Archives for posts with tag: CPA

That was, more or less, the headline from a Wall Street Journal article. The article explained that the role of most CFOs was becoming more big picture and strategic and less number oriented. Thus CFOs sought out these non-traditional type of people for their finance organizations. The fact that colleges teach you basic accounting but not leadership or decision making was really starting to hamper some accountants from getting hired. The other single skill noted as often missing was the ability to communicate and present findings to your peers or bosses.

As I have written before, business and even accounting is really Not About the Numbers. Being able to generate the raw data is only a very small part of the job. The key is being able to summarize and clearly present this information to your audience. This means that business and life is about People and figuring out how to communicate with them. Often we can learn this with experience but there are other ways.

As an old Accountant myself, I have some suggestions on how young people can learn some of these more advanced CFO type skills while they are just starting out or at least early in their work career.

The best places to learn more strategy, decision making and presentation skills early are the following:

One is to go into public accounting. It can be a local, regional or one of the national firms. Here you learn to sell yourself as you travel to meet different clients. You can also move into a management role quickly by being in charge of a client engagement. You do not have to stay forever although obtaining your CPA certificate, which requires a couple years practice in most states, is a good idea. So two to four years is great. And you can leave for a Manager or Director job in a private or public firm.

Second is to join a smaller, private firm or, harder yet, to setup your own private business. In my first job outside of public accounting with Donn Corporation, within a few years I had done the entire financial gauntlet of duties-treasury, accounting, tax-and I was working on acquisitions and part of the firm’s overall strategy group. This may be a bit fast and unusual but in smaller, private firms you have a much better chance of getting involved in a very wide range of activities. And you can make yourself more valuable there or to the next firm you join.

The last place you will learn this diverse skill set is to join a large, public company. You will start out as a very detail, number crunching analyst and usually move up or around slowly. Often those who start in the Corporate Accounting group stay there, with some moves up over time. Those who start in Treasury the same thing. It is often unusual or even difficult in some large companies to move between the various financial groups. The exception are firms like General Electric that have a two year rotating financial management for some high potential people. Then you can learn a lot and get great exposure within the large firm.

So remember that Accounting and Business are really not about the numbers so learn the other people-oriented skills that can help you move up rapidly in your career!

Note: my book The Business Zoo is finally about to be launched this month on Amazon and Kindle. I will let you know!

One of the young men, we will call him Bob, that I have been advising on his career asked me an interesting question about advanced degrees or certifications.  Bob recently received a M.B.A. from a good school in Ohio. Bob is currently employed with a small, private firm as a combined Office Manager and Controller.  In trying to change jobs and upgrade his position and pay, Bob was finding that the M.B.A. alone was not providing him with much of an edge. So his question was, what about working on a CPA (certified public accountant) or a CMA (certified management accountant). Although his question was rather specific, it reminded me of the countless times I have been asked about advanced degrees or certifications by young business people.

About the same time this occurred, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how prospective M.B.A.s are unhappy with the “strings-attached tuition reimbursement” that many organizations require. The article describes how young people do not always want to remain with their employer for several years to qualify for the full cost reimbursement of these programs. At many of the top prestigious schools, a regular M.B.A. costs $100,000 and an Executive M.B.A. can now run to $175,000. That is a lot of money! Especially to pay on your own with no help from your employer.

So, as a seasoned (read old) recruiter and mentor to many young financial people, what are my thoughts on all this?

First, an M.B.A. for most young people, who want to advance in business today, is a must. An M.B.A. to this generation is like a Bachelors degree was 25 years ago. If you can qualify and afford to attend a top school, either with your own resources or your employer’s help, do it. But for most young people the M.B.A. title is more important than the school. For example, in Chicago, for full-time programs,  you can spend $110,000 at Northwestern or the University of Chicago or you can spend about half that at DePaul University or the University of Illinois. And even less at many other area schools. The prestigious school may help you move faster in your career initially, but twenty years down the road, the key will be that you have an M.B.A.

The  CPA certificate is great and is required if you intend to work in auditing or tax for a long time. Also a CPA is very good for a public company Controller position, dealing with the SEC and accounting rules. In most of general industry, however, the CPA sounds good but doesn’t really bring much to most jobs. If you would like a shot at a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) role someday, I believe a CPA does have value and practical use as well. As a CFO/CPA, I never felt totally lost even in very technical conversations with my Controller or our outside CPA firm.

The CMA is a newer certification and is viewed by most recruiters and Human Resources people as below a CPA, but still a major accomplishment. For most financial people working in industry, the CMA is a good alternative to consider.

In conclusion, all advanced degrees like the M.B.A. and certifications like the CPA or CMA certificates are good for your resume and can, in many cases, actually help you on the job. But, again, for young people in business, your best bet is to get an M.B.A. from somewhere that fits into your budget and life plan not from the highest ranking (and expensive) school you could attend.

Good luck in your continued education!