As a CPA in the entertainment industry, you can be behind-the-scenes of all kinds of Hollywood enterprises. Here are just a few of the options you’ll have if you take a job in celebrityland:
Personal Financial Advisor to the Stars. You’ll still work in the traditional areas of accounting, but you’ll get to do it for famous people. Ever wonder how Brad Pitt spends all that money? As his personal financial advisor, you’d be involved with everything from investments to estate planning to all the random expenditures (Swiss chateau?) he makes. And for all your hard work, you just might be invited to a movie set or premiere to watch him in action. Be warned, it can take a few years before you reach the level where you’re trusted by the entertainment elite. But once you do, you could make as much as 5% of your client’s annual salary.
Accountant to the “Little People.” Not all personal financial advisors work for celebrities. There are a lot of other people in the industry, like screenwriters, music industry moguls and unknown actors, who need the services of a CPA, too. Unlike celebrities, they may not need someone overseeing every purchase—just someone to help them with their bigger financial questions. With some networking and knowledge of the entertainment industry, a CPA license and good people skills, that person could be you.
Corporate Entertainment Accountant. If you’re not interested in catering to one individual, you can work as a CPA for a studio, production company or record company. If you choose this route, you could have all kinds of responsibilities, from overseeing production costs to valuating companies to budgeting for concert tours. For example, as an on-location production accountant working on a film, you’d be in charge of making sure that all of the director’s spur-of-the-moment set changes can be done within budget.
The hours in entertainment accounting can be long, but there are sweet perks that come with the territory, like getting invited to awards ceremonies and fancy after-parties. Of course, this makes competition for these jobs pretty stiff. You’ll need good grades through college, a CPA license and a couple years of work experience to catch your big break.
“It’s cool to have the three letters after your name.” So says Melissa Bartlett, Controller for Technicolor in LA, about being a CPA. But for Melissa, it wasn’t always that way.
“In college I hated accounting,” she says. “So I took the finance route. It seemed more fun, while accounting seemed too stuffy, with too many rules.” She took a few accounting classes just to be on the safe side, but knew that finance was where she wanted to go. But soon, she found that her assumptions were all wrong. “I discovered that everything I thought I hated about accounting, I actually liked, and what I thought I liked about finance – I hated!” she says. “I thought accounting was very rigid, but the truth is that it’s not at all the same thing day in and day out.”
In fact, Melissa is hard pressed to describe a typical day as a CPA. “It’s easier to describe a typical month than a typical day,” she says, “because each day is different depending on the time of month and the projects I have underway.” She works for Technicolor, a powerhouse in the film and entertainment industry that makes the visions of creative people around the world a reality. And with plenty of time left over for personal pursuits outside the office, Melissa takes advantage of everything living in LA has to offer, from the zoos to some of the biggest concerts on the planet. Hiking. Traveling. All work and no play just isn’t part of the equation for Melissa.
Melissa says that people skills are a big part of being successful as a CPA today. “It’s all about getting things done through people – whether it’s your staff, superiors, peers, or business partners,” she says. “You need to be able to develop and maintain those relationships to succeed.”
And, of course, those three little letters help, too: “People are always impressed, and they listen to what you have to say.”
“It's cool to have the three letters after your name.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 22
BEST JOB: Internal Auditor
WORST JOB: Selling magazine subscriptions
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Animals, traveling, reading, collecting art
PETS: 3 dogs, a cat and a cockatoo named Sydney
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "It can be done!"
Not many little girls become accountants in hopes of walking across the stage at the Miss America Pageant.
But that was little Tina Klocke in front of the glimmering TV screen – not envisioning herself in the evening gown or bikini, but in a business suit. At each year’s Pageant, a PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant hands the official results to the emcee, verifying that the votes were counted expertly and accurately. Tina saw herself holding that envelope.
Today, as Chief Operations and Financial Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc., Tina has had the chance to fulfill the dreams of countless little girls.
Over the past 12 years, she’s helped grow the Build-A-Bear empire to more than 400 retail outlets – each one designed to get kids creating in their own personal styles. That creativity carries over into the company offices as well: Employees are encouraged to bring their dogs and children to work.
It’s turned out to be even more rewarding than the pageant thing. “With the position I’m in at such an entrepreneurial company, I get to do way more than ‘count,’” Tina says. “I lead policies, assist in development, build budgets … I know that what I do is big part of my business’s success.”
Sure beats a tiara.
“I know that what I do is big part of my business's success.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 34
BEST JOB: Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc.
