IT Auditor. This is the job of a high-tech sleuth. As an IT auditor, you’d investigate how the numbers on a company’s financial statements came to be. You’d look at the systems in place to produce the numbers, and the security of the network the numbers passed through. Your mission would be to make sure the company is following the law in keeping data and records secure. An IT auditing job is the perfect blend of accounting and technology, and it’s in high demand.
Software Developer. Once you know the ins and outs of accounting, you could use those skills to develop the technology that helps CPAs do their job (assuming you know your way around computer programming). Accounting is a profession that’s always looking for tech-smart people to help make the job easier. You could strike it rich doing just that.
Staff Accountant. All accountants—not just IT auditors—need to stay current with evolving technology. As a staff accountant, you’d learn the latest financial software and use it to keep track of the comings and goings of money at your company. You could do this anywhere, but if you’re really into technology, you could get into the financial department of a company like Apple, Garmin or a cutting-edge biotech firm.
IT Auditors need to be trained in accounting as well as information systems technology. In college, consider double majoring in accounting and computer science or information science before you go on to get your CPA license.
Shhh. Don’t tell anybody. Mendy Marsh isn’t so great at math.
Since Mendy’s the CFO for a software company, that might come as a surprise. But as she explains, “being a CPA isn’t just about numbers – it’s about understanding business. After that, the numbers fall into place.”
Then again, maybe Mendy’s just being modest. As a student at Texas A&M, she heard a lot of friends complaining about the basic accounting class. “By the time I started taking the class, I was pretty nervous,” she said. “And then I wondered what they were complaining about. It wasn’t that bad.”
From there, Mendy went on to receive her bachelors and masters in accounting in a special program at the college, and scored a job at Deloitte. After working in North Carolina for two years, she got homesick and transferred to Texas. After five more years at Deloitte, she started working for a software company.
After four months at the company she was promoted to CFO. It’s a job made for her personality. “I’ve got a short attention span and get bored doing the same thing all day,” she says. “In this job, I get to work on a lot of different projects, diving into the ones that are interesting to me.”
As if that’s not enough to satisfy her restless mind, Mendy travels a lot and takes on whatever adventure activities she can find in her travels, from paragliding to white water rafting and SCUBA diving. “Pretty much anything I can do other than jumping out of a plane.” For Mendy, it’s all about making every day an adventure, whether she’s in the office or in the Caribbean.
“I get to work on a lot of different projects, diving into the ones that are interesting to me.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 12
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Traveling, SCUBA diving, Irish dance
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
Cathleen Anderson knows that no two CPAs are alike. “When I meet other CPAs, I’m amazed at how different our jobs can be,” says Cathleen. “One may be a property manager who’s never in the office, another one may work for a bank. CPAs have such a variety of options and are needed in every industry.”
In her own career as a CPA, Cathleen has held a lot of different roles. She started her career working for a two-person CPA firm, then worked in a number of larger firms specializing in different areas. Today she works for Burnham Holdings, a heavy-duty manufacturer, where she says “all my former roles have come together.”
Another thing she loves about her job? “My number one goal is to have a great work/life balance,” she says. “So I give 100% when I’m at work but I don’t take work home.” So, you might say that one of the best parts of her job is when she’s sitting on her back deck reading and watching the sun set, or having lunch with her children at school on their birthdays. They’re just a few of the perks that come with a job that gives her the flexibility she needs to be happy.
“When I meet other CPAs, I'm amazed at how different our jobs can be.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 18
BEST JOB: Grocery store cashier
WORST JOB: Fast food
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Reading
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Remember to live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly and leave the rest to God."
Michael Brown is an avid river-goer, getting out in his canoe whenever he can. And you could even say that his career has been a little like being out on the water. He saw accounting as a current that could lead him almost anywhere.
Michael started doing tax preparation before he even graduated college. His sophomore year at Baylor University, he helped out a local accounting firm during the busy season. Following graduation, he passed the CPA exam and began exploring new skills.
Now he tests the waters in lots of different settings, from valuing ownership stakes, to giving testimony in the courtroom. His workload moves along at a nice, brisk pace.
“There always seems to be something new,” he says. “I love the challenge and I love the support I get from my company.”
Goes to show where you can end up if you don’t just “go with the flow,” but steer yourself toward the most interesting stuff up ahead. Looking at Michael’s story, it’s easy to see a good education as being like a good boat. It puts you in the water, but it’s up to you to paddle it forward.
“I love the challenge and I love the support I get from my company.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 14
BEST JOB: My current job
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Playing with his kids, canoeing Texas rivers and lakes
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Life moves fast. It’s about the journey, not the destination, so take time to enjoy it.”
Barry Melancon has a number for anyone just starting their career: 15.
“People entering the work force over the next decade will have, on average, 15 different jobs over the course of their work life,” he explains. “Being a CPA gives you more of the skills and advantages you need to be successful in every one of those 15 jobs than any other profession.”
Barry should know. As the President and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs, he works for about 370,000 CPAs. “It’s the best group of people that you’ll find anywhere,” he says. “They bring competence, ethics, caring and expertise to have a real impact on our society and economy. It’s a real privilege to work with them.”
Today Barry travels most of the year, delivering more than 100 speeches around the world, and managing a staff of more than 600 people. But he started his career just like many CPAs: at a small firm in his hometown. By 25, he was a partner in the small South Louisiana firm. And from there, he rose through the ranks of professional CPA organizations before taking the helm of the AICPA.
Does he have any other advice for anyone embarking on a career? “Change is a constant,” he says. “Embrace it.”
“Change is a constant. Embrace it.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 36
BEST JOB: CEO at the AICPA
WORST JOB: Little league umpire
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, boating, watching sports
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – but don't let that stop you from doing something now."
Michael Hietter has worked hard for years to earn his title – “Third-Funniest Accountant in Florida.”
Whether he’s doing stand-up comedy (check out his picture from the 2008 South's Funniest Accountant contest), playing rugby or racing his Honda S2000 in weekend autocrosses, Michael basically makes a joke out of the traditional numbers-guy stereotype. And while people in the audience are thinking, “CPAs just don’t do stuff like that,” to Michael it all makes perfect sense.
His life philosophy is based on “learning as many new things as you can,” and Michael’s CPA credentials come in mighty handy. “I often do not know what will come to my desk each day. I could be helping a business with its balance sheet in the morning, when a lawsuit over a patent could come my way in the afternoon. That’s when I start calculating how much profit someone may have lost because someone else stole their idea.
Or he might find himself assessing a claim over a collapsed warehouse, helping decide on whether the property owners deserve the $14 million they’re asking for. It’s no walk in the park, but it sure isn’t boring.
How does Michael keep a light attitude when dealing with such heavy issues? A little humor always helps. And a rich assortment of extracurricular activities certainly helps keep things in perspective.
“Success is what you make of it. Don't have a picture in your mind of what life should be like. Like they say, ‘Life is what happens while you are making other plans.’” Pretty deep for a funny guy.
“Success is what you make of it.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 28
BEST JOB: Personal Property Auditor for a Georgia county
WORST JOB: Busboy in a Mexican Restaurant
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Singing/Songwriting, Stand-Up Comedy, Autocross
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Ad Hoc, Ad Loc, Quid Pro Quo. So little time, So much to know!"
John Wall loves the mountains. The guy even moved from Florida to the Appalachians, and then the Rockies, to be closer to the ski slopes. So naturally he found a job in…a coal mine?
“I work at a coal mine outside of Denver as a staff accountant,” he explains. “In my job I’m interacting with government agencies, doing financial reporting and I get to visit the mine where I can see and ride in some of the most impressive (and coolest) equipment you’ll ever see. And of course, I’m in the local ski club.”
John has a history of blending his passions. Recently, he says, “I was able to be both a ski instructor and work at a CPA firm. It was really fun to tell clients how I spend my winter. I got some great looks.” Equally fun for John is being part of the community – getting to provide financial help to local not-for-profit agencies as a volunteer.
