Auditor. When you first get out of college and are working toward your CPA license, becoming an auditor for a public accounting firm is a great way to get major experience and frequent flyer miles. You’ll get to work at a variety of different client locations for months at a time, heading home on the weekends or using that time to explore new places. You could do stints in 4-5 cities all in the same year, racking up hotel reward points as you go.
CPA at an International Firm. International public accounting firms, such as any one of the Big 4, have offices all over the world. If you put in a couple of years with one of their U.S. offices after college, you can apply to be transferred to an international office. Show the firm early in your career that you’re hard-working and committed, and you could be rewarded with a move abroad.
CPA in Tourism and Hospitality. The skies are also friendly for CPAs in the tourism and hospitality industries, where you could work for a tourism office, hotel chain or travel company. You’d have your pick of all kinds of positions, from tax accountant (keeping up with local tax laws) to director of finance (managing the big economic picture). You can increase your knowledge of the industry now by job shadowing a CPA at your local hotel or tourism office.
To better prepare yourself for that big international job, study a foreign language. Bilingual + CPA license = companies knocking at your door.
Eric Berman will tell you “anything is possible with time, money and ingenuity.” But how will that equation work out in your life?
Let’s see: In college, you’ll dedicate time (and probably money), along with your ingenuity to earn the degree you choose. After that, you’ll spend your time and ingenuity at work – but hopefully the money flow will be in your direction this time.
The question is, what’s the “anything” you want to ultimately accomplish? For Eric, the path twisted and turned in interesting ways (before earning his CPA, he spent time in broadcasting as well as managing a section of a department store) but he has ended up in a job he loves – helping run the finances of local and state governments.
So what’s that like? “Never dull,” he’ll tell you. “I’m currently in the midst of the state’s largest governmental consolidation, ever.” Whoa. He meets regularly on all sorts of issues, from federal relations to debt restructuring, and also does “a ton” of public speaking, which he enjoys. He and his wife enjoy traveling as a hobby, and surely they get to do a lot of it.
These days, Eric is devoting his efforts toward something pretty incredible. It’s not everyone who’s asked to keep tabs on the funds of an entire state. And as for what you could achieve, here’s a tip from Eric: “With a CPA,” he says, “you can do just about any job. I believe it’s the ultimate ‘can do’ credential…you’re always seen as someone who knows just about everything.”
…and can do just about anything.
“CPA is the ultimate 'can do' credentialou're always seen as someone who knows just about everything.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 20
BEST JOB: Deputy Comptroller
WORST JOB: Burger flipper
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Traveling
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Think like a taxpayer - because you are one."
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: 21
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."
Although Dan Bachrach began his college studies in Information Technology, he knew quite a few people who were CPAs.
Based on conversations with his friends’ experiences and advice, Dan switched his major and made the decision to pursue accounting as a career.
Following graduation, Dan got a job with a Fortune 500 company in an executive sponsored controller development program. “During the time with this company I quickly learned the nuts and bolts of strategic, as well as tactical, accounting practices,” he says.
One of the main reasons that Dan says he decided to go into accounting and finance is the challenge and opportunity that the career offered. “A career that doesn’t challenge your potential will eventually limit your ability to grow professionally.”
Another key to success is finding a good work-life balance. So when Dan is not reporting financial results, he spends time with his wife and children, outdoors and participating sports. “Additionally I spend a few hours each week in service to my community, primarily through youth outreach programs and activities,” Dan says.
So if you’re looking for advice or are interested in a career in finance and accounting, Dan suggests you take advantage of one of the many resources available to mentor and coach you through your career. “Numerous professionals commit countless hours through their careers in helping potential accountants achieve their goals,” he says. “If you’re interested, start early,” and take advantage of the resources out there.
“A career that doesn't challenge your potential will eventually limit your ability to grow professionally.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 7
BEST JOB: Husband and Father
WORST JOB: Telephone Solicitor
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Camping, sports, aquarist
PETS: Larry the cat
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "You never know where life is going to take you, so sit down, relax, and enjoy the ride."
Ask Tara Hagan where accounting can take you, and you might be surprised by her answer. “Cairo. Nairobi. India. China. Peru. Working in public accounting gives me the flexibility to take extended vacations in the summer to explore the world with friends every year,” she says. “I’m five for seven in my quest to backpack to the Seven Wonders of the World before I turn thirty.”
She’s come a long way from her small-town Oklahoma roots. As a first-year student at the University of Oklahoma, she didn’t know which major to pick, so she went for the first one on the list – accounting. She never changed it, and she’s never looked back. “It’s been a great career starter,” Tara says. “Every day I work with a team of really smart people my age. I’m always challenged, and always learning.” And if you want to learn how business works, Tara says being a CPA will put you on the fast track. “I’m basically paid to come into a company, ask tons of questions, and learn the nuts and bolts of how they operate. What could be better?”