WORST JOB: They have all provided learning experiences and made me who I am today
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Reading, attending kids’ sporting events, volunteering
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Bear in mind: always be kind" and "Be the bearer of good news."
Throughout college Daniel Prisciotta was a waiter, a bartender, a personal trainer, but those jobs were just to “put gas in my tank.” Now he gives financial advice to the rich and famous.
Starting out, Daniel was a Business Management major, but wasn’t exactly sure where that would take him. He felt that he needed to have a “trade” so he considered going to Law School, joining the IRS or becoming an entrepreneur. Then he came to a realization: “Any of these paths would be enhanced with knowledge of accounting. Accounting seemed like the perfect background for whatever career path I would choose.”
So he changed his major, graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Accounting and became a CPA.
Daniel spent three years in public accounting at Price Waterhouse doing audits and tax preparation, before deciding on a career in financial planning.
“As a Financial Advisor with a CPA background, I coach and advise my clients and add real value to their personal family and business lives,” he says. “I love the fact that my clients and their families directly benefit from the financial advice I provide. I meet successful, interesting, energetic business owners and executives. I help them to create wealth maintain their lifestyle, pass their assets on to their children, and develop a profitable exit strategy from their business.”
Now, Daniel’s job pays for much more than just gas for his car. Or should we say motorcycle? That’s right, on weekends he spends time touring the United States on his motorcycle or swimming, bicycling or camping with his wife and two children.
But he wouldn’t recommend passing up study for a joy ride. “Hard work and studying pays off,” Daniel says. “While I enjoyed my high school years, I did sacrifice some free time to work and plan for my future. It pays off in the long run.”
Trust him. Now he’s making the big bucks!
“I coach and advise my clients and add real value to their personal family and business lives.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 29
BEST JOB: My current job as an advisor to the rich and famous!
WORST JOB: Dishwasher in a restaurant during high school
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Motorcycle touring, photography and working out
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Create a life of significance and meaning. Set goals, work hard and serve others. Enjoy the journey, as well as the destination, and give thanks.”
When CPA Tim Jorstad signed up to work with the TV Show Glee, he had no idea it would become an instant phenomenon, but he’s sure glad now that Glee took off like it did.
Why would a CPA care if Glee was successful? Guess you could say he’s a Gleek by association. Remember the song “Don’t Stop Believin’” which was featured in the pilot episode back in May 2009? Or the songs “Any Way You Want It”, “Faithfully” and “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” which were used in the episode Journey to Regionals? Well, Tim happens to be the business manager for the band Journey. So when Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, wanted to include these songs in his show, Tim was on hand to help work out the details – everything from licensing to royalties for the band.
“I’m basically the dad for the band”, Tim says. “I oversee every aspect of Journey’s business enterprise. They’ve got many contractual relationships that we oversee. Royalties come in through license agreements like the Glee TV show, which I license.”
“When you take on music industry clients, you have to be prepared to do everything in their lives that has anything to do with money,” he says. Tim handles anything ranging from paying their bills to administering their royalties. Basically, if you’re not willing to go to school and learn all these areas, you really won’t get (or keep) these rock bands as clients.”
And of anyone, this CPA should know. In addition to Journey, his clientele ranges from Carlos Santana to the Grateful Dead. Not to mention, he manages the estates of Jerry Garcia, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix.
Pretty good for someone who came from humble beginnings. Drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 18, right out of high school, Tim went on to college where he first enrolled as an economics major but soon realized he needed “a more practical major to prepare for a job upon graduation and having a degree in accounting provided a definite career path.”
After graduation, Tim worked for a large public accounting firm for a while, moved on to work for a tax law firm, earned his master’s degree in business administration and from there bought half interest in a company that represented the bands Journey and Jefferson Starship. His walk with fame began.
According to Tim, the education CPAs get is universal in business. It’s not just math, numbers and taxes. It’s also about relating and talking to your clients and helping them with their business matters.
So, take it from a CPA with a rockin’ group of clients. Go to school, take advantage of the opportunities you’re presented with and learn as much as you can so you can have a wide variety of services to offer your clients.
“When you take on music industry clients, you have to be prepared to do everything in their lives that has anything to do with money.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 38
BEST JOB: Business manger for the band Jorney
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Snow skiing, scuba diving
PETS: White lab
WORDS TO LIVE BY: Work hard and be adaptive.