And if you’re wondering, he even looks like a “ski bum.” Showing up to work in jeans and flannel, John gets out of the office every chance he finds. “After all,” he says, “It’s Colorado. It’s beautiful outside.” Between this ideal setting and the rewarding work he does, John seems to pretty much have it made. And he thanks his accounting degree for getting him there. “A job as a CPA provides great opportunity to meet a lot of people and see a lot of great things,” he reports.
It’s pretty apparent that getting your CPA certification can put you on top of any mountain.
“A job as a CPA provides great opportunity to meet a lot of people and see a lot of great things.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 13
BEST JOB: Supervisor for a firm that audited non-profit organizations
WORST JOB: Working at McDonald's in high school, but even that was kind of fun
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Skiing and Ultimate Frisbee
PETS: Australian Shepherd
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Take care of yourself like you will live forever. Live like there's no tomorrow."
For Faizal Chaudhury, getting a job in accounting was like getting a round-the-world ticket.
Faizal works for the Stepan Company, a chemical manufacturing company with offices around the world. As one of the people responsible for making sure the company’s internal accounting procedures are running smoothly, Faizal gets to travel all over the globe. “I get to meet new and interesting people all the time, as well as experience different cultures and languages,” he says. “I just love that.”
Faizal understands that when most people think of a CPA, they think of someone who sits in an office all day long. “As an accountant, I’m hardly in my office at all,” he says. “I’m out in the field meeting different people and learning how companies work. “What could be more exciting than that?”
“I get to meet new and interesting people all the time, as well as experience different cultures and languages.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 17
BEST JOB: Current one - it has allowed me to travel all over the world
WORST JOB: I am very fortunate to not have had a job yet that I can term as 'Worst"
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Collecting coins and stamps, volunteering and cricket (the sport)
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "If you work hard and give it you all - you will be rewarded!"
What do you do when you discover you don’t enjoy chemical engineering? Get a degree in accounting, of course.
Jim Morrison began his collegiate years in chemical engineering, but soon realized he did not enjoy it. Knowing he wanted to be in business and industry, Jim chose to learn the language of business through accounting. “Know the numbers and all else will follow,” he says.
A typical day finds Jim making high-level decisions, attending high-level meetings and discussing credit lines, budget proposals and March Madness. Sometimes, however, Jim believes you have to “put your brain in a different mode.”
For Jim this usually consists of playing the guitar or banjo. Sometimes he goes in a totally different direction, such as turning his company’s service awards into a roasting event. “Historically, this was a boring litany of the person’s jobs while they were at Teknor,” he says. “Now it is respectful and fun for all, including the roastee.”
But he wasn’t always at the top. Jim spent four years in cost accounting at a major plastic plant, before moving into financial analysis and writing speeches for his general manager. He took advantage of opportunities and positions on the Pacific Rim and began working on joint ventures and international finance.
Back in the United States, still stepping up to opportunities, Jim became the CFO of Angus Chemical in Chicago before taking the CFO position at Teknor Apex. “When something needs to be accomplished, we don't wait for other functions to volunteer,” he says. “We step forward. Life is much more interesting that way. And never boring.”
To high school students interested in accounting, Jim says, “Every successful business and economy is based on sound financial strategies. Understanding financial basics and the alternative they present leads to good decisions. The CPA is the leading credential of the financial expert who guides those decisions.”
“Know the numbers and all else will follow.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 36
BEST JOB: Current job
WORST JOB: Never had a bad job
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Tennis, guitar, banjo, genealogy
PETS: Westies everywhere
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Listen to other opinions respectfully, but never fail to give your own."
“Bloom where you are planted.” That’s one of Patricia Cochran’s favorite quotes, and it’s one that’s served her well through the years – starting in college, where a friend recommended that she take a class in accounting. The next thing she knew, she was graduating with a double major in accounting and operations research and getting ready for her first job at Ernst & Young.
Three years later, Patricia moved on to VSP, an eyecare company. Her career blossomed. “I’ve spent 11 years as controller at VSP and 20 years as its CFO,” she says. “And I’ve never had a boring day.”
Because VSP is an international company, one day might find Patricia on conference calls with colleagues in Hong Kong or Amsterdam. The next day she could be speaking with state regulators or reviewing the performance of the company’s stock portfolio.
Patricia attributes part of her success in the office to something she does away from the office: volunteering. “Volunteer for something you’re passionate about,” she says. “This will expose to you a wider business network and give you the opportunity to learn new skills in a low-risk environment – all while doing good.”
Whether as a volunteer or in your career, Patricia says it’s a good idea to follow your passions. “As a CPA, you’ll never be bored along your career journey if you explore the aspects of business that capture your interest.”
“Volunteer for something you're passionate about.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 39
BEST JOB: CFO
WORST JOB: Movie theater snack bar operator
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Fly fishing, traveling
PETS: 3 dogs
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Bloom where you are planted."
If William Schneider looks familiar, it may be because he’s thrown a yellow or red card in your direction. When he’s not working as a CPA - talking to clients, staff and his company’s leadership about what’s going on with the business - he’s probably out on the soccer field, working as a referee.
“I’ll never be a World Cup referee,” he says, “but that's not my focus.” Rather, he explains, “I want to give kids a chance at a fair game – something they can have fun doing and maybe learn a few things on the way.”
He’d like to help you enjoy the same opportunity. And for a career you can have fun doing while learning quite a few things along the way, William signals clearly in the direction of becoming a CPA.
“Do you want a job that has a thousand possible career paths?” he asks. “One that is more important today than ever and matters, really matters, to people? Do you want as much responsibility as you can handle as soon as you can handle it?” If yes, says William, becoming a CPA is for you.
For him, that’s meant jobs with the Big Four and a steady ascent up the corporate ladder. He has shifted to job opportunities that cut down on his travel, giving him more time with his family. And he’s shifted through new obligations adding up to 12 different jobs over more than 23 years, all while enjoying the flexibility of being able to plan his schedule around family, professional and volunteer events.
So it’s been a “good game” so far, by any measure. And, like any good game, far from predictable. Still, William has always seemed to come up with a winning play.
“People, companies, society are always changing,” he says. “And those changes cause your plans to change. Thank goodness I picked a career that made change easy to accommodate.”
“Do you want a job that has a thousand possible career paths?”
YEARS AS A CPA: 28
BEST JOB: Controller of Bellsouth Long Distance
WORST JOB: Never had one
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Camping, soccer
PETS: 2 dogs and 3 cats
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "It's not what happens, but how you react to what happens that matters."
Tech guys often get a bad rap. But Doug Ellis, Technical Director for IBM, is no gizmo-pusher.
“Today, I use my accounting/business background to help companies determine their technology needs,” he says. “I work with them to find their best solution from both a technology and a business standpoint.”
His background in accounting (he has CPA certification and has worked with Fortune 500 companies on financial issues) helps prove to clients that he knows what he’s talking about. “Being a CPA gives you an instant credibility card,” he says.
And while some of his clients may think a credibility card is something that plugs into your laptop, all of them know that Doug’s advice is worth listening to.
“I love finding solutions to people’s problems with technology,” he says. “There’s nothing like providing a solution that can be cost justified for a win-win relationship with a client.”
Clients tend to like new ideas that make their business run more smoothly while paying for themselves. And thanks to Doug, they know just where to get them.
“There's nothing like providing a solution that can be cost justified for a win-win relationship with a client.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 27
BEST JOB: Financial Software Pre-sales
WORST JOB: State Auditor
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Scuba, Boy Scout leader, Venture Crew Leader, Scouting Ministry Specialist, Photography, 5 kids
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Whatever you do, don’t ask Julie Pfeil about income taxes. “I can’t tell you how many times people ask me tax questions when they find out I’m a CPA,” Julie says. “I always have to explain that there’s more to accounting than filing taxes.”
Instead, you might ask her what being a CPA has to do with one of her passions – volunteering. Julie headed up Milwaukee’s Race for the Cure – an event that gathers thousands of people together to help fight breast cancer. As the leader of the race committee, Julie put her skills as a CPA to work immediately. She was responsible for developing and managing a million dollar budget for the event and managed 45 volunteers in the weeks and months leading up to the race.