Tara loves how much her job varies not just from day to day, but from hour to hour. “In a given day, I may start off by talking to my clients,” she says. “Or working with my team. Or sharing ideas for a project. You never know where each day will take you.”
And in her free time, maybe she’ll spend a little time plotting her next backpacking trip, too.
“I'm basically paid to come into a company, ask tons of questions, and learn the nuts and bolts of how they operate.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 8
BEST JOB: Auditor at Deloitte
WORST JOB: Elevator operator at college football stadium on game days
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Backpacking the world, exploring New York City, attending concerts and volunteering
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Be courageous."
On the weekend, you might find Mary Fanshaw at a flea market, but during the week she’s a super-sleuth accountant.
“I do a lot of investigation work,” Mary says. “Accounting causes you to think through the whole operation. There is always something to investigate. It is a good feeling to have everything proved at the end of the month.”
After college, Mary worked as a staff accountant for nine years. Then switched firms and worked her way up to Stockholder. When her firm merged with a larger company, she decided it was time for another change. “I didn’t like someone across the country, who didn’t know me or my clients, directing my work. So I went to work for one of my clients,” she says.
Today, she’s still there and still loves it. “I’m my own boss,” Mary says. “I enjoy working in accounting. It keeps you on your toes. I enjoy the variety of my job. You never know what the day will bring.”
So whether you’re looking for a great deal or in need of some great investigative work, Mary’s your girl.
“I enjoy the variety of my job. You never know what the day will bring.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 43
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Working in the yard, flea markets and taking small trips
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Need to be someone that people can trust.”
Maybe it was Monopoly.
At a young age, Nicole Peterson played a lot of Monopoly – and she knew she wanted to go into business. After getting into the University of Utah, she chose accounting for its versatility. “In accounting you can work in a small town or a big city,” Nicole says, “and with an accounting degree, you can also work in any size or type of company – it just gives you a lot more flexibility.”
As a Controller for Kennecott Land, a real estate development company, Nicole’s job can have her on the phone with corporate headquarters in London, getting updates from the CFO, or helping her teammates work through problems. “It’s never boring,” she says. “I always have something new and different to work on.”
Nicole has a special message for women who are considering becoming a CPA: go for it. “Becoming a CPA is a great choice for women,” she says. “I haven’t seen any barriers to being successful in my career.”
“Becoming a CPA is a great choice for women.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 14
BEST JOB: I really enjoyed being a Senior Financial Analyst. I learned a lot about making a company profitable and was involved in many of the company’s strategic projects.
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: “I’m waiting for my kids to get older before picking up hobbies again!”
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you succeed.” - Old Chinese Proverb
Want to see the world and get paid for it? Grab hold of Joan Lynch’s suitcase handle. She’s the vice president of internal audit for Marriott, which not only means she’s seen more cities than a space satellite, but also that people rely on her to size up business issues, explain them clearly and show what needs to be done.
It’s a challenge, and one Joan enjoys quite a bit. In her career so far she’s spent time at one of the country’s largest accounting firms, worked in industries including tech, nonprofit and government, and even helped an internet start-up, well, start up. “Because it was new,” she remembers, “we implemented the accounting processes and systems from start to finish. I learned a ton.”
She also learned a ton when she joined Marriott and successfully lead the company through the brand new, 11-section Sarbanes-Oxley audit process. If that doesn’t impress you – and it should – consider that Joan managed this without giving up her extensive fitness regimen, which involves running, biking, swimming, weight training, tennis and golf. She also finds time somehow to volunteer with the elderly, manage two rental properties she owns and cheer on her Washington Redskins.
It’s a lot to keep up with, but so’s Joan. She loves her active schedule. “From the beginning, the appeal of accounting was the potential to become a Certified Public Accountant,” says Joan. “It’s a highly regarded designation that can take you almost anywhere.”
“From the beginning, the appeal of accounting was the potential to become a Certified Public Accountant.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 23
BEST JOB: Traveling around the world for Marriott International!
WORST JOB: Delivering the newspaper before the sun came up
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Travel, fitness, sports, real estate
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Laughter is the best medicine!"
After taking his first accounting class, Jeff Dottl told his girlfriend (and future wife) that if he ever told her he wanted to be an accountant, she should stop him. Fortunately for him – for several reasons – she didn’t take him up on it.
That first class was just the wrong introduction to accounting. He kept at it, taking a few more courses, and soon everything clicked. He liked accounting classes because, unlike in some other fields, there was a right and wrong answer to most questions – no arguing about writing style or public speaking abilities. You either got the answer right or you didn’t – and Jeff got a lot of them right.