Got a question? Rhiannon Blawat probably has the answer. After nine years in the business, seven of those with the same design and architectural firm, she more or less knows exactly what’s going on, all the time.
“I really enjoy being the source of so much information,” she says. “I have a lot of history with this job and it’s nice to be able to use what I have learned to advance my company.”
What’s also nice is getting to balance work with a healthy dose of play: “There’s always something going on around here. Guitar Hero contests, Dance Dance Revolution, hula-hoop competitions…”
When asked why she recommends her profession to others, Rhiannon shakes her head. “There are so many reasons. Despite the tight job market, demand for CPAs is strong and growing. The income potential is high. The career path is full of opportunities.” She then answers the question with one of her own: “Really, why not be a CPA?”
“There's always something going on around here. Guitar Hero contests, Dance Dance Revolution, hula-hoop competitions”
YEARS AS A CPA: 16
BEST JOB: Golf Cart Beverage Provider “Beer Cart Girl” at Edgewood Golf Course
WORST JOB: Supermarket Checker
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Family activities, volunteering with homeless
“I love what I do and I love where I do it,” says Robert Riesenberg, and it doesn’t take an eagle-eyed quarterback to see why. He’s the guy in charge of finances at Dolphin Stadium.
Robert says he’s “lucky” to have merged his love of sports with his professional career, but maybe luck wasn’t the only thing working in his favor.
After all, he does have one of the most respected and marketable credentials a person can get. That’s bound to open up some options for you: “Every business needs a CPA. So yeah, the career choice does give you a lot of flexibility.”
That flexibility has worked out well for this hardcore sports fan. “One day I’m working on the Super Bowl, the next maybe the Orange Bowl, after that a Madonna concert, then it’s some Marlins or Hurricanes games…”
He’s certainly seized the opportunity to, in his own words, “do the perfect job in the perfect place.” It’s clichéd to say, but there’s not much else to call Robert’s job choice besides the obvious: “Touchdown.”
“Do the perfect job in the perfect place.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 12
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: Sales
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Playing with his kids, Sports, Travel
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Love what you do and where you do it!"
Is it possible to be a CPA while pursuing other interests at the same time? Ask James Imel. He combines client work with personal development not only in the same career, but often in the same day.
Here’s his standard schedule: One hour of nonprofit or personal side business development. An hour of administrative work. The rest of the day, usually between six and ten hours, goes to the clients.
So what kind of extra stuff does James work on in that hour of personal time? He might be developing a sketch or a song for the live family/musical show he executive produces. “Fabulous Friday Night Follies Featuring the Lost Episodes of Okra Oklahoma” opened in July of 2009. Getting the show up and running drew on everything he knows as a CPA, business major and writer.
It must feel good to see all your skills put to good use, especially when it results in something nobody’s ever seen before. James loves that feeling, and he gets it just as frequently helping clients find venture capital and stay ahead of regulations as he does with audiences.
“When I’m asked to attend a meeting as a CPA, what I contribute is usually critical,” he says. “And there’s no one else in the room that can do it.”
“When I'm asked to attend a meeting as a CPA, what I contribute is usually critical.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 39
BEST JOB: Entertainment Producer
WORST JOB: Divorced Dad
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Writing, cooking, resting
PETS: 2 dogs, a cat and 2 gerbils
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You don't get a goose if you don't shoot your gun!"
“Thank you for tuning in. I’m Ami Beers and here are tonight’s top stories.”
When Ami started at Syracuse University, she intended on majoring in communications and going into a broadcast-related field. “I took a few business classes and realized that my potential for obtaining a job after college would be much greater with a business degree—especially accounting,” she says.
So Ami switched majors and graduated with an accounting degree. She got her first job with a Big Four public accounting firm - Ernst & Young - and requested to work with the media and entertainment clients. “Among other industries, I spent a lot of time auditing a major record label,” she says. She even got to count the ballots for the Emmy® Awards.
But Ami never forgot about her dream of going into broadcasting. So a few years later she went to work in the Corporate Finance Office for ABC. “I was involved with the accounting for the merger with Disney and then continued to work for Disney in the TV unit,” Ami says. “Accountants get involved with the entire organization. With an accounting background you really can go anywhere.”
In her position now, Ami is “doing more creative activities including writing and getting involved in educational activities to support our members with new business reporting initiatives, such as webcasts and sessions at conferences.”
Despite the fact communications wasn’t her major, Ami says that it’s still a huge part of her job. “I spend a lot of time working with people, and still do today, rather than having my head stuffed in a computer or book,” she says. “Communication skills are a very important part of the job.”
