25 great pieces of advice

Published
  • September 24 2017, 5:30pm EDT
Accounting Today recently asked over a hundred leaders in the tax and accounting profession to share the best piece of advice they’d ever received in their lives here’s a sampling of our favorites.

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Accounting Today recently asked over a hundred leaders in the tax and accounting profession to share the best piece of advice they’d ever received in their lives here’s a sampling of our favorites.

“If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.”

—Michael Cerami, Vice president of business development and corporate strategy, CPA.com

“‘If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.’ This is one of my favorite quotes and it's so relevant in the profession today. For the most part, firms are doing great. But business as usual is a risky proposition.”

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“Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.”

—Kim Fantaci, President, CPAFMA

“From a college professor at the University of Dayton: Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.”

“Read at least 50 books a year.”

—Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute

“My college economics professor told me that leaders are readers, and I should strive to read at least 50 books every year. As Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones quipped: ‘You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.’”
(Also cited by Gary Boomer)

“Work less, think more.”

—Amy Pitter, President and CEO, Massachusetts Society of CPAs

“Work less, think more. I had a very wise mentor when I was in the consulting business who advised me to delegate the more mundane aspects of my work and spend more time stepping back, looking at the big picture, and letting all the pieces percolate so that I was in a position to give the best possible direction to my clients and my staff.”

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“Never stop learning.”

—Brian Peccarelli, President, The Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters

“Never stop learning. Given the hyper-accelerated nature of today’s (and tomorrow’s) technological advancements, you must keep trying to learn new things. Not only does it allow you to future-proof your own career, but if you’re an employer, it allows you to recruit the best talent, provide a rewarding environment and design your practice to withstand the effects of time. Now more than ever, complacency is a luxury few can afford.”

“Seek excellence, not perfection.”

—Dustin Hostetler, Shareholder and chief innovation officer, Boomer Consulting

“‘Seek excellence, not perfection.’ A lot of time and energy goes into trying to make everything perfect before taking action. This is why many people never make it off the ground with an idea. Be comfortable with making a call at 75 percent and continuously improve from there. Groups and teams get bogged down all the time focused on perfection when excellence is what is needed to delight a client or complete a project. The inaction makes the perfection irrelevant.”

“Embrace failure in service to learning ... and fail fast.”

—CeCe Morken, Executive vice president and general manager, Intuit ProConnect Group, Intuit Inc.

“Embrace failure in service to learning ... and fail fast. If we see failure as a means to broadening our learning, we will lean in to risk-taking and solve bigger problems. If we are afraid of failure, we will be incremental in our thinking and our endeavors. The only failure is failure to learn. By doing small rapid experiments on big ideas, we can learn fast and have a better chance of improving our world.”

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“If you aren’t failing sometimes, you aren’t pushing hard enough.”

—Samantha Mansfield, Director of professional development and community, CPA.com

“If you aren’t failing sometimes, you aren’t pushing hard enough. It is easy to make incremental changes and stay in our comfort zone, but we need to innovate and plan for the future. In our innovation cycles, we should experience some failure, learn from it to make the next successful.”

“Don't focus on profit.”

—Joel Sinkin, President, Transition Advisors

“Don't focus on profit. Focus on helping your clients succeed and you will make a profit.”

“Start with the small things and get them right, because that’s how you gain trust.”

—Cathy Engelbert, CEO, Deloitte

“When I first became the CEO a couple of years ago, I received some great advice from a Fortune 10 CEO — do small things of symbolic value first and the bigger things will come easier.

It’s a lesson we see regularly: Admiral McRaven of the U.S. Navy SEALs remarked at a University of Texas commencement, if you want to change the world, start by making your bed. Coach John Wooden used to spend the first hour of the first practice of every season making sure his players knew how to put on their socks (to avoid blisters). You have to pay attention to the little things.

As CEO, I’ve taken this advice to heart: Start with the small things and get them right, because that’s how you gain trust. And once you gain trust, the bigger and harder things are easier to get done, because then you have followership as a leader.”

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“Re-pot yourself periodically.”

—Lewis Ferguson, Board member, PCAOB

“Make sure that you do a variety of different things in your career. Re-pot yourself periodically, don’t spend your career doing one single thing.”

“Don’t ever lower your standards.”

—Dawn Brolin, CEO, Powerful Accounting

“Don’t ever lower your standards. In doing this, you will be more successful and likely achieve your goals. When you are told you are not able to pass this certification or accomplish success (whatever that is to you) and you give in, you are setting yourself up for immediate or long-term failure.”