In his work today, the answers aren’t always black and white – and that’s just how Jeff likes it. “The more I have to think and be creative, the more I enjoy my days at work,” he says. "While the business itself doesn't change much, there are so many outside factors that affect it. Being creative and proactive has proven to be as necessary as having surgeons. Because I am the last guy anyone wants operating on them!"
Sometimes Jeff needs a little extra help to get the creative juices flowing. As a big music fan, he cranks the loud music at work. “These days I listen to a lot of Phoenix, BB King and Eros Ramazotti."
“I know what you’re thinking – how did Flo Rida get in there? I don’t know either.”
Whatever works, Jeff.
“The more I have to think and be creative, the more I enjoy my days at work.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 11
BEST JOB: Other than my current job? I used to be the afternoon starter at a golf course in Las Vegas. It was a PGA Tour stop and I got to meet a lot of fun (and some not so fun) people.
WORST JOB: For a brief stint in college I was a telemarketer. Sorry if I called you!
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Live music, golfing, volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America
“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: 11
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!"
Take a second to get to know Bob Bunting. But do it quickly, because he’s probably late for a flight to Shanghai.
As President of the International Federation of Accountants, Bob spends most of his time traveling outside the United States, giving speeches on international accounting issues and meeting with clients, regulators, and government officials. Each year he touches down on every continent at least once, visiting more than 20 countries. Compared to this guy, the Secretary of State is a shut-in.
He didn’t become a CPA just to rack up frequent flier miles, though. “I wanted to become involved as a business advisor and a business leader,” he says. “And I knew that the CPA certification is a gateway to hundreds of career choices.”
Hundreds of outdoor activities, too – at least in Bob’s case. “I hike, I fish, I golf, I cross-country ski and kayak in every kind of weather,” he says. “I’ve even played golf in snowstorms several times.”
Whoa. While bogeying in a blizzard isn’t for everyone, Bob maintains that the rest of his profession has universal appeal. “What’s not to love?” he asks. “I work with incredibly smart people doing interesting and meaningful things that contribute to the well being of the economy and my community.” Not to mention that he gets paid well to do it.
Great point. What’s not to love?
“I work with incredibly smart people doing interesting and meaningful things that contribute to the well being of the economy and my community.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 46
BEST JOB: CEO of my firm (Moss Adams) for 23 years Public Accounting
WORST JOB: First-year staff accountant 1969
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Wilderness Trekking
PETS: A black lab named Libby
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “I'd rather fail trying than fail because I did nothing at all.”
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: 5
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.
Here’s some Big Important Life Advice you might not expect from a CPA: “Have fun!” That’s the philosophy offered by Jessica Pegram, Accounting Manager for People to People Ambassador Programs. “Live for today,” she adds. “And give life all you’ve got by choosing to believe that anything is possible and looking at the glass half full.”
Being a CPA has certainly helped Jessica in her quest for fun so far. “Becoming an accountant means that you aren't limited to a specific industry or location,” she says. “You can go anywhere and specialize in whichever industry interests you the most.”
What interests her most at the moment is her position at People to People, which offers professionals chances to travel and foster networking, career development, personal enrichment and international goodwill. Jessica “absolutely loves” that. She’s also a big fan of her long list of interests outside of work. “I love to be with my family,” she says. “I also love to travel, read suspense novels, go to church, relax, roller blade and go camping.”
A fulfilling career? With time left over for friends, family, fitness and just vegging out? For Jessica, that’s a recipe for some fun.
“Give life all you've got by choosing to believe that anything is possible and looking at the glass half full.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 9
BEST JOB: This one!
WORST JOB: Working at a retail store in the mall
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Scrapbooking, exercising (running), reading
PETS: A cat named Gizmo
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Live for today, period, because you don’t know what the future will bring and as they say, today is a gift and that’s why they call it the present."
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: 11
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: 8
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."
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: 23
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."
After 13 years as the controller for a large real estate company, James McDermott says one of the best parts of his job is the independence. “Today I feel like I’m still running my own accounting practice, just with one major client,” he says. “Every day is different and challenging. Even though I currently work in a single industry, real estate, my days are never the same.”
After working his way up to become a partner and shareholder in a large local accounting firm, James used his CPA credential to switch career paths and take another route. The real estate world has given him new opportunities that he finds interesting, challenging and rewarding “One thing I love about my job is the people I work with,” he says. “I try to bring humor into the office setting to keep things interesting.”
Along the way, James admits that he has learned an important lesson he wishes he’d known back in high school: “There’s more to life than just money. Find out something to do with your life that you enjoy, and you’ll be happy.”
“Find out something to do with your life that you enjoy, and you'll be happy.”
YEARS AS A CPA: 32
BEST JOB: CPA
WORST JOB: Auditor for a local county government
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF WORK: Golf, softball, sports
PETS: 2 cats
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Find something that you enjoy doing with your time and talents and you will be happy with the results. When you lose the enjoyment (happiness) then it is time to find another challenge."