No matter what field you’re interested in, remember that someone always has to take care of the money. Why not you?
“With an accounting background you really can go anywhere.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 20
BEST JOB: Counting ballots for the Emmy® Awards
WORST JOB: Inventory count of ham and salami in 40 degree warehouse on New Year’s Eve
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Shopping, exercise, reading
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Honesty is the best policy.”
If you had told Bill Winkler in high school that someday he’d be a senior executive running an international advertising agency, he probably would have just laughed. That year, Bill held off on college, working at a job fixing flat tires on trucks and tractors, not sure of what he wanted to do with his life.
But he learned something important between working on all those tires: he wanted to use his brain to make money. So he went to college, washing dishes to earn money along the way, and after graduating he took a job at a national CPA firm. That’s when things got interesting.
“I realized I wanted to change from public accounting to private, and took a job with a small regional advertising agency in Oklahoma,” Bill says. Over the course of 25 years, the small company grew into a national and international advertising agency. Bill’s training as a CPA played a big role in helping the company grow. “Without my accounting, finance and management background, we couldn’t have grown effectively,” Bill says.
Not bad for an expert flat-fixer/dishwasher.
“Without my accounting, finance and management background, we couldn't have grown effectively.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 35
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: All sports, especially golf. Traveling. Community service.
Steve Vaughan tried not to go to college.
After attending the University of Oklahoma for one year, he left, thinking he could start making money doing something else. But Steve quickly found it wasn’t so easy to hit the big time without a degree. He went back to school with renewed determination and got his degree in accounting, which he chose for its high hiring rate.
After college, Steve worked at Ernst & Young while getting ready for the CPA exam. He then took his skills and his appetite to Sonic Corp., the company behind Sonic Drive-Ins. Steve has been in Sonic’s finance department for 19 years, working his way up from internal auditor to Chief Financial Officer.
Steve loves that “no two days are the same.” A typical day (which is “extremely busy”) involves working with the rest of the finance department, taking care of all the money-related questions that pop up in a big business. While the work is constant, Steve still gets home in time for dinner with his family. And being the CFO of a million-dollar company doesn’t stop him from serving on the board of the Oklahoma Future Farmers of America Foundation, playing with his three dogs and listening to rap music with his daughter.
If you’re considering a career in business, Steve says you can’t lose with a CPA license. “The CPA certification provides you with a lot of flexibility and the ability to go down several career paths,” he says. “At Sonic, not only are several employees in our financial group CPAs, but the President of the company is a CPA and our VP of Supply Chain Management is a CPA.”
College sounds pretty good now, doesn’t it?
“Not only are several employees in our financial group CPAs, but the President of the company is a CPA .”
YEARS AS A CPA: 27
Kurt Pickering isn’t your typical Chief Financial Officer (CFO). “I work at home about three days a week in shorts and a t-shirt,” Kurt says. “I don’t think I’ve worn a shirt and tie to work in about four years.”
Then again, Kurt isn’t the CFO of your average company, either. Scotty’s Brewhouse is a fast-growing chain of restaurants in the Indianapolis area. A lot of Kurt’s job involves convincing other companies to invest in Scotty’s. “I like those types of projects because they allow for a lot of creativity,” Kurt says.
It’s all part of working at a young, growing company. “It’s a lot of fun being at this early stage, because you’re not working from a playbook – you have to figure out a new solution to every problem that gets thrown at you.”
Kurt’s career wasn’t always spent in shorts – he enjoyed his time at more traditional CPA firms as well. “Yeah, I spent the first three years of my career in a traditional office,” he says. “I had a lot of fun during that time, too.” But after spending his days in flip flops, he’s found a style that’s just his speed.
“I work at home about three days a week in shorts and a t-shirt.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 17
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Coaching, golfing, family time
As a teenager living in Queens in the 60s, Mitchell Freedman already stood out – as a potential pop star. “I wanted to be a rock and roll singer, composer and lyricist,” he says. “I had a lot of talent in performing and writing music, and by 16 I was already offered recording and publishing contracts.” But because he was a minor, his father had to sign the contracts – and refused. “My dad said a nice kid like me born in the Bronx doesn’t go on to become a rock singer,” he remembers. “He said ‘you’ll be an accountant.’ I listened to him and I’ve never regretted it.”