“I believe everyone has the ability to give back – and they should,” she says. “I wanted to get involved with causes that are important to me.” After helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight breast cancer, it’s safe to say she’s on the right track.
“I always have to explain that there's more to accounting than filing taxes.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 14
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Volleyball, basketball, volunteering
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You can do anything you set your mind to." - My grandpa's words of wisdom
“Google my name,” Jim Bourke says. “Tweet me, find me on LinkedIn… there are lots of ways to check out the exciting things I do.” Here’s a quick list, though, to give you a glimpse: In addition to being Chair of the AICPA's Tech+ conference and past-Chair of the CITP Credential Committee at the AICPA, Jim is the go-to guy for insights on new technologies that affect the accounting world. Before the latest and greatest hits the market, the magazine editors hit up Jim for his thoughts on it. This mega-involved, “super-passionate” CPA and techno-whiz is involved in so many things, it’s almost impossible to keep track. In fact, Jim has been continually named by Accounting Today as One of the Top 100 Individuals in the Profession.
When not sizing up gizmos, he spends his time putting together deals for companies to merge or buy each other and helps his clients get bank loans. If you’re a sports fan, there’s one other thing to know about Jim. “I get the best seats at baseball, basketball, hockey and football games.”
In addition to all that, he gets to spend tons of time with his wife and three kids. Some folks at the top of their professions can’t say that, but Jim sure can. “My family is my #1 priority,” he says. In fact, his son Brandon, now a teenager, actually opens for him as a speaker at conferences!
A list this long of activities and accomplishments, plus a great family relationship, may sound pretty incredible, but it’s true. Google it and see.
“Google my name. Tweet me, find me on LinkedInthere are lots of ways to check out the exciting things I do.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 28
BEST JOB: Being a Partner at WithumSmith + Brown
WORST JOB: Never had one
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Baseball Card Collecting
PETS: Dog, Parrots, Fish
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Find a way to bridge family, business and pleasure!"
If you wanted to, you could probably have a nice, long chat with Sabrina Long – during a nice, long hike in the Appalachian Mountains. This cancer survivor and avid outdoors-person hits the trails with her husband just about every weekend, and it’s safe to assume their conversation often turns to how much she enjoyed the week. She’s a Senior Accountant at an Atlanta firm.
“The work comes easily to me,” Sabrina says, adding “I work close to home, have a simple commute and love the people I work with.” And this is someone who knows a good job when she sees one – in Sabrina’s career so far, she’s gotten the chance to try working for small, medium and large companies, both public and non-public. She’s worked with retail, manufacturing, telecommunications, transportation and construction companies.
But while there are a variety of trails in her path so far, Sabrina says it all started with one decision – becoming a CPA. “I think it’s one of the best options out there,” she explains, “because it doesn’t limit your options. All companies, people, nonprofits and governments need accountants.”
Even better, Sabrina would tell you, there’s always the option to change trails and hike a new hill for a while if you want to try something different. “It’s the same core subject matter,” she says. “There are always other companies and industries looking for your ever-developing talents.” You’d have to agree – from where she’s standing, the view is pretty perfect.
“All companies, people, nonprofits and governments need accountants.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 23
BEST JOB: Small Business Owner
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Dressage, hiking, psychology
PETS: A dog named Minor, 2 cats named Tabitha and Talleyrand
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Humans have the capacity for reason, but not the instinct."
Think a professional basketball player has a lot to keep track of at once? Try playing while working in the fast-paced environment of PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. And studying for your CPA exam.
Texlin Quinney is no stranger to discipline – it’s guided her through a career in the WNBA, jobs in the satellite communications industry and the government, and now in fulfilling her role handling special finance and accounting projects.
And the key to it all has been earning her CPA designation. “It allows flexibility of my schedule, a good work/life balance and supports my academic pursuits,” she says. “Factor in the diversity of the people I work with, the travel, the independence and the endless opportunities for growth and advancement, and I’ve got all the tools I need.”
As if to prove it, Texlin also runs her own business, offering financial consulting services and mentoring teens and she’s working toward another advanced degree.
Her days are filled, to say the least. But it’s just further proof that using the discipline to earn CPA certification is a strong step toward doing anything – or as many things – as you want.
“It allows flexibility of my schedule, and a good work/life balance.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 15
BEST JOB: Playing in the WNBA
WORST JOB: Working for a medical equipment manufacturer
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Playing and training basketball fundamentals, Mentoring young people, Theology/Biblical Studies
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Inspiration offers education."
Good luck keeping Michael Jack tied down to an office. He’s been a guest lecturer at MIT, participated in a groundbreaking accounting seminar at Harvard and has been asked to speak at industry conferences more times than he can count.
For Michael, the key to his career has always been variety. “The beauty of being a CPA is that every day can be different,” he says. “There’s always some new business activity or transaction that you have to analyze and interpret for the business to be successful. And good companies aren’t going to make a big decision without having their CPAs weigh in.”
After serving as the Controller for TDS, a major telecommunications company, Michael retired. “Even though I’m retired,” Michael says, “I’ve filled in as a CFO for one company, and I’ve done a lot of other part-time work for CPA organizations.” It’s proof that opportunities that come with being a CPA never end – even after you retire.
“Good companies aren't going to make a big decision without having their CPAs weigh in.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
WORST JOB: Working on a lumber yard while I was in high school
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Car racing (he’s an instructor at race tracks), photography
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Learn from mistakes to do better in the future but do not dwell on them, revisit them or beat individuals up for them."
Zeeshan Baig was born in Pakistan and grew up in the United Arab Emirates before moving to the United States to go to school. He’s always had a great thirst for knowledge and strong passion to succeed both professionally and personally.
His dad recognized that passion and encouraged him to get an MBA because of the prestige it holds across the world. But while in school, Zeeshan “came across accounting and the logical things made sense.” So, he decided to take a detour from the MBA to focus on a degree in accounting.
Always the overachiever, Zeeshan decided to still pursue his MBA and become a CPA. “My main goal was to understand the competitive business environment,” he said. “I didn’t want to specialize in one area and become an expert only in that area, but instead understand all the functions within a finance department.”
So that’s exactly what he did. Zeeshan “gained valuable experiences in different companies and various roles.” Now he loves going to work every day. Seriously. “I love explaining what the numbers mean and how we can make them better,” he explains. “But the thing I love the most is the range of experience it provides.”
“The thing I love the most is the range of experience it provides.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 14
BEST JOB: My current role. I’m involved in every aspect of a finance department.
WORST JOB: Food runner. I had no customer interaction…just kept running.
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: I love to play cricket, hit the gym and watch football, soccer and suspense movies.
PETS: None. But I do like bird watching and horses.
WORDS TO LIVE BY: It’s good to have a plan, but learn to adjust to change.
Craig Steinhoff seems to have it all on track. He declared accounting as his major in college from day one. During school, he interned in a public accounting firm and, naturally, got hired there after graduating.
“I've taken the most direct path into the public accounting world,” he says, and so far he likes where it has taken him. But go back far enough, and Craig was once just as clueless as anyone else.
“When I look back at how I chose this profession, I guess it was just dumb luck,” he says. “The father of one of my friends was a CPA. I always thought that he was a nice and generous man. When I found out what he did for a living, I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
And do that he has. “Many of my friends are either doing something that has nothing to do with their college major or they're struggling to find work.” Not Craig. He enjoys what he does each day, especially being a resource and mentor to young people within his firm. “I love the sense of accomplishment I get when I complete a task. The rush I get when a job is done is like nothing else.”
In addition to the fulfilling work and opportunity to guide others; Craig gets to spend plenty of time with his wife and two young daughters. And if all this has you finding yourself in his shoes a few years back, saying to yourself, “I want to do that,” Craig says the first step is an easy choice:
“Being a CPA,” he says, “Will prepare you for the business world better than any other designation around.”
