Karen Duncan got her start in finance from an after school job at Kmart.
She was in high school and her task was to balance the drawers in cash registers.
“It was fun, I liked counting money,” Duncan, who retired as city of Morganton finance director on Nov. 22, said. “That’s how I decided ‘you know, I think I would be good at this.’ So that’s how I decided to go into accounting, from balancing cash drawers at Kmart.”
From there, she obtained bachelor’s degrees in accounting and business administration and became a North Carolina licensed CPA.
But her professional career didn’t begin with the city of Morganton.
She got her start at the city of Lexington, Duncan said. While she was there, Lexington implemented a new computer system.
Duncan said she thought it would be fun to travel and help other municipalities install a system like that. Before she knew it, she had a job helping with just that.
“I traveled the country implementing ... software,” Duncan said. “My favorite client was the city of Morganton.”
That’s how Duncan first met Sally Sandy, who was serving as an acting city manager for Morganton.
“(Our) personalities just kind of clicked,” Duncan said. “When Sally took the full-time job as city manager, she encouraged me then to apply for the finance director’s job.”
She said it made sense to apply for the position.
“I thought, well, I already knew the people, and of course I knew the software, and it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Duncan said.
Sandy agreed, saying that she and Duncan have been so in sync they could finish each others sentences.
Duncan said there have been a lot of success stories during her 21.5-year career with the city, including the strides the city has taken with technology.
“When I came here, the finance director didn’t have a computer,” Duncan said. “So here I am, coming out of the software world, so I think I’ve helped advance the department from a technology point of view. We depend a lot on technology.”
But more important than that was growth within her staff, Duncan said.
“It’s so fulfilling when I see them accomplish something they didn’t think they could do,” Duncan said. “That’s probably the most rewarding, is watching them grow and accomplish their goals.”
The job is a rewarding one, but it has had its challenges.
“The department heads are all dreamers,” Duncan said. “All of us want to do everything and want to do it now, and there is not money to do it all. So obviously the biggest challenge is always matching the reality of the available funds to the goals we have.”
Duncan, who will have more time on her hands with her retirement, said she plans to relax. Otherwise, she said she doesn’t have any specific plans.
“That’s the one thing I am not good at, is relaxing,” Duncan said. “That’s my No. 1 goal is to relax.”
She said not having any set in stone plans is a first for her.
“It is awesome,” Duncan said. “Being an accountant, you always have a plan. This is the first time in my adult life I don’t have a plan and I am so excited about that.”
With no plans set in stone, Duncan said she was thankful for all of the opportunities Morganton has given her.
“Thank you,” Duncan said. “I can’t imagine having a better career anywhere than I have had here. The opportunity for my personal and professional growth has been beyond what I could have ever imagined. I have always felt supported by the city council, and the city manager, and I have just been blessed to work with the best staff anyone could ever have.”