Maybe it helps that today, Mitch is still very close to the entertainment business. As president of his own successful entertainment-focused accounting firm in Westlake Village, CA, M Freedman & Co., Inc. An Accountancy Corporation, along with its sister wealth management firm, MFAC Financial Advisors, Inc., many of his clients are Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award-winning television and film directors, actors, variety performers, writers, producers and executives. He’s appeared on CNN, Entertainment Tonight, the BBC, and a host of other TV and radio shows.
For Mitch, there is no such thing as a typical day. “One day I could be helping with the negotiation of the terms of a director’s contract for work, and another I could be flying to Utah to help another client evaluate a piece of real estate he’s considering purchasing,” he says. “Nothing is typical.”
Mitch says he loves every part of his job, and he’s been rewarded with enormous success. But he still frequently practices at Karaoke Night at the Westlake Yacht Club – you know, just in case the whole accounting thing doesn’t work out.
“Nothing is typical.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 52
BEST JOB: CPA for Entertainment Industry
WORST JOB: Delivering pizza in 1961
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Musician, singer, songwriter
PETS: Two rescue dogs
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Don’t let others say you can’t – anything’s possible."
For Marilyn Wilkins, becoming a CPA was a matter of getting from point A to point B. “I thought I wanted to go into international business when I was in high school,” she says. “In college it seemed like the best path to achieve this goal was to get a degree in accounting.” Today she’s the Vice President for Accounting Policy at Marriott International, the international chain of more than 3,000 hotels.
After earning her CPA, Marilyn set about achieving her goal. “I went to work as a staff accountant in the audit practice for Arthur Andersen LLP, which was a large public accounting firm, just out of college,” she says. “Then I left Arthur Andersen to become a professional accounting fellow at the Securities and Exchange Commission, eventually making my way to the Chief Accountant’s Office.” In 2006, she made the leap to Marriott.
Today, Marilyn counts her job at Marriott as her favorite yet. “I don’t spend much time looking at numbers,” she says. “I spend most of my time meeting with other people in the organization to discuss various accounting matters.” A big part of her job is helping business leaders at Marriott understand the results of their decisions in terms of accounting. It’s not enough to have a knack for numbers – Marilyn relies on her deep understanding of the business and her communication skills to be successful. “Accounting is definitely not just about how you add up the numbers,” she says. “It is more an art that it is a science.” And part of the art of accounting involves working with colleagues to help improve the business. “I love working with our business people here at Marriott,” Marilyn says. “They’re bright, creative and articulate – and they challenge me to come up with new and fresh ideas to help them achieve their business objectives.”
Marilyn says that a degree in accounting is a good investment. “It provides good job security – businesses need accountants when times are good, and when they’re not so good,” she says.
And that job security means that Marilyn can enjoy the good things in life too, like traveling with family and friends. “Every year, we try to plan at least one good trip,” she says. “Last year we went to Australia and New Zealand. This year we went to Scandinavia.” And when she travels, there’s a pretty good chance she can get a room upgrade when she needs it.
“Accounting is definitely not just about how you add up the numbers. It is more an art than it is a science.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 22
BEST JOB: Working here at Marriott International
WORST JOB: Working in retail during the summers when I was in high school
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Spending time with family and friends, cooking, travel, photography and walking
PETS: My husband is a veterinarian but we don't currently have any pets
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You only get one life, so make the best of it in all aspects."
Ten years ago, if you asked Marilou Davido what she wanted to be when she grew up, “accountant” would not have been the answer.
Marilou went to college for interior design and studied it for four years. But by the time she made it to her fifth and final year, she decided interior design wasn’t for her—and switched to accounting.
“I enjoyed designing and building furniture, and thought I would eventually start a business doing that,” she says. “If I was going to be a business owner, I figured I should understand business and financial statements.”
Marilou ended up understanding business so well that she forgot about owning a furniture business, pursued her CPA license and now works as a tax consultant for other people’s companies. Working for one of the nation’s largest certified public accounting and consulting firms, she advises small, family-owned businesses and large, international ones on the best ways to manage their taxes.
The job is always different, Marilou says. She’ll go from working in the office, to working at a client site, to working from home—which is helpful, since she has a baby boy.
“I love that my company is technologically savvy so I can work in various locations and have a flexible schedule,” she says. “And I love that I learn something new every day.”
Marilou may have not imagined herself as a CPA, but tells students there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind.
“Back then, I wish I knew, really believed, that it is incredibly normal to be doing something very different after college than what you majored in.”
