationwide, but we can still do more. For example, we process around 500K vehicle registration renewals a year in the MVD offices – how do we get those transactions off of our windows and online? We have set some aggressive goals to direct vehicle registrations and other services online. Automation is a big deal for us. Then we can use the MVD offices for more complex transactions.

I’ve always wondered whether the future state is not to have MVD offices – everything will be online?

Yes, eventually, but even with bringing more options online, we will still have plenty of work to do. I do think that there are different people who have different ideas and preferences on privacy and security – some just want to interact with a person. But there are ways to address these concerns. I think there will always be a need to have people interact directly for very complex transactions. Additionally, we are continuing to expand our third party provider system –some can now process driver licenses. Those third parties provide another way to interact with a “real person.”Over time, MVD offices are going to evolve in some significant ways and the job functions will evolve with them.

Do you have any favorite expressions?

I already told you my dad’s expression, and I try to live by those words. I picked another one up recently from the John Bernard book “Government that Works” that resonates with me: “30 percent today is better than 50 percent tomorrow.” When I first read it, I got a little stuck on the literal interpretation wondering if the math worked. Math aside, the concept is 100 percent true – we have to build momentum. Sometimes we have to build the racecar in the race, but we need to get in the race. We don’t have time to wait – we need to see results today. We have identified a lot of those projects at MVD and now people are saying that phrase to me!

Do you have any favorite pastimes or hobbies?

In addition to my four kids and wife, I love being outdoors. We go camping and hiking a lot, and also kayaking and fishing on lakes or rivers. I am also a ham radio operator. I have talked with people around the world, from New Zealand to Russia to the Azores to Brazil.  You don’t have to have the huge towers on your house for that. I have talked to people around the world through an 18 foot antenna hidden in my trees. It is a fun hobby and a good service opportunity. I’ve participated in emergency drills and community events – I recently supported a big bike race in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming providing communication and support with some friends.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in public service?

The reason I got into public service is because I wanted to do something important. Like most people who become public servants, I want to help others and make things better and be part of a solution. Sometimes we get a bad reputation for things taking a long time. People in government can easily feel frustrated. My advice is to push through the frustration and be ready to make a change. It’s happening. We are making a difference every day.

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