While her first job was working at a rhododendron farm, you might say that the seeds of Meredith Johnson’s CPA career were planted early in life, thanks to the financial lessons and examples of her mom.
“My mom taught me how to stretch a dollar and get creative when faced with tough situations,” Johnson says.
From those early days, Johnson’s career has definitely blossomed. She has worked as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch; senior wealth advisor and practice director at LPL Financial; and for the past 12 years, partner at BPM LLP. She has also spent a number of years giving back to the community through her work with nonprofits and giving back to the profession and CalCPA.
Prior to becoming 2023-24 CalCPA chair, Johnson has served in various leadership roles, including on the CalCPA Board, CalCPA Council, Women’s Leadership Conference Planning Committee, Members Insurance Benefits Committee, Public Service Award Committee, and president, vice president, treasurer and director on the CalCPA San Francisco Chapter.
Q: What or who inspired you to become a CPA, and when did you first know that it was the right career for you?
A: I was inspired to become a CPA because I met cool CPAs who were engaged in community service. When I was running a nonprofit, CPAs were some of my most dedicated and consistent volunteers. I decided it would be a good career for me personally when I was working in wealth management and deciding what kind of post-recession career pivot made the most sense.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a CPA?
A: This profession offers so many opportunities—CPAs advise business leaders, travel to far-flung destinations and reinvent their careers as the world changes.
Q: What attracted you to CalCPA and then CalCPA leadership?
A: As a non-traditional CPA candidate, I knew that networking would be key to starting off in the profession. CalCPA offered the opportunity to meet local leaders and other aspiring CPAs. Once I started attending CalCPA events, I found mentors who helped me with my career journey. I became interested in CalCPA leadership because I wanted to give back in a similar way.
Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the profession? Facing CalCPA?
A: The profession is facing multiple challenges—the need to attract more people, to embrace new technologies, to develop expertise in emerging practice areas. CalCPA’s challenge is to be a leader in the face of these changes. With the challenges comes the opportunity to innovate, to push the envelope of what is possible and to partner with other organizations.
Q: What advice do you have for younger professionals or those thinking of entering the CPA profession?
A: Don’t hesitate to give it a try. I wish I had known earlier about what a fun and interesting career this is. Having the CPA license gives you both credibility and a collegial community of other professionals who want to help you succeed.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on your path to becoming a CPA and how did you overcome them?
A: I worked full-time while taking the accounting classes necessary to sit for the CPA Exam. It took me two years of night classes at Foothill College to obtain the extra units in the correct areas. Once I had the required units and started studying for the CPA Exam, I was still cramming in study hours around my work and my part-time master’s degree program. It took six years to complete my degree and licensure, and I just kept chipping away at the process, little by little.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment or proudest moment as a CPA?
A: My proudest moment was when I found out that I had passed all parts of my CPA Exam. Little did I know that would be just the start of a whole variety of adventures that the profession would offer.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about the CPA profession?
A: The CPA profession gives you the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. CPAs are business communicators—we make numbers meaningful and guide decision-making. I appreciate how being a CPA can feel both global in scope and very personal on a day-to-day basis.
Q: What motivates you to do what you do?
A: I’m passionate about helping people and being a CPA offers me the opportunity to do that regularly. I’m excited about where the profession is heading as well, with the enhanced focus on technology and data analytics, as well as contributing to the measurement of ESG metrics and milestones.
Q: Who have been the strongest influences in your life?
A: My mom and my grandmother have had profound influences on me. Even though we were a family of modest means, both of them emphasized the value of a good education and the importance of giving back to the community. They made sacrifices so that my sister and I would have opportunities they never did. My grandmother learned new computer skills into her 90s so she could communicate with friends all over the world, and she taught me the importance of expressing gratitude to others.
Message from the Chair
By Meredith Johnson, CPA
It is with great excitement and gratitude that I step into the role of 2023-24 CalCPA Chair. As we embark on this upcoming journey together, I am humbled by the opportunity to serve you—the members who make up the backbone of our profession here in California.
CalCPA has given me so much—professional role models, a fulfilling career and lifelong friends. I look forward to giving back and connecting with you. I would like to share my vision for the upcoming year under the theme “Stronger Together.” Together, we will raise awareness, redefine our image and transform the career experience for accounting and finance professionals. Taking inspiration from 2022-23 Chair Tayiika Dennis’ emphasis on showcasing CPAs as the Coolest Profession Around, I look forward to carrying on the work of redefining our image. I hope that we can all serve as advocates for the amazing opportunities provided by this profession.
Please join me in spreading the word when your work as a CPA enables you to experience something unique or stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. I look forward to speaking with students of all ages and new entrants into the profession about how being a CPA can take you almost anywhere you want to go. My vision is that CalCPA can serve the CPAs of today and tomorrow—and elevate the profession to a career of choice for those considering the fields of business and technology.
Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount to our success. We recognize that diversity leads to better outcomes, innovation and sustainability. As chair I will actively work to inspire and promote DEI efforts throughout the profession, creating an inclusive environment that allows all individuals to thrive and contribute their unique perspectives.
CalCPA can serve its members and their organizations by collecting and disseminating best practices regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. We can develop and publicize appropriate metrics to gauge progress and success, both as an organization and for use by members and strategic partners. We can spotlight member excellence and expertise from a wide range of voices, and we can inspire future CPAs by connecting them with resources and sponsors in their local and virtual communities.
Together, we can tackle the challenges of transforming the career experience for today’s and tomorrow’s CPAs. As technology continues to reshape the business landscape, we must welcome the opportunities it presents. By embracing machine learning, automation and data analytics, we can help CPAs free up valuable time for higher-value activities such as strategic advising and driving business innovation. Growth of ESG and sustainability reporting services is a perfect example of a new practice area that marries technology and CPAs’ analytical skills. ESG’s emphasis on the triple bottom line is attractive to younger entrants in the profession, who are looking for mission-driven career opportunities. Together, we can position our profession at the forefront of digital transformation, ensuring that our skills remain relevant and indispensable.
Transforming the career experience together also means addressing the challenge of the CPA pipeline. We know that fewer students are choosing accounting, and fewer accounting students are choosing licensure. Coupled with the demographic shifts of retirements from the profession and the increased regulatory and business information roles CPAs are tasked with fulfilling, we are confronted with a significant human capital challenge, though not an insurmountable one.
I like to think of the CPA pipeline as a highway with a variety of onramps. As a leader in the profession, CalCPA has the capacity and resources to positively impact the onramps available for future CPAs. We can partner with like-minded organizations to reach students and their parents to center accounting as a profession of choice, and to raise awareness about the many roles a CPA can play in the business community. CalCPA can also work with our members’ organizations to help them develop and implement career pathways that support students from a wide range of educational experiences and backgrounds.
As a former nontraditional accounting student with a background in an unrelated field, I’m especially interested in how CalCPA can expand and replicate the Community College to CPA program to develop future talent. We can also market the ways in which the profession is evolving, and emphasize the entrepreneurial opportunities provided by a CPA license. With the launch of CPA Evolution in 2024, which will transform the CPA Exam, we all have the opportunity to support new pathways to licensure in partnership with local and national organizations.
As CalCPA is a thought leader in these areas, we can strengthen and enhance our partnerships with educational institutions, finance influencers and partner organizations to redefine the image of the profession and enhance the pipeline of future CPAs.
Join me on this journey as we work together to strengthen our profession for today and tomorrow. Let’s make an impact together.