“I love that I learn something new every day.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: McDonald's (never got the hang of the cash register)
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Stage acting, gardening, poker, puzzles
PETS: A cat named Boo
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Don't trick yourself into NOT doing something that you know you should do."
What do accounting, a recording studio and a black hole have in common? Kevin Yeanoplos.
Ok, so not a real black hole, that’s just what Kevin calls the five years between high school and college. During the time out of school, he realized that he “needed a ‘real’ job; something that would be practical. Tradional accounting services met my original goals and I’m very glad today.”
Once he escaped from the black hole, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Utah and worked in public accounting for about 10 years, including some time with a large accounting firm. “It was a stable job, but something was missing for me,” Kevin said. “I hungered for a creative outlet and some more intellectual stimulation.” He found that outlet in business valuation and hasn’t looked back. He’s been doing it full-time for nearly 20 years.
Now that he’s found his niche in the world of accounting, he says he’s doing what he loves: helping people with their problems. “Even though I provide services, I view myself as an educator. Whether through mentoring other professionals, defending my expert opinion in the courtroom, helping a client to know how much to sell their business for, helping a divorcing couple to move on with their lives or any of a vast number of things, I'm really educating. And I get PAID for it! How cool is that?”
When he’s not working, Kevin spends time recording music in a studio he has setup in his house or with his wife, five children and grandson. Kevin recently released his second album and he tries to visit Hawaii with his wife at least once per year.
Seems like Kevin not only managed to escape from that black hole, but actually may have ended up in paradise.
“Even though I provide services, I view myself as an educator.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 33
BEST JOB: I love what I do now, really!
WORST JOB: Graveyard cook at the Internation House of Pancakes
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Singer, songwriter, concert journalist
PETS: A rat terrier
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Always keep the main thing in mind."
If you ask Dominic Ortiz why he became a CPA, he’ll likely tell you his brother’s the reason.
“My brother was a great mentor and suggested if I was going to be in business, accounting would give me the best foundation for future success,” Dominic says. “So I started dabbling in accounting, went through a few courses and finally decided I was going to go into accounting.”
While in graduate school, Dominic scored a great internship at Harrah’s Casino, which helped him learn some of the skills he uses today at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Entertainment Corporation. Starting out as an intern allowed him to see the ins and outs of the organization and helped him get a strong grasp of all the moving pieces.
Now he leads eight departments and makes sure they have the right information at the right time so they can make appropriate decisions for the company.
But this type of management role is nothing new for Dominic. He’s always been a strong leader. In fact, he is a national representative for American Indian Business Leaders. As one of their reps, he had a number of great opportunities including being chosen to meet and introduce President Clinton in 1998—before he’d even graduated from college!
So even though he gave Dominic some great advice, not all the credit can go to his brother. A strong work ethic, tons of hard work and an extraordinary passion for his career were the driving force behind helping Dominic become the successful CPA he is today.
(But it’s still nice he gives his bro the credit.)
“My brother suggested if I was going to be in business, accounting would give me the best foundation for future success.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 6
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: Washing Dogs in Highschool
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Fishing Professional Bass Tournaments
WORDS TO LIVE BY: If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
In general, you don’t want to take too much career advice from a guy in an oversized cowboy hat. But then again, it worked for Ray Pinglora, Principal at Van Duyne, Behrens & Co., P.A. Here’s the story.
“I came into college as a communications major,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to work in the financial field at all.” But then this happened: Freshman orientation. Head of the accounting department walks up to the podium. He’s got a funny hat on. Ray doesn’t know what to think. Without a moment’s hesitation, the guy says, "Who out there wants to make some &f#!@ing money?!" Ray is stunned. He’d always thought of accountants as a little more soft spoken, but Mr. Bighat proved that wrong. Ray changed his major that day, got his degree in accounting, went on to a Master’s, and his career took off.
And today? “I actually wear many different hats,” Ray says. “I manage staff and workflow, handle major audits and research projects, and network to find new clients.” It’s a lot to juggle, and Ray loves it. “I never really refer to it as a job,” he says. “We’re a small firm, so it’s like a big family. And of course, I love working in the entertainment field.” Ray is on the financial front lines for some pretty interesting clients. “If somebody’s AMEX Black card won’t work at 2:00am, we get the call,” he points out. “And if a rock star is trying to renegotiate a contract, they look to us for financial ammunition.” (Ray’s love of the entertainment world lives on outside the office too – he’s the guitarist for his own rock band.)