Consider yourself pointed in the right direction.
“The rush I get when a job is done is like nothing else.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 17
BEST JOB: Principal with Hill, Barth & King LLC
WORST JOB: First shift McDonald's
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf
PETS: A Malty Poo named Bailey
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first hour sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln
It’s easier to set a course than to change it. As Experienced Tax Manager from Grant Thorton LLP, Katrina Lucero is living proof.
In high school she knew that the better the grades she got, the better the college she would be able to attend – giving her more job opportunities upon graduation. So she got outstanding grades – in college she maintained a GPA of 4.0 in her major and graduated magna cum laude. She was even inducted as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. Naturally, when it came to her career she was just as careful to start off on the right foot.
“I wanted to work in an industry with constant growth and challenge,” she explains. “I knew that becoming a CPA would let me go as far as I chose.” Today that means going to client offices, attending meetings and networking events, trading ideas with other experts in her field and taking courses to stay smarter than the next guy. She’s also active in mentoring and coaching minorities, including women in public accounting – striving to help with their professional aspirations and growth.
In her time off she likes to go snowmobiling, skiing, running, camping and weightlifting. She’s surely in fantastic shape, which must help provide her with a lot of extra energy, but still, you have to wonder: How does she find time for all these activities, in addition to her busy work schedule? How can Katrina fit a snowmobiling expedition into a weekend that might also include a few hours in the weight room, or a few hours out running? Not to mention any obligations she might have with the New Mexico Foundation of Make-A-Wish, of which she is chair of the finance committee?
It’s especially mind-boggling once you discover that she has two children to look after as well. How can one woman accomplish all these things? Her answer shouldn’t surprise you.
“Get an early start.”
“I knew that becoming a CPA would let me go as far as I chose.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 16
BEST JOB: Public Accounting
WORST JOB: Waitressing
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Running, snowmobiling, weightlifting, skiing, camping, exercise/fitness/nutrition
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "What you are will show in what you do.” – Thomas Edison
Frank Lemanski had lots of influencers in his decision to become a CPA. “I had several family members in the profession, a great high school accounting teacher and a great college accounting professor,” Frank says.
He spent a year at North Carolina Central University, and then transferred to North Carolina State University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. Since graduating and passing the CPA exam, Frank’s career has flourished. Straight out of school, Frank got a job at a Big 4 firm, where he stayed for a year and a half. Then he made the move out of public accounting into Business & Industry and took a job in Telecommunications with Sprint. During the 11 years he spent there, he worked his way up the ranks.
Now Frank is a Finance Manager at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. His current position gives him exposure to all of the operations within the organization, which helps broaden his understanding of the company and the industry. "I enjoy the challenge of working with all levels of management within the organization,” he says. “I also enjoy consolidating all of that information from the various segments to determine the overall financial health of the organization.”
But it’s not all work for Frank. He makes sure to save time for the other things in life he enjoys. “I spend my time traveling with my wife, enjoy my time with my kids during the summers and attend local sports events such as NC State Wolfpack (college) and Carolina Hurricanes hockey,” he says. “I also play Texas Hold ‘em Poker, hike, kayak and play golf when I can.” And Frank makes sure to give back to his community as well. “I have done volunteer work the United Way, Big Brothers-Big Sisters and Habitat for Humanity.”
So even if you don’t have a CPA in the family, take some advice from this guy. “Becoming a CPA and mastering the technical aspect of business will provide you with a strong foundation of knowledge that will enable to successfully pursue many different career paths. It will open more doors than a general business or economics degree.”
“I enjoy the challenge of working with all levels of management within the organization.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 19
WORST JOB: Cook at McDonalds
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Texas Hold ’em Poker, tennis, golf, kayaking, spending time with my kids
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “The strong take from the weak and the smart take from the strong.”
“The best bad advice I've ever been given” is how Justin O’Horo describes his guidance counselor’s suggestion to try accounting.
“The counselor suggested it because I was good at math,” he recalls. “But after 10 years in the business, I still don't really know what high school math and accounting have to do with each other.”
A little more relevant, according to Justin, are things like determination, an interest in meeting people and learning new things. Fortunately, he had all those qualities – and as a senior manager at WithumSmith+Brown, he’s found a career as a CPA to be a great fit.
“Every day brings with it a different challenge and new level of excitement. In the course of a given week, I could spend a day working closely with an audit team to get a report out ahead of a tight dealine, a day golfing with the CFO of a major client to discuss his business needs and determine how I can help and a day networking with referral sources while working together on a committee of a community-based organization." Must be rough.
Justin likes to challenge himself in a variety of ways off-the-clock as well. “When I'm not working, I try to play as much golf as I can. And I'm teaching myself how to play the guitar.” He’s also into fitness, and has travelled extensively, thanks in part to the freedom and financial stability his CPA career has brought him.
Sometimes “bad” advice works out pretty well.
“Every day brings with it a different challenge and new level of excitement.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: WithumSmith+Brown, PC
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, beach volleyball, acoustic guitar
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Whatever you do, if you do it the best you can then you're bound to end up happy."
Larry Kean faced lots of life-changing events during his years at Marquette University. He met the girl of his dreams, he fell in love with Marquette basketball and he decided to become a CPA.
But even before he started college, Larry had an interest in accounting. In high school, his mom’s family ran a small manufacturing business in Chicago where he spent time working in the office doing bookkeeping. There he got a “taste of operating a business and the desire to work in a business environment.” He felt then that “accounting would be a good foundation for a business career.”
He was definitely right.
Larry spent about 10 years at various companies before joining A&A Manufacturing Co., Inc. as the Chief Financial Officer in 1984. In the time he has been with A&A, he’s helped the company grow “from 100 employees to about 380 with sales rising from $13 million per year to $65 million per year.”
Not too shabby for someone who used to work for $1 an hour cleaning a restaurant.
Along the way, Larry married his college girlfriend and he still enjoys cheering on the Golden Eagles basketball team. Plus, he’s helped increase his company’s revenue five times from what it was when he started.
“I love serving as the Chief Financial Officer of a thriving small business, working with talented sales, engineering and manufacturing people to make the company successful for its owners and employees,” Larry says. “It is a very good feeling knowing that hundreds of employees and their families have benefited from our joint efforts and accomplishments.”
Larry gives a lot of the credit for his success to his decision to become a CPA. “An accounting degree and a CPA certificate make the best foundation for a business career, whichever type of position you pursue,” he says. “The CPA credential tells the world you have mastered that knowledge and can build from there with the sky being the limit.”
And even though he figured it out as he went along, Larry knows that “everyone has anxieties and self-doubts through high school, college and while finding themselves in their careers.” But don’t worry, “it'll turn out alright,” he says. Trust him. He knows from experience.
“The CPA credential tells the world you have mastered that knowledge and can build from there with the sky being the limit.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 39
BEST JOB: Current - CFO for a successful private company
WORST JOB: Cleaning restaurant grease trap with bare hands for $1/hour
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Basketball, biking, running, golf
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Just remember, somewhere, someplace, sometime, you're going to have to plant your feet, make a stand and kick some butt. And when that time comes, you do it.” - NBA Coach Pat Riley’s father
When asked to describe what she does as a CPA, Gail Norris named a whole list of things that keep her busy.
She has traveled to Australia, Hong Kong, England and Scotland. She’s consulted in large cities, audited in small towns and worked with both small and large firms. She’s worked in banking, healthcare, agriculture, electrical and even aviation.
But she stresses that the most important thing to her is that she’s never bored. “There is never a dull day,” she insists. “There’s always a new challenge or skill to be learned.” With a schedule like that, who could possibly be bored?
Gail credits her father for pushing her to get into accounting. “He was a frustrated administrator who always wanted to be in accounting,” she says. So she decided to give it a try and was hooked.
Gail realized that with a background in accounting, she could take almost any path she chose. “You can do anything you want to in life, but starting with an accounting degree is an excellent foundation,” she says. As a CPA, she learned to “thread logic from various sources to create a whole tapestry.”
