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Finance head wants to bring ‘mind-change’ to office

John Woodruff sits in his office at tribal headquarters in Hollywood in January. (Photo Damon Scott)

HOLLYWOOD – Accounting, budgeting and the like might not be exciting to some, but John Woodruff will at least convince you that it’s an important subject and one he’s passionate about.

Woodruff is the Seminole Tribe’s new executive director of finance. He oversees four departments from his office at tribal headquarters in Hollywood – budgeting, accounting, travel and purchasing. Woodruff spent his first several weeks on the job – he started Dec. 5, 2022 – visiting the tribe’s reservations. By mid-January he’d toured Hollywood, Brighton (more than once), Big Cypress, Tampa and Lakeland.

“I want to get out of the office. I want to get out there and understand people and what they’re dealing with and come back here and help the employees support them,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff explains that his 84 employees are not typically public facing – having direct interaction with people – but they support those in other tribal departments who are.

“That can be a tough job,” he said. “If you can’t cut a [purchase order], if you can’t find your budget account, if you can’t do these basic things and pay a vendor on time, it hamstrings everything.”

One of Woodruff’s first tasks was to send out an internal and anonymous survey to the department’s employees. He said it had never been done before.

“I asked questions like: ‘How are we doing? What are we doing well? What do you think we could do better?’ The mere act of asking someone what they think is important,” he said.

Woodruff said a big part of his job is allocating tribal resources to its many departments – police, fire rescue, public works, recreation, etc. – through the budget process. It’s an area he’s familiar with. He did finance work for five years at the city of San Antonio, 10 years for Pinellas County on the west-central coast of Florida, and most recently for 10 years at the city of Miami Beach – 25 years of budgeting experience in all. He said while the tribe’s structure has similarities to those entities, there are some notable differences, too.

“Here we have the different reservations and each of those communities is unique and different and has different needs,” Woodruff said. “So you can’t just hang out in Hollywood and assume everything is like it is here.”

Woodruff said the length of time it takes to get a generator after one is requested is a good “poster child” example of why his department matters day-to-day.

“Everybody says: ‘I can just go down to Home Depot and buy one. Why is it going to take 90 days?’ There are reasons, but at the end of the day, are they really good reasons? Maybe that’s what would normally happen if you followed a vanilla process and didn’t really care about what the real impact is to people on the ground,” he said.

Woodruff grew up in Panama in Central America. When the U.S. gave control of the Panama Canal back to the country in 1999, Woodruff said many Americans living there at the time, including himself, moved away.

“Everybody went to Texas,” he said. “But I’m more of a Florida guy. When you grow up down there you have two oceans within one and a half hours of each other, palm trees, vegetation, Latin people. That’s Miami, not Texas.”

Even so, Woodruff would first end up in San Antonio, earning a degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin and later a Master of Business Administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Then it was off to Florida, where he’s been for 20 years. He lives in Pembroke Pines and has two children, ages 21 and 16. He said he’s happy to be in South Florida and is excited to be working for the tribe.

“I want to be out there, I want to have presence,” he said. “You’ve got to think bigger than yourself. Don’t do what you always do, be adaptable and flexible. That’s a mind-change I’m trying to bring to our department.”

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at