There’s a lot to learn from Ray’s example. Mainly, he wants you to understand the benefits of becoming a CPA. “It’s not about being behind a desk with a calculator and computer,” he says. “It’s being a personality, it’s growing with your clients, and it’s a profession that opens the door to lots of different opportunities.”
Pictured (left) with 3 Doors Down
“I never really refer to it as a job. We're a small firm, so it's like a big family.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 13
BEST JOB: Besides currently, the Chester 6 movie theater
WORST JOB: Telemarketing
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Guitar, music, spending time with daugther Izabella Rose
PETS: A puppy named Skiba and two cats named Jason and Grant
It’s all about pay versus play. Just ask Teri Ashworth. She says that when it comes to choosing a career path. “You have to figure out how much pay you need to play the way you want,” she says. “The equation will probably change over time, but being a CPA helps you adjust when, where and how you work to support the way you want to live your life.”
Teri has first-hand experience in figuring out the best way to handle what life throws at you. After high school, she says, “I went to college. Then I took a break and worked for a while. As soon as I could, I went back to school.” While in college at Oklahoma State University, she went the extra mile in a job at Stillwater National Bank – by the time she graduated, she was already the Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
But after becoming the director of marketing for an accounting firm, she decided she really wanted to be an accountant. She passed the CPA exam on her first try and the rest is history. Today Teri is the director of tax for Sonic, the national chain of drive-in restaurants.
In addition to her pay/play rule for careers, Teri has another easy-to-remember piece of advice for anyone in high school – one that comes directly from her experiences in college and in various careers. “If you’re unhappy with your situation,” she says, “you’re the only one who can do something to change it. So do something.”
“You have to figure out how much pay you need to play the way you want.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 17
WORST JOB: Machine shop sweeper
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Skiing and snowboarding, hiking, biking, volunteering, bass guitarist in Guitar Hero band
PETS: 2 lab-mutt litter mates Max & Leo
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "If you are unhappy, you are the only one with the ability to choose to change your situation."
What do you do when an obstacle appears in your path? Go over, around or through. That’s what Kyle Martin, Regional Director of Penn National Gaming, Inc. would tell you.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go on to college after high school or not,” he says. “No one else in my family had graduated college, and the money wasn’t there for me. I didn’t have academic scholarships to rely on.” Even his high school guidance counselor was suggesting a trade school or something else less expensive.
Fortunately, he received financial support from the W. W. Smith Charitable Trust Grant program and other need-based assistance, and was able to attend Holy Family University. It was the first step down a great path for Kyle – he ended up getting a Master’s degree and graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
He passed the CPA exam and went to work with a national CPA firm. Within seven years he’d paid off all student loans – including his wife’s. Today, he’s still finding solutions to tricky situations. “As a CPA, your clients rely on you to provide answers to some pretty complex business problems,” he says. “It’s really rewarding to have that trust and respect.”
Seems like Kyle’s a good person to trust, when it comes to solving complex problems. He’s been finding ways to overcome obstacles since he was a teenager.
Now he’s up for sharing his knowledge with others who might be in similar situations to his as a teenager. “If you are interested in working hard and achieving great things, call me,” he says. “I would be happy to provide any guidance or assistance I can!”
“As a CPA, your clients rely on you to provide answers to some pretty complex business problems.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 20
BEST JOB: Regional Director of Internal Audit and Corporate SOX Compliance Officer
WORST JOB: Telemarketer
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, running, softball
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” - John Wooden
We might as well just come out and say it: Martin Kamenski rocks. Not with a guitar or a set of drums, the way his clients do, but by making “taxes and ‘business stuff’” as understandable as possible for them so they can focus on what they do best.
As President of Rockstar CPA in Chicago, Martin literally gives his clients the “Rockstar Treatment” (look it up – it’s a real option on the company website) and handles their bills, check deposits, agent fees and even sends them texts or gives them a call to let them know when to start or stop spending.
And most importantly, he also earns their trust – not just by knowing his stuff, but by knowing theirs. He’s even been known to rock it out in the audience at his clients’ shows. “We care about their business as much as they do, and they respect that,” he says.
So while they’re finishing the next album, directing another show, submitting their documentary to festivals or designing the logo for Sony's latest product, he’s handling the behind-the-scenes stuff that helps keep everything going. Even when he’s at the scene.
Further rocker cred comes from his involvement in the arts. In addition to running his own firm, Martin produces theater and works as the Managing Director for Collaboraction Theater Company. It makes for a busy day, and one that can run into the evenings: “Using today as an example,” he says, “I got to my offices downtown at 9 a.m. and got home around 6 p.m. to have dinner before meeting with a local concert promoter at 8 p.m.” (Don’t worry, he was home again by 10 p.m. for some emails and sleep.)
