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Journey to CMA

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October 6, 2010

Jeff Thomson, CMA, Institute of Management Accountants president and chief executive, recently tested for (and earned) the organization’s credential the Certified Management Accountant (CMA). The CMA attests a professional’s mastery of the skills most needed by accountants and financial professionals in business today – decision support, financial planning, performance, and control. Learn more about Jeff’s first hand experience in preparing for, taking and earning the CMA.

You worked for more than two decades at AT&T and are now the president and chief executives of one of the largest accounting associations in the world. Why was it important for you to earn your CMA now?
When you earn the CMA, you are recognized around the world as a master of key financial and accounting capabilities, including planning, analysis, and professional ethics. I believe the CMA brings value to each and every recipient – that’s why I wanted one for myself.

What was the preparation and studying like?
A long time has passed since I last studied for a test, and lot of time goes into preparing for each part of the CMA. Although I had lots of practical business experience, there were several areas that I do not remember learning or I did not apply in practice, manufacturing accounting being one example. Although I am happy (and relieved) that I passed, I learned or re-learned so much in the exam prep process that I feel I can contribute that much more to my organization.  

How long did you prepare prior to taking the exam?
I devoted approximately 100 hours per part, if not more. Even when I feel I “know” a topic, I nonetheless study, study, study, using CMA exam prep materials, textbooks, and my own study notes. I studied on the beach, I studied on the plane, I studied in between IMA speaking assignments. I studied!

How did the actual test compare to your expectations?

It was a very challenging exam. My advice: do not take anything for granted. Study hard, join study groups, be confident, have a plan, and you will join the proud community of CMAs around the world.

If you could change one thing about your journey to the CMA, what would it be? Why?
I sincerely wish that I had pursued the CMA much earlier in my career. I love AT&T; it was part of my life for more than 23 years. It is one of the world’s greatest stories and greatest companies. While our finance teams were generally progressive, there was only one certification actively discussed or held – the CPA. But I make no excuses. There clearly is major responsibility on the part of the individual to reach out beyond the organizational boundaries for career development, and I wish I had been more proactive.

What advice would you give prospective CMA candidates, especially young professionals?

Start thinking about the CMA early – as early as college. Team up with a mentor, form study groups, consider the different options for exam prep. The CMA is the essential credential for accounting and financial professionals in business and with it you can see the value throughout your lifetime. CFOs and controllers around the world, when asked, indicate significant deficiencies in risk management, internal controls, performance management, financial planning and analysis, and more. Guess what – that is what CMAs are experts at! The CMA is a differentiator, a global passport to a great and diverse career, and you earn more too (IMA’s Annual Salary Survey indicates that CMAs in the U.S. earn 25 percent more than professionals with no certification.) The difference is even greater outside of the United States.

Now that you have your CMA, what’s next?
Well, I of course need to earn at least 30 credits each year so I will be on the continuous learning path. I would also like to boost CMA membership worldwide by educating CFOs and HR/hiring managers to recognize the CMA credential as essential in today’s world. More CMAs means better careers, organizations, and economies. It is hard to be an ambassador for professional financial literacy unless you demonstrate the same commitment to earn the CMA.

Marc Gerrone is the Institute of Management Accountants’ director of communications and public relations.

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