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A Commencement Address for the 2016 Class of Accountants
By Jim Gellas
To the accounting class of 2016, congratulations! As accountants, you will have a powerful impact on business and commerce. Those of you who pursue and earn your CPA license will have a profound opportunity to shape business, our economy and the world we live in. Your chosen profession is rich with individuals who have had breakthrough success, not only as an accountant, but also in other areas of the world, as well. Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, and Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike, along with more than 1,400 FBI agents all have their roots in accounting. With the skills you possess, you can do just about anything!
CPA, comedian and speaker Greg Kyte takes it one step further and says that accountants have a superpower. He explains that they not only have a unique ability to work through massive amounts of regulatory change, but also possess the ability to process and make sense of massive amounts of data and technical requirements. And he makes a great point that accountants are uniquely qualified for these tasks. The skills you develop and hone as an accountant can make you more valuable, agile and insightful than your non-accountant peers—if you learn to utilize them effectively. So, congratulations on your newly acquired skills, superheroes!
As we know, while superheroes possess immense strength in their specialized skills, they are not without weakness. Don't let stagnation become your kryptonite. You've worked tirelessly to earn your education and are ready to start contributing to the profession. But you must not, and cannot, stop here. You must continue your learning and education on your lifelong journey, because the world is in a constant state of flux and to stand still is to fall behind. Abraham Lincoln shared his wisdom when he said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my ax.” If you get the point, you’ll make sure to be constantly sharpening your own ax.
Commerce is now more globally connected than ever in human history. This creates great opportunities for trade and efficiency but it also means that knowledge based workers can come from anywhere. You're not competing for jobs with accounting professionals from across the country, but rather, from around the world. People in places you've never heard of want your job, are increasingly qualified for it and are willing to sacrifice everything to get it. If this paints a grim outlook, don't despair. It simply means that you have to continually elevate your game to earn coveted finance spots. The opportunities are there. It’s up to you to seize them.
Let’s talk for a minute about tools. Superheroes have all kinds of them: Iron Man has a suit, the Green Lantern has a ring, Spiderman has web-shooters … you get the point. As accountants, you have incredible tools in the data and technology you work with. Together, they can provide insights and efficiencies that will help you soar! However, if you can’t access your data, it can’t work for you. Adopt technologies that are platform and device agnostic so you can use all of your devices. We’re sending you to the cloud, here. That’s basic. Next, become a master at spreadsheet programming, if you’re not already. It will save you countless hours of time while surfacing the insights you need to save those businesses in distress. This is another basic. Protect your data from evil villains who want to steal it. Stop them at the front door with technologies that leverage multiple device authentication methods while making sure there are no backdoors for them to enter. If you fail to protect your trusty data, it will likely cost you far more than simply your superhero badge. As one of the biggest issues for today’s accountants, you can’t spend too much time here.
One more piece of advice that they don't teach in superhero classes: You need to accept and embrace your alter-ego. Superman and Batman, for example, aren't out fighting crime every waking minute, and neither should you. Your work life will be always on and you need to make a concerted and deliberate effort to make sure that other areas of your life don’t get neglected. Xero’s U.S. President Russ Fujioka has shared that (busy professionals) should be aiming to achieve work/life integration, to give yourself greater flexibility and set yourself up for success. Master this balance and you’ll be able to join Friday night parties without having to fend off adoring fans, eager to bear witness to your super power.
Like many things, your career will be what you make of it. Countless situations will be subject to interpretation and it will be up to you to determine how they get defined. I wish you all the luck you deserve and look forward to seeing you in the proverbial halls of the accounting profession. One last thing, while we’re on the subject of things being subject to interpretation: You know the symbol of the woman on the restroom door, signifying the facility is for the ladies? Most people think she’s wearing a dress. I think her silhouette is shaped that way because she’s wearing a cape. Maybe she’s even an accountant!
Jim Gellas is the director of finance, Americas, at Xero. You can reach him at
How to Rise Above the Crowd of Talented, Professional CPAs
By Andy Mintzer, CPA, CFF, CFE
To become a CPA you demonstrated that you excel in a common body of accounting, auditing and tax knowledge. And it is this fact, among others, that causes the public to place you among the most trusted and respected professionals. But now that you are part of the elite group of CPAs, how do you distinguish yourself and advance? The answer lies in providing outstanding professional service to your client or your employer, while upholding the highest level of ethics and integrity that is the hallmark of our profession, and in developing and demonstrating skills and credentials by engaging with the profession.
One day you will find yourself looking for a promotion, trying to close a new client engagement or trying to find a new job. As professionals we’re continually called on to market our firm, our employer or ourselves. Now imagine that you can talk about your professional experiences as a member of a professional committee that was involved with some the issues to you are now trying to sell; or, better yet, that your peers chose you to be a leader of that professional committee. But where can you, as a member of firm, sole practitioner or employee, get the opportunity to develop and demonstrate these skills and credentials?