“Be acutely aware of what you do not know.”

—Paul Caron, Publisher and editor-in-chief, TaxProf Blog

“Be acutely aware of what you do not know.”

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“Embrace disruption and change when others fear it.”

—Lee Frederiksen, Managing partner, Hinge Strategy

“Embrace disruption and change when others fear it.”

“Run towards the things that make you uncomfortable.”

—Sarah Johnson Dobek, President and founder, Inovautus Consulting

“Run towards the things that make you uncomfortable. Learning requires getting out of your comfort zone and that makes everyone uncomfortable. You have to embrace it to keep growing and learning.”

“Shut up and listen.”

—Stan Mork, President, ITA

“To ‘shut up and listen.’ One of my earliest consulting mentors always emphasized that you need to take time to listen to your clients, customers, etc., and not to go into a situation where you think you know the answer. Taking time to listen to others before taking action has served me very well in my career, as I would have made some very bad decisions if I wouldn’t have taken time to listen and learn.”

(Variations on the need to listen were a popular piece of advice, including Rick Telberg’s “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen at least twice as much as you speak.”)

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“Think before you speak.”

—Mark Soticheck, COO, North Carolina Association of CPAs

“Think before you speak. In a world/society that has gravitated as far away from that concept as possible, it has served me well to take the time to listen to others, gather my thoughts, and consider my words and tone before delivering a message to ensure it is truly heard.”

“Hire smarter people than you.”

—Christopher Stark, President and CEO, Cetrom

“Hire smarter people than you. Take care of them. Listen to them and they will take care of your customers. (Advice from my mother.)”

“Pace yourself.”

—Kim Austin, Business development manager, Intuit

“Years ago, right as I began my first ‘road warrior’ job, I had a colleague tell me two words that I’ve kept close to for the past eight-plus years: ‘Pace yourself.’ He explained that he’d seen just how grueling the world of business travel can be, and warned that it can often take a toll on one’s personal life. Years later, I often think of these two words just as I’m about to hit my max point … it’s amazing how recalling that conversation can instantly help me reset, refocus, and recharge just enough to keep pushing forward.”

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“You can’t win alone.”

—Amy Vetter, Global vice president of education and head of accounting, USA, Xero

“My violin teacher said to me when I was little and preparing for an audition (in his Russian accent) — ‘If you no good, I’m no good, that’s the wait it ‘tis.’ This has been a mantra for me through business and working with teams my entire career. You can’t win alone; everyone needs to be successful around you in order to achieve the outcome you want. Being invested in other people’s success is the key to a successful team and business.”

“You will be amazed at how successful you can become if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

—Jennifer Warawa, Executive vice president of partners, accountants and alliances, Sage

“I have had the privilege to be mentored by true leaders both personally and professionally. One of the greatest pieces of advice I was ever been given was by Jim Pattison, a Canadian business mogul, investor, philanthropist and CEO of the second largest privately held company in Canada, the Jim Pattison Group. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down one-on-one with him and he told me, ‘You will be amazed at how successful you can become if you don’t care who gets the credit,’ which was great advice. At the end of the day, I sincerely believe what goes around comes around and if you do great work, it will all come full circle. I try to focus on successful outcomes, rather than worrying about who will get the credit.”

“If you are on time, you are five minutes late.”

—Roman Kepczyk, Director of consulting, Xcentric

“‘If you are on time, you are five minutes late.’ This promoted punctuality in attending meetings and in respecting other people’s time. Following this advice allowed ‘wiggle-room’ for unforeseen circumstances and provided time to reflect and adequately prepare for the meeting at hand.”

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“You should be focused on doing only those jobs that nobody else can do, which means you are at your highest and best use always.”

—Tom Wheelwright, CEO, Provision

“If someone else (or, in the case of technology, something else) can do a job at least 80 percent as well as you can, then you should delegate the job. You should be focused on doing only those jobs that nobody else can do, which means you are at your highest and best use always. The worst advice ever received is the opposite, i.e., if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. This leads to doing things that are best left to others and prevents you from accomplishing your most important responsibilities.”

“Everyone wants to know the secret to success, but it’s not a secret. It’s hard work.”

—Jeff Phillips, CEO, Accountingfly

“Everyone wants to know the secret to success, but it’s not a secret. It’s hard work.”

“Ignore most people’s advice.”

—Caleb Newquist, Founding editor, Going Concern

“Ignore most people’s advice.”


(But if you can't help yourself, here's a much larger, unabridged collection of advice from a wider selection of tax and accounting leaders.)