The Top 100 People: 25 tips for the future

As the profession looks ahead to a period of tremendous — and sometimes frightening — change, a little advice from accounting leaders can certainly come in handy.
As part of this year’s Top 100 Most Influential People survey, Accounting Today asked, “What one thing would you recommend accountants do to prepare for the future?”

Two pieces of advice were by far the most common: “Embrace technology” and “Be a life-long learner.” But the T100 offer plenty of specific ways to do both, as well as lots of other, occasionally more trenchant, advice — a selection of which is below.

(To see the full responses of all the candidates for the Top 100, click here.)

Melancon-Barry-AICPA 2018
Embrace technology and adopt a nimble mindset. The skillsets and competencies that bring you success today will need to be continually re-evaluated and updated.

— Barry Melancon, President and CEO, American Institute of CPAs; CEO, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Ron Baker
Never stop learning. Leaders are readers. Read outside of your profession, and don’t be afraid to challenge the orthodoxies of your profession.

And to the young accountants, I would emphasize that below the age of 40-45 are your peak innovation years, as Charles Murray documented in his stunning book, “Human Accomplishment.” I like what Francis Bacon wrote in “Of Youth and Age,” in 1625: “Young men are fitter to invent, than to judge; and fitter for new projects than for settled business. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.”

— Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute
Doughtie-Lynne-KPMG - new 2019
Commit to being lifelong learning and be open to diverse perspectives and thinking. … Stay current on new technologies and effective ways to use data, changes in business models and the technology supporting those business models, how regulation affects the financial reporting landscape, how business and the markets are capitalizing on disruption, and so on. Continuous