The answer is CalCPA. CalCPA has dozens of statewide and local chapter committees and discussion groups in such varied areas as taxation, financial literacy and accounting standards where you—yes, you—can become involved and develop your own credentials while serving the public and profession. Active and thoughtful engagement is always sought and the opportunities abound for both participation and leadership. Information about the varied state and chapter committees is on the CalCPA website, and I’m sure that the members and leaders of these groups will warmly welcome your interest and involvement. In making this step to engage with the profession you will help CalCPA fulfill its mission by developing your skills and credentials, as well as help yourself rise about the crowd.
Andy Mintzer, CPA, CFF, CFE is a principal at Hemming Morse, LLP and CalCPA’s incoming chair, 2016-17. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Few Words of Advice
By Kim Le, CPA, CIA
I’d like to offer a few words of advice to those who are just starting in the profession.
Besides your technical skills, develop communication skills early. Technical skills are the basic foundation, which you need. To advance in your career, though, you need emotional intelligence, which includes strong communication skills and the ability to connect with people.
The important people who you will meet at client sites are the receptionist and the executive administrative to the CEO/CFO/controller. Why? They are the gatekeepers to the decision makers. They are the leaders’ confidantes and trusted right hand. A kind word from them carries weight or a nasty comment will tank your request.
When you’re visiting clients, be nice to the receptionists and executive assistants. Greet them with a smile. Remember their names and chat with them.
In our firm, the executive assistants have a lot of power because they run my schedule and prep me for my meetings. I remember one incident clearly: A potential candidate had called my office looking to set up an interview with me. This person was rude and short with my executive assistant, who gave me the appointment request ... along with a summary of her rude interaction. Do you think the candidate got the interview? Heck no!
How you communicate and interact with people at all levels in the organization is a reflection of your true character. We already know you will be nice to the boss. You’re on your best behavior during those meetings. We’re evaluating your “normal” state.
Marry well, not rich. Find a partner who is supportive of your professional and personal goals, someone who is willing to play multiple roles in the family at different times. This advice is for both men and women. You want someone who is emotionally strong and will help you shine.
For example, when I first quit my job to start A2Q2, I was five-months pregnant. Most people told me I was crazy to quit a steady job to take on this risk of starting a company. My husband encouraged me, though.
In 2005, when A2Q2 took off and started to grow, it needed my full (overtime) attention. I felt guilty as a mom and wife because I couldn't contribute to the family chores. I couldn't drop off the kids because of my early morning commute and I couldn't pick up the kids from daycare by 6 p.m. because of my late evenings.
Seeing my mounting stress, my husband volunteered to quit his job and be the stay-at-home parent. And he stayed home for the next 10 years to give me the peace of mind I needed. Along the way, whenever I worried that I was not a good mom, he reminded me to let go of my guilt. Our philosophy has been that a marriage is a partnership with various tasks/duties. Whoever has the most interest or best skills for particular tasks takes it on.
Take risks; make lots of mistakes but only new ones. Continually stretch yourself to learn new skills and volunteer for new assignments that push you out of your comfort zone. Once you make a mistake, learn from it and don't repeat it. This doesn't mean you produce sloppy work though.
Over the years, my mentees have asked me about potential job transfers or taking on new responsibilities. They worry this does not directly advance them up the normal career path. Imagine a ladder and a pyramid. How stable is the ladder that goes straight up compared to a pyramid with a wide base? In your career, you will need a wide range of skills to build a solid foundation. This is similar to the pyramid’s wide base. If you only know one thing, and that thing goes away, what will you do next?
When Arthur Andersen collapsed in 2002, I had only known one thing: How to be an auditor. I had to re-invent myself and build new skills to survive and thrive. I learned that marketing and selling yourself, regardless of where you work, are equally important skills.
By Kim Le, CPA, CIA is the founder and CEO of A2Q2. You can reach her at
By 2014-15 CalCPA Chair Tim Good, CPA
A CPA license is a valuable asset. It identifies you as an accounting professional with very special qualifications. Because of this imprimatur, the CPA after your names gives you status in business and social situations, and allows you to earn an above-average income.
Because the CPA is valuable, non-CPAs are always trying to cut in on our territory. Legislation is regularly introduced into the California Legislature that would allow non-CPAs to perform services that we alone are authorized to perform, subject us to restrictions on practice or create new and unnecessary regulation of our profession.
One of CalCPA’s most important functions is advocacy. CalCPA has a full-time staff of lobbyists in Sacramento, plus a number of retained consultants. This group has only one job: to protect your license and your right to practice. Our Sacramento team reviews every bill introduced into the California Assembly and Senate—typically 5,000 or more legislative proposals each two-year session. If a proposed piece of legislation will impact CPAs, our team analyzes the impact and formulates a strategy to either support or oppose the bill. Once that strategy is formed, volunteer leaders and our professionals go into action to make sure that our voice is heard.
The advocacy team also monitors everything that goes on at the California Board of Accountancy and attends every public meeting of the CBA. The CBA and CalCPA are not adversaries, but each organization has its own work to do. We keep an open line of communication with the CBA that serves our members well.
If CalCPA could do only one thing for its members, advocacy would have to be it. But no such restriction applies. CalCPA advocates for its members, as well as provides vast technical resources, continuing education and a vital social network. As California CPAs, we’re fortunate to have such a competent and efficient organization serving our needs.
Tim Good, CPA is a partner at Windes.