Regardless of your chosen profession, there is always room at the top. James D. Ratley, CFE

ACFE President Emeritus




Austin, Texas, U.S.

James D. Ratley graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a bachelor's degree in business administration. In 1971, he joined the Dallas Police Department as a police officer. He was a member of numerous department task forces which concentrated on major fraud cases. In 1986, Ratley left the police department to join Wells & Associates, a forensic accounting practice, where he oversaw fraud investigations. He handled investigations regarding internal frauds, conflicts of interest and litigation support. In 1988, he was named program director for the ACFE and oversaw all aspects of the ACFE's training and education programs. In 2006, Ratley was named president of the ACFE. In addition, he was a member of the ACFE's faculty and taught regularly at workshops and conferences on a variety of fraud-related subjects. In March of 2018, Ratley officially retired on his 30th anniversary with the ACFE.

How have your career goals changed over the years?

Mightily. I became a police officer at a young age, and at that time I could never see myself doing anything else. The longer I stayed with the police department, the more I saw how limited my opportunities were. After 15 years with the Dallas Police Department, I was fortunate enough to have worked every assignment that I ever wanted to work. I wanted a position with more responsibility, more financial reward, and, most importantly, the ability to use the experience I gained while being a police officer. After I left, I realized how at risk the business community was to fraud, waste and abuse because, at that time, local law enforcement agencies were not equipped to conduct fraud examinations. No one was taking on the responsibility of conducting exams or implementing ways to prevent it.

In early 1988, Dr. Joseph Wells approached me about the idea of the ACFE. There was never any doubt in my mind that it would be successful. When we started in June 1988, the ACFE was like any other job. I came to work; I did what I could and I went home. Within the matter of a few months, working at the ACFE became a way of life. Almost immediately, members were calling around the clock. I would get calls late at night from members with questions about steps during fraud examination. My goals then changed from being about me and what I would do with my future to focusing on the ACFE, the good it was doing and how we could be more effective. My goals since that time in my life have been directed toward making the ACFE stronger, more efficient and more encompassing. I'm very proud of the accomplishments made by the ACFE and its staff in relation to the good we have done for the business community.

What do you do to encourage or mentor colleagues who are just beginning their professional careers?

My goal has always been to be a nice guy. I want to be known as being honest, fair and caring. 

What have you learned in your current role, your work and your life so far that you would most like to pass on to others?

There is always room at the top. I was told that by a professor at the University of Dallas and I have found it to be ever so true. Regardless of your chosen profession, there is always room at the top. Regardless of how overpopulated a profession seems, there is always room. My other big lesson in life happened in the late 1970s when I was going through a difficult time. I was talking to my friend who was also my captain at my police department. He told me of a quote by Abraham Lincoln that was all in all something like, "You will be about as happy as you decide to be." I thought about that quote the rest of the day and it was like someone turned on a light inside me. I had been focusing on the negative instead of the positive. Very rarely has anyone had a quote that changed my life like that one did.

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