So no matter what you aspire to be, keep in mind that becoming a CPA gives you an advantage of someone without the credential.
"The basis accounting gives you in the business world is unparalleled,” she says. “You have a logical way to evaluate a business issue that makes financial sense. You can understand business issues in it that your average businessman will miss.”
“The basis accounting gives you in the business world is unparalleled.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 24
BEST JOB: Strategic Sourcing
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Horses, soccer, needlework, reading, home improvements
PETS: Horses, dogs
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Live completely in the moment."
Now here’s a hobby you don’t see every day: “I’m into macrophotography,” says Colleen Conrad. “…extreme close-up work.” She’s also into seeing things on a slightly larger scale – she loves to travel and has been in over 25 (!) countries so far – but the macrophotography would seem to prove that Colleen likes to get up close and personal with a subject and really understand it.
That’s true in her professional life, too. “I’m still at the accounting firm I started with out of college – 25 years now!” She loved it so much, she stayed with it, and she’s now a partner at the firm.
It all started with an accounting class in high school. “It sucked me in,” Colleen remembers. “I found it much more interesting than most of my other classes.” Today what keeps her excited about accounting is the variety in her job. “Each client brings new challenges and different situations,” she says. “And through my work with clients in the real estate industry, I feel that I can really help make a difference in urban revitalization, preserving the history of our country through the historic rehabilitation of significant buildings and providing affordable housing to those in need.” It’s a perfect fit for someone who loves the details, but can also see the big picture.
Colleen’s dedication to the CPA profession doesn’t stop when she leaves work. She’s also on the AICPA’s Board of Examiners, which is in charge of the CPA examination. She’s excited to see the exam and the profession continually evolve. “Can you believe we’re getting ready to offer the examination internationally?” she asks.
With her on the job, yeah. That’s not hard to believe.
“I'm still at the accounting firm I started with out of college 25 years now!”
YEARS AS A CPA: 31
BEST JOB: My career at RubinBrown
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Photography, travel, reading
PETS: Louie-Bichon Frise
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Brevity is the sister of talent." - Anton Chekhov
It takes one to know one.
As an executive recruiter who helps companies fill important positions in accounting, finance and HR, he doesn’t do a lot of accounting anymore – instead, he’s building on his background to find accountants and others who have the skills he learned as a CPA himself. For Carver, the switch was easy. “With a foundation in accounting, you just have so many options,” he says. “That’s because you know business.”
Carver is constantly networking – making contacts with clients and job candidates, delivering recruitment presentations or digging online to find out who’s hiring – and who should be hired. “Interacting with people really keeps my job interesting,” he says. “And I love the thrill of the chase!”
Carver recommends a career in accounting for anyone looking to keep their options open. “Just think about it,” he says. “There are a lot of really successful business people who you’d never guess have accounting backgrounds, like the founder of Nike. Being a CPA gives me enormous credibility with the people I talk to every day, no matter what their background or interests. It helps me speak the language of business.”
“Being a CPA gives me enormous credibility with the people I talk to every day. It helps me speak the language of business.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 21
BEST JOB: Playground Director
WORST JOB: Painting sleeves of staples in a garage, by hand, reboxing them (without snapping the sleeve!), so they could be sold to Harley Davidson for their seats
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Volunteering, skiing, tennis – and drummer and manager for his own band
PETS: Yellow lab and a gold fish
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "E-mail is good for facts and figures, anything more deserves a call and will prevent unneeded misunderstanding and conflict."
Anything but bookkeeping.
That’s what Nisa Agrawal thought after taking an accounting course in high school. “All we did were bookkeeping entries, and after that I was sure that my personality wasn’t suited to accounting,” she says.
But when she went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a professor opened her eyes to the possibilities. “He helped me connect accounting to current events –I even helped him prepare class quizzes based on news items– and I realized there was a lot more to accounting,” Nisa says.
Nisa graduated in May 2008 and passed the CPA exam later that summer. She got a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s largest accounting firms. “I’m hardly ever in the office,” she says. As an auditor continuing with PwC, Nisa primarily works from client locations, which gives her an opportunity to work closely with her teammates and client contacts in person. This face-to-face interaction allows Nisa to develop stronger relationships with the people at work.
“If you want a career that’s stable, but at the same time is constantly changing, becoming a CPA is the way to go,” Nisa says. “In high school I had no idea all the different directions I could take with an accounting degree.”
“In high school I had no idea all the different directions I could take with an accounting degree.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: PwC: Learning about purchase accounting after one of my clients completed an acquisition
WORST JOB: I haven't had a 'worst' job - some are definitely more difficult than others, but all jobs present a unique learning experience
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Tennis, golfing, Zumba, karaoke, spending time with friends and family
WORDS TO LIVE BY: As Billy Blanks says, "You gotta give some to get some!"
If you were thinking of getting a CPA certification so you can hide in a cubicle all day, Heidi Brundage has some bad news for you.
“It’s all about people in this profession. You’ve got to have people skills.” Good accounting requires research, she explains, and that means asking questions, getting answers, and clarifying issues with clients – in person.
Which makes sense: Clients look to their CPA as their most trusted business advisor, Heidi points out, and they’ll ask for advice on anything from taxes to investments to major business decisions. That’s not the sort of thing you discuss over a couple of emails.
She’s certainly used her own people skills over the course of her career so far, which has seen her handling Ernst & Young’s orientation program for a third of the United States. As manager of human capital for the AICPA, a challenging position that involved her passions of client service and public speaking, Heidi combined her talents in accounting and human resources. Heidi currently is an Associate Financial Representative at Northwestern Mutual.
Think becoming a CPA means being buried in spreadsheets without any human contact? Think again, says Heidi. “When I look around at my team, I see friendly, smart professionals. Just by the nature of what we do, we are all definitely ‘People people.’”
“Just by the nature of what we do, we are all definitely 'People people.'”
YEARS AS A CPA: 18
BEST JOB: Lifeguard or AICPA Technical Manager
WORST JOB: Home-a-Rama Greeter
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Playing with my kids
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Treat people the way you'd like to be treated."
When you think of going undercover in the FBI, running an undercover CPA firm probably isn’t the first thing you think of. But that’s exactly what Ron Durkin did, fake name and all. He was also a member of the FBI SWAT team and was even involved in three shooting incidents. “I had exciting times there for sure,” he says.
Ron’s work today is just as exciting to him. He runs his own forensic accounting firm. “I love solving problems for our clients,” he says. “And these problems usually involve some sort of fraud or misconduct. A lot of our clients are victims of fraud and need someone to help them – or they’ve been accused of fraud and need help defending themselves.”
Ron says that forensic accounting is a great field for anyone just starting their CPA career. “Today it’s the most exciting practice area in accounting,” he says, “and it’s a potentially lucrative career choice.” Maybe best of all, it’s a choice that’s allowed Ron to use his real name.
Well, as far as we know, that is.
“A lot of our clients are victims of fraud and need someone to help them.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 38
BEST JOB: Special Agent for the FBI
WORST JOB: Washing dishes in a bowling alley
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Working out, golfing
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Be a leader, a giver and a doer."
In 6th grade, Sara Portner decided to become an accountant. She didn’t know exactly what accountants do, but she knew that it had something to do with money. And that was enough for her.
Of course, Sara came to find out in college that accounting is more than just money and numbers. She learned that “becoming a CPA provides you with a solid foundation in the business world.”
Now as a CPA, Sara’s living her childhood dream. “I manage my company's cash accounts, investments and receivables on a daily basis” she says. “My main responsibilities are financial reporting and budget analysis.”
Sara works for a construction company, which in itself defies the CPA stereotype. But she challenges the boring typecast in more ways than one. “I challenge the CPA stereotype in my varied hobbies: dance classes and performing, riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, scrapbooking for my children and travel," she says. “Plus, my typical day is definitely not in a corner office just crunching the numbers.”
So forget those old stereotypes. Just remember that “the CPA credential will make you stand out as a trusted advisor to your clients and your company, with high integrity and competency.”
