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Wildcat at Last
Jim Critchley
Executive MBA ’09
Interim Fire Chief, City of Tucson

By Liz Warren-Pederson

Jim Critchley, MBA '09, began his academic career at UA studying marine biology. He has worked for Tucson Fire since 1997.  Photo courtesy Jim Critchley.

Jim Critchley, MBA ’09, began
his academic career at UA
studying marine biology. He
has worked for Tucson Fire
since 1997.
Photo courtesy Jim Critchley.

After Jim Critchley graduated from Sahuaro High School, he started at the UA planning to major in marine biology. “Two years in I realized I wasn’t going to get to hang out at the ocean all the time,” he said, “and that I would be inside researching all the time.”

It wasn’t the kind of future he’d imagined for himself. Meanwhile, while bartending to work his way through school, he struck up a conversation with a couple of guys who had good stories and were pretty fit. The idea of working for the fire department struck a nerve with Critchley.

“I got my EMT and started working in fire service,” he said. In 1988, he completed his associate’s degree in fire science. He joined the Tucson Fire Department and in 1997 was promoted to training captain. In that role, he began seeking out options to help fire fighters complete their bachelor’s degrees. Arizona State University had a program, through which Critchley also completed his degree, although the die-hard Wildcat said with a laugh, “My dad never recognized that as a degree!”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Crichley moved up to deputy chief of training, then deputy chief, but he had his sights set higher. “I began looking at MPA programs,” he said, but at the time, there was no evening option. Then he found the Eller Executive MBA program. “I realized that when I’m making decisions, I need to understand what business owners are going through,” he said. “The MBA program was exactly what I needed. And of course I needed to be a Wildcat again, so I could regain favor from my father!”

The program was a challenge — “I had to climb the biggest mountain” — but he was able to apply the coursework on the job as he went. Then there was the international trip to South Africa. “The trip changed my outlook in a number ways,” Critchley said. He saw how local governments’ decisions had direct effect on businesses, and said he became more aware of the obligation to be fiscally responsible to tax payers. “I would have never gone to South Africa otherwise,” he said. “And issues of public safety are the same on the other side of the world.”

Two years after completing the program, Critchley is the interim fire chief for the City of Tucson, a position he will hold for the next three to nine months. “The MBA gave me the skills to work through budget challenges, and my understanding of statistics is so useful in solving issues in the most fiscally responsible way,” he said.

It’s all a far cry from his original plan of chasing fish as a marine biologist. “It was a real stroke of luck that I found the best job in the world,” he said. “I get to serve the community, and the thanks that I get from that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”