It’s challenging, but Martin wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, some people are just born to live like rockstars.
“We care about their business as much as they do, and they respect that.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
BEST JOB: Can't give you their name
WORST JOB: Big 4 clean-up after scandal
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Musician, building kiddie pools on my rooftop
PETS: Snorkel the dog
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Accountant on top, rockstar on the bottom."
“The best thing about my job,” explains Annie Boudreau, “is the opportunity to work with amazing people.” That’s a great perk for any career, but in her case it’s even more awesome, since she’s usually at her clients’ offices with her fellow accountants.
As an audit associate with Grant Thorton LLP, “About 95% of my time is spent around an audit table with about seven of us,” Annie estimates. “There is constant interaction with really smart, fun people…I don't go a day without learning and laughing.”
She also really likes her job for all the doors it opens up. “Accounting students are highly marketable and have many career opportunities upon graduation,” she reports. “Especially in public accounting, within two years, accountants are given supervisory roles and there is a great amount of room to move up.”
So with a fun, challenging, rewarding work environment and lots of room for advancement, you might say Annie’s pretty much got it made. And she’ll be the first to point out that you can do it too: “Follow the career path you’re most passionate about,” she says.
“As long as you are doing what you enjoy and learning something new every day, you will be satisfied and continue to grow.”
“I don't go a day without learning and laughing.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 6
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: Waitress
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Softball, ice hockey, water sports, watching The Office
PETS: Shitzu Toy Poodle
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow."
For Dr. John Karaffa, rubbing elbows with famous people is just part of his job description. As President of ProSport CPA, he helps professional athletes with their tax, accounting and financial education needs.
He’s got the perfect background for it, too. “I played basketball at Butler University,” he remembers. “Then I ventured overseas to play professional basketball in Germany.” After that, John walked off the court and into the international tax department at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Nine years later, his title was VP of Sports & Entertainment, and today he’s the President of ProSport CPA ("The Tax Pro for the Pros").
Does he miss his playing days? If so, you’d never notice. “I love seeing people make better financial decisions as a result of my help,” he says. What’s more, he gets to hang out in an office covered in sports memorabilia, usually with ESPN or the NFL network playing on his flat screen. John adds that “I can say, with a straight face, that watching sports is part of doing my ‘homework!’”
And his past experiences just make him better at what he does now. “I spend a lot of time prospecting professional athletes,” he says. “Keeping up with my current players and how they're doing.” He also networks with financial advisors about how he can help them with their athlete clients.
He only has one minor regret: “I never realized how much fun being a CPA could really be. Had I known, I’d have hit the books a little harder, and started sooner on becoming a sports accountant.”
So, you tell us. Pro athletes, game tickets, tv-watching-as-homework. Sounds like a pretty good gig, huh?
“I love seeing people make better financial decisions as a result of my help.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 19
BEST JOB: Overseas Professional Basketball Player
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Travel, sports
WORDS TO LIVE BY: I love the quote I once heard, "Luck is preparation meeting opportunity."
If you’ve ever played an Xbox, you can thank Robert Laux. As a senior director of financial accounting for Microsoft, he was involved in some of the earliest internal discussions at the company about whether they should enter the video game business. He helped provide guidance on the accounting implications of selling the Xbox – which of course they eventually did, taking the world of video games to the next level. And getting in the way of a lot of homework.
Robert became interested in accounting because he liked working with numbers, but soon realized that that was just the beginning. “I began to realize that it was a lot more than just numbers and math,” he says. “You also need strong reasoning and communication skills to make accounting standards stick.”
At Microsoft, Robert is considered to be a valuable resource throughout the company. “I even get to meet with our CEO, Steve Ballmer, every few months,” he says. “It’s great exposure.”
Robert has some valuable advice for anyone considering their career path. “Think long-term,” he says. “It’s not about what your salary will be at your first job – it’s about what your ultimate goal is, and then crafting a long-term plan to achieve that goal.” Take it from a guy who got his start at Taco Bell. And no, not in the accounting department.
“Think long-term. It's not about what your salary will be at your first job.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 28
BEST JOB: Microsoft
WORST JOB: Taco Bell in college
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Reading, tennis
PETS: 2 dogs named Izzy and Oscar
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "All you can do is try your best."