“I manage my company's cash accounts, investments and receivables on a daily basis.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 20
BEST JOB: Public accounting firm
WORST JOB: Employee and manager of a local convenience store
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Dance, motorcycles, scrapbooking, fitness
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Life is not measured by a number of moments, but by the number of moments that take your breath away.”
It says “CPA” on the certificate above Denis Couture’s desk, but it could just as easily say “Translator.” As Accounting Manager for a global packaging company, he spends most of his time explaining how new developments will affect the organization.
“Most people don’t want to hear regulations quoted verbatim,” Denis says. “They want to know how a particular transaction impacts them, without getting lost in details.”
That applies whether he’s reporting to executives on a recent project’s success or emailing a customer to go over pricing. It’s not just Denis’ job to know everything that’s going on – from the company’s assets and inventory to who’s doing what and in what department – he has to be able to make you understand it too.
Being able to do that makes him a valuable person to have around, and a guy with a lot of options, career-wise. “I originally planned to pursue a degree in Business Administration, but I opted for a more focused degree on Accounting,” Denis says. “I knew the opportunities that an accounting degree would offer, especially coupled with the CPA designation would be endless.”
CPA experience is golden, Denis would tell you. “I firmly believe that for anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in a business oriented field, going the route of CPA is a great choice,” he says. The experience gained will be invaluable whether the individual decides to spend an entire career with a public accounting firm or has aspirations of being an entrepreneur and starting a business.”
Indeed, Denis’ skills of translation have helped him build a life that includes many things he enjoys outside of work. Growing up on a dairy farm, the outdoors have always been an important part of his life. Now, he hikes, gardens, downhill skis, travels – anything that gets him and his family outside.
So what does all that translate into? Simple. One happy Denis.
“I knew the opportunities that an accounting degree would offer, especially coupled with the CPA designation would be endless.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 14
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Alpine Skiing
PETS: A cat named Mia
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “In conversation, always make eye contact.”
If you want to know why Steven Voynich, Jr. became a CPA, look no further than his father.
“My dad is a CPA, and he always had time for us, from family time to sports and vacations,” he says. Steven thought those factors were important to him to so he gave accounting a look.
Today, Steven enjoys the same flexibility his father always had. “I’m an independent advisor, so I have control over my own schedule,” he says. “I spend about half my time outside of the office at job sites and client offices interacting with them learning about their industries and business models, and testing the accuracy of their financial records.”
Outside the office, Steven has the flexibility to enjoy time with his family. “I spend a lot of time outdoors with my family. I just finished up competing in an amateur tennis league, and now I’m on to soccer.”
For Steven, being a CPA is like being fluent in another language. “Accounting is the language of business,” he says. Just like Spanish, or French, once you’ve learned something like that, you can pursue a wider range of interests. In Steven’s case, he’s able to pursue his interest in business.
Makes sense in every language.
“I'm an independent advisor, so I have control over my own schedule.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
BEST JOB: One that is intellectually stimulating and non-routine
WORST JOB: Mundane tasks requiring no thought
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Sports, family time – and just about anything outdoors
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Simplify your life in many ways and find great rewards."
Bill Chorba’s colleagues can hear him coming a mile away. Of course, that could be because he rides his Harley to the office most summer days. “My hands may have some grease stains on them from working on my bike, but my colleagues really pay more attention to the fact that I’m a CPA who can help with sound business and financial guidance,” he says.
As the CFO of NineSigma, Inc., the world’s leading service provider for open innovation, Bill relies on his CPA background each and every day. ”Finance is only one component of a role in business. While it may sound counterintuitive, having my CPA has allowed me to broaden into other areas, including business law, human resources and IT,” he says.
Bill chose to become an accountant to learn the language of business. “Being a CPA makes you more versatile, valuable and desirable across all industries than just about any other profession,” he says. “It gives you a foundation you can apply to any field.”
Of course, it doesn’t teach you how to stroke a V-twin engine. But that’s what the weekends are for.
“Being a CPA makes you more versatile, valuable and desirable across all industries than just about any other profession.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 22
BEST JOB: They’ve all been great.
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Riding motorcycles, working on engines, welding and fabricating, weightlifting
PETS: A yellow lab named Leo
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You don't have to tell people when you are good. If you truly are good, they will already know it."
“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!"
When Greg Gentry mapped out his career path, he made sure to include a few interesting detours along the way. “Clients and friends are a little surprised when they find out I’m a CPA,” he says. For starters, he’s a CPA by day, working with Fortune 100 companies all over the world. By night he’s a guitarist and singer in a band, Nillah. Their music has been featured on MTV. “My wife and I even run a recording studio in the basement of our house,” he says. He’s also an avid scuba diver and restores vintage cars in his spare time.
The flexibility that comes with being a CPA is one of the reasons Greg loves being a CPA. As a CPA, Greg says “you’ll have more work than you can handle. With that comes choices about how you lay out your career path.” And the choices can lead you all over the world – if you want. “Want to live in Europe or Australia for a while?” Greg asks. “No problem.”
Greg should know. As a senior tax manager for Automatic Data Processing, he deals with high-level executives at Fortune 100 companies, requiring him to travel to corporate headquarters in exciting cities all over the place. In fact, he spends about 20 percent of his time traveling.
But of all his pursuits, Greg says becoming a CPA was one of the hardest – and also the most rewarding. When asked if he’d do it all over again, he’s got a one-word answer: “Absolutely.”
“A CPA offers choices about how you lay out your career path. And the choices can lead you all over the world if you want.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: Tennessee Aquarium/ADP Tax Credits & Incentives
WORST JOB: Landscaping
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Musician, scuba diving, mechanic
PETS: 2 Dachshunds and a Siamese cat
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "It’s all good."
So you’re the President and CEO of an energy company. You serve on 11 Boards of Directors. You start each day by reviewing performance reports from all the executives who report to you. How do you unwind in your spare time?
If you’re William Harmon, you go fly a kite. West Virginia, which William calls home, has beautiful rugged terrain and plenty of chances to get outdoors. And when the winds are right, he and his family like to go to the top of Snowshoe Mountain and, well, fly kites.
It seems like such a simple, kidlike activity for such a high-powered executive, but you could say it represents his whole career. The wind that keeps everything afloat would be the many business opportunities his company can take advantage of, thanks to the “talented and motivated people” William enjoys working with. (The first gust came from the teacher who pointed in the right direction to begin with.)
The string that keeps William’s kite grounded is his “commitment…to channel my energies into creating business enterprises, strengthening community organizations and developing educational institutions.”
But what about the sail, the fabric that helps him catch a breeze and lift his kite higher and higher? That would be the understanding that began with his CPA training: “Accounting is the language that spans every sort of human enterprise. Understanding how to speak that financial language is the first step in assuring success throughout your lifetime.”
“Accounting is the language that spans every sort of human enterprise.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 37
BEST JOB: Entrepreneur
WORST JOB: Corporate restructuring
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Kite flying
Hello? Barbara? Has anyone seen Barbara Finke?
“As an auditor I’m never at my desk,” she explains. “I’m always out in the field meeting new people.” So while you might not find Barbara – Audit Manager of the LBA Group in Jacksonville, Florida – stuck in a cubicle, you’ll have better luck checking the local stadium where the Jacksonville Suns play, or at Jacoby Symphony Hall, taking in the latest performance with a group of coworkers.
Even when Barbara’s actually in her office, what’s she’s doing is plenty unpredictable. “Clients always manage to come up with something new,” Barbara says. “…Some kind of transaction that is different and challenging.”
The Florida State University grad went into college knowing she wanted to study business, and took the basic accounting course her freshman year. She enjoyed the challenge and decided to do an accounting internship that summer. “I was hooked,” says Barbara. “I selected my major sophomore year and never looked back!”
And why should she look back? Barbara loves what she does, and even gets the chance to volunteer for not-for-profit organizations. She also recently became a mom, so her off-work hours are spent exploring the world with her daughter.
Hers is a major success story, and Barbara will be the first to tell you that even though she may be hard to find on occasion, a fulfilling career doesn’t have to be. “A CPA can work in any industry,” she points out. “And you’ll be an asset to any company. Everyone needs someone to help count their money!”
“A CPA can work in any industry. Everyone needs someone to help count their money!”
YEARS AS A CPA: 10
BEST JOB: Working in my parents’ bookstore
WORST JOB: Working for an insurance company
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Reading, playing with my daughter, scrapbooking
PETS: A dog named Nole and a cat named Vandalay
Maybe it’s the earrings, or the tattoo, but a lot of people tell Patrick Meier that he doesn’t look the part of a CPA.
For Patrick, that just means they’re working with an outdated understanding of CPAs. “It’s a ‘people profession,’” Patrick says. “We spend a lot of time interacting with people and developing relationships, so it helps that I’m so outgoing.”
But he wasn’t always sure he wanted to go into accounting. “When I got to college, I wasn’t just an undecided major,” he says. “I was an extremely undecided major.” But after a couple of introductory accounting classes, everything started to click. At the State University of New York at Buffalo, Patrick went on to earn a BS in accounting, and then got his MBA.
At his first job, Patrick spent a lot of his time in his client’s offices, working closely with them to help get their business in order. Only in his first year as a CPA, Patrick had already been able to interact with lots of business leaders. “I worked directly with business owners, CEOs, CFOs and presidents of local companies,” he says. “It gave me a front-row seat to the issues companies face every day.”
This experience with a multitude of companies laid the foundation for Patrick’s current role as senior accountant at Ulthera, Inc. He feels he has been able to translate the lessons learned from his public accounting clients into real world solutions at his current company.
And he’s just getting started. “When I tell people I’m a CPA, they’re usually like ‘man, you’re going to be able to write your own ticket,’” Patrick says. “And they’re right – being a CPA can open up incredible opportunities for you.”
“Being a CPA can open up incredible opportunities for you.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: Accounting Manager at Ulthera, Inc
WORST JOB: Dishwasher at a bar/grill for one night
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Flag football, working out, hanging out Pets:
PETS: A cat named "Foxy" and some fish
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Stay positive!"
Ebonie Jackson has the answers.
Got a question about finance or accounting at the Owens Corning plant in Rockford, Illinois? She’s all over it. Curious about how the Warehouse and Sourcing teams are doing with their new product launch? Look up her extension. Want to know a good place for dinner in downtown Brazil? You found the right person.
Since beginning her career as a CPA, Ebonie has ‘done her thing’ on four continents and solved business problems from São Paulo to St. Petersburg. As a process expert, she makes quick decisions every day that keep the latest mini-crisis from becoming a major problem.
But she wasn’t always so well-informed. “Coming out of high school I didn’t know what I wanted to major in – just what I didn’t want to major in, which was Accounting,” she says. Plans changed, though, when an inspiring professor and a mentor at a visiting accounting firm opened her eyes to the possibilities. “It turned out that I absolutely loved one job an Accounting major can lead to: Auditing.”
Now she “gets paid to talk,” as she puts it, and her organization listens closely. She loves using everything she’s learned to solve problems and streamline operations. It is – much to her high school self’s surprise – a perfect fit.
In fact there’s only one question now that she can’t answer: “What’s my typical day like? I couldn’t say. Each day is a new one, and I never know what problems I’ll be solving.”
“Each day is a new one, and I never know what problems I'll be solving.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 12
BEST JOB: Traveling to Brazil and Shanghai as an internal auditor
WORST JOB: Counting inventory on New Years as a public accountant
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Reading, traveling, going to the spa
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Always work like you are going to become partner or CFO, but always expect that your plans will change.”
Lukas Schmid has always been a little restless. After high school in Germany, he spent a year as a paratrooper in the German Army. After that, he became a police officer. And in college, he started out as a marketing major, eventually shifting to accounting.
Why accounting? “At one internship, my boss told me ‘the ones controlling the numbers are the ones that make the decisions,’” Lukas says. “I didn’t believe it at first – after a while I realized she was right.”
After more than four years as an auditor with Deloitte & Touche, Lukas joined the M. Bohlke Veneer Corporation as a Senior Business Analyst. Both jobs have suited his restless personality. He now works with the German owner as well as the American CFO of the company.
“I love the diversity that my job offers,” he says. “In the morning, I may communicate with our financial advisors in Germany and Switzerland, then in the afternoon I may sit in an insurance meeting with the CFO or interview my coworker in the traffic department to figure out how to make our processes more efficient.” Lukas enjoyed his time as a senior accountant in public accounting but was presented with a great opportunity to move on. “I’m able to apply many things that I learned in public accounting. I’m grateful for all the experiences my previous job offered.”
If you’re trying to figure out your career, Lukas has a few simple words of advice: “Starting out in public accounting is a great way to start your career. But in the end, it’s your hard work and dedication that will pay off."
“I love the diversity that my job offers.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
BEST JOB: Performing the financial statement audit of a multinational client with operations in several countries
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Marathons, triathlons, camping, canoeing and traveling
PETS: A dog named Bayern
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Dream big dreams! Imagine that you have no limitations and then decide what's right before you decide what's possible."
Here’s Noel’s Story, in her own words: “I graduated high school in Detroit and decided to attend a large university. At Michigan State I got my BA in accounting and learned the core accounting principles and skills I use every day. After MSU, add a Masters in Accounting from Eastern Michigan University, insert four internships during undergraduate and graduate school, combined with volunteer work and lasting friendships, and there you have it.”
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Going back a little further, there was the accounting teacher in high school, who made the subject sound so interesting that Noel “had to give it a try in college.” After her first few accounting classes at MSU, she knew it was for her.
There have also been some surprises along the way. For one thing, while she knows her stuff about the technical parts of being a CPA, “I feel my communication skills are just as critical.”
She also loves that she interacts with different people every day. She probably didn’t know starting out that she’d be visiting universities regularly to show students that the typical auditor is a "real person," with a personality and intelligence and everything, or that she would volunteer with youth around the metro Detroit area.
Most of all, though, “I never knew the possibilities attached with becoming a CPA before I got my license,” Noel says. “Now that I know there are numerous paths I could follow, I'm excited about considering all of them!”
Get the feeling Noel’s story is about to get even more interesting?
“Now that I know there are numerous paths I could follow, I'm excited about considering all of them!”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: Auditor
WORST JOB: Campus computer lab attendant
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Playing instruments
PETS: Yorkie-Poo named Prince
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You're only as good as the legacy you leave behind."
Lisa Johnson has had lots of jobs throughout her life, but becoming a CPA was a “no-brainer.”
She’s done everything from selling cutlery door-to-door to being a dietary assistant at a hospital and was even the CFO and part-owner of an information security engineering and information assurance firm.
“I have a strong math background but didn't want to be an engineer and I have a strong computer background, but didn't want to be a programmer,” Lisa says. So when she realized that as a CPA, she could do both, it made perfect sense!
Lisa graduated from Seattle University with a B.A. in Business Administration and became a CPA a couple years later. It was then that she vowed never become a “nerdy” CPA stereotype.
Most days she wears jeans and sneakers to work. “I have glasses but no green shaded visors. I’m approaching the later 40's and still wear a pony tail.”
And don’t ever describe her as boring. “Boring is not in my vocabulary. I am fairly active, involved and encourage others to come out of their shells.”
Since Lisa was gifted in areas besides just accounting, she wanted to make sure to find a job that allowed her to show off her talent. “I wanted to utilize those skills that came naturally to me and were of interest to me,” Lisa says. “For me, that meant variety and computers. Not computers as a hobby, but computers as a tool. Being aware of one's skills that are natural and those that are of interest is the best guide for you to determine where you want to go.”
So if the idea of paving your own career path sounds right up your alley, think about all the possibilities you have when you become a CPA. “Understanding how and why things work helps you determine what and where you want to be,” Lisa says. “As a CPA, you see so many different environments and ways in which to accomplish activities, it gives you a much more broad and open perspective for approaching work and life.”
“As a CPA, you see so many different environments and ways in which to accomplish activities.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 28
BEST JOB: What I do now
WORST JOB: No worst job. I always tried to look at the benefits and improvements I was making in my building of skills for my career.
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Games
PETS: 1 Pug, 1 Chocolate Point Siamese, 1 Snow-shoe Lilac-Point Siamese
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Learn from everything you do, even if you love it or hate it, there is always information to be gained from the experience.”
Honolulu-based Donny Shimamoto is a double threat. Not only is he a licensed CPA, he’s also a CITP – a Certified Information Technology Professional. While that may sound like a jumble of letters to some, Donny’s built a career out of it. “Clients trust my broad business experience that comes from being a CPA,” he says. “They can come to me with any business challenge they want help working through.”
Donny is one of many CPAs who have shaped their careers to fit their interests. “Combining my interests in accounting and technology has really helped me stand out from the crowd,” Donny says. “Just as important, I really love what I do. You need to be passionate about what you do, and to feel that you’re having an impact on the world. That’s why I became a CPA and a CITP.”
You can also count writer, coffee shop connoisseur and dancer among Donny’s credentials. “I really enjoy finding a nice coffee shop and sitting down and reading a book or writing in my journal. Combine this with my love for travel and my challenge is to find these cute little cafes or even a good tree to sit under in a park and read or write. I also enjoy all kinds of dancing. Club, ballroom and Latin are all a lot of fun.”
Donny says that no matter what twist you decide to give your career, the key is learning to combine critical thinking and problem solving skills with business know-how. “Those are skills you can take and apply to anything you want to do,” he says. “You have to do something that you’re passionate about and that is really contributing to the impact that you want to have in the world.” And if it just so happens that your career takes shape against the beautiful backdrop of Hawaii, even better.
“You have to do something that you're passionate about.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 16
BEST JOB: My current one, leading my own CPA/CITP consulting firm and developing my staff into leaders
WORST JOB: Principal Consultant at a local IT integrator—too much focus on only the technology and not enough on business needs
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Travel, reading, writing
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "All successes come from daring to begin." - Joe Moore
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."
When thinking about what direction to take in college after graduating from high school, Byron Patrick made a big mistake. He thought he had too many choices and wanted to narrow his options. So he chose accounting.
And he did everything but narrow his options.
As a CPA, Byron worked at several accounting firms – and he eventually decided to use his accounting skills to pursue another passion. Byron started his own technology company called Simplified Innovations Inc.
“My days are unpredictable, but there’s one constant – I depend on my experience and knowledge as a CPA to pull me through every day,” Byron says. “When I’m talking to the business owners who are my clients, I’m able to relate to the tough financial decisions they have to make. In fact, many of my clients are CPAs.” His background also helps him with his own business. “I’m able to prepare my own company’s financial statements for the bank. There really is no other profession that prepares you better for business.”
If you’re the entrepreneurial type, Byron has a special message for you: “Earn your CPA, get some experience, and just dive in. Because when you’re young, it’s a lot easier to put in the time it takes to start a business.”
If you want to keep your options open, it just might be worth making the same mistake Byron made.
“There really is no other profession that prepares you better for business.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 15
BEST JOB: Lifeguard, lots of fun plus lots of lessons learned that I have held onto
WORST JOB: Bus Boy at small Mexican restaurant. Loved the food but had to shower three times after work to smell clean again...also first lesson in payroll taxes (or lack thereof)
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Coaching both daughter’s sports teams, being a Dad, Golf and Skiing on rare occasions time allows for it, tinkering on the computer
PETS: Cat named Dixie, African Frogs and Fish
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Enjoy everything you do, otherwise you won’t be giving your best."
You’re more likely to see Shelly Hauge in a pair of ski goggles, schussing down a mountain at her one of her two vacation homes in Colorado or Norway than you would be to find her trapped behind a desk.
Blasting across a snow-covered slope sounds just right to Shelly, who sold her CPA firm after 18 years of ownership and now does financial and management consulting along with managing real estate.
“Don’t be afraid to take a risk,” she says. “Every decision you make can open up more options to you.”
“As a CPA you will have a world of choices and be able to make a lot of money. You will be as challenged in your career as you are capable of,” she says, obviously enjoying the many opportunities that being a CPA has brought her.
“I do many different things every day,” Shelly explains. “Between two offices I am juggling projects for two main clients, leasing property, negotiating contracts and insurance and banking relationships, volunteering for area organizations… and on and on and on.”
It’s clear that this snow-loving CPA would never stand for being crammed in a cubicle. She considers her accounting expertise to be a lift ticket to endless options, and she’s happily taking in the view at the peak of her career. Her report from the top?
“Life is never dull.”
“Every decision you make can open up more options to you.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 31
BEST JOB: All of them were great, too hard to pick just one
WORST JOB: They were all great jobs
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Travelling, skiing, reading
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "In everything that happens, there is always something good to be found somewhere. Stay positive!"
Meet FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon. If you don’t recognize him, just look for the CPA strapped with a .40-caliber pistol and a pair of handcuffs dangling from his waist.
Bob is currently in charge of investigating white-collar crime for the Kansas City Field Office of the FBI. Even in high school, he knew he wanted to be an FBI agent. He also knew that the FBI looks for people who have sharpened their thinking with challenging degree programs like accounting. He figured that even if he didn’t make it as a special agent, an accounting degree was a solid foundation for his professional life.
Of course, he made it into the FBI program. And he hasn’t had a normal day since. “I’ve worked on organized crime, drugs, public corruption, foreign counterintelligence and white collar crime,” Bob says. “I even spent three years undercover, living under a different name. As a Special Agent of the FBI, I do not have a daily routine.”
One day Bob could be conducting surveillance on a dangerous subject in jeans and a t-shirt, and the next he’ll be wearing a suit and tie to a meeting with the president of a Fortune 500 company. “Being a CPA will offer you job security, financial well-being, opportunities to travel around the world, and great relationships with grounded co-workers – interesting people who like to have fun, travel, and are in a position to buy cool stuff,” Bob says.
Sound like a movie? It is. The Informant, starring Matt Damon and released in October of 2009, is about a criminal case Bob played a central role in solving.
“I've worked on organized crime, drugs, public corruption, foreign counterintelligence and white collar crime.”
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Marathon runner, avid reader, head coach of his son’s baseball team
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."
Being a CPA has professional benefits out the wazoo, no question. But Satiya Witzer has noticed a few other applications of the degree that are somewhat more, uh, personal.
For example, how much do you enjoy living with your parents? “With a CPA,” she says, “financial independence comes a lot sooner.” That can be pretty important. Satiya personally got on the path to her CPA certification in high school, when she participated in the Riordan Scholars Program and the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP). Through these programs, she learned how to create a highly effective résumé and how to market herself. “These skills allowed me to gain numerous internships during college,” she says, “Including one with PwC.” Goes to show the benefits of getting involved in programs and associations early on.
When she heard a partner in a national accounting firm speak, something clicked. “He had such great presence and enthusiasm,” she recalls. “He told us about how he got to travel, work with lots of clients, and truly help them understand their business.”
Today she spends her time doing much of what her role model did: addressing key issues with clients, coaching team members and building client relationships. She gets to manage her schedule, and she’s able to round out the rest of her time with fun, fulfilling activities – like getting to know the 7-year-old dog she and her husband just adopted.
What she does for her clients isn’t too far from what she’s done for herself it seems – recognizing chances to succeed and making the most of them.
“In becoming a CPA at a young age, I've been able to quickly create opportunities for myself and my family,” she says. “My proudest accomplishments are being a positive role model for my sister and mother, realizing what a catch my husband was the first time I met him, and buying our first home.”
Way to keep those eyes open, Satiya.
“With a CPA, financial independence comes a lot sooner.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
WORST JOB: Sweeping up peanut shells as a waitress
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Tennis, traveling, baking
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Success is heart, skill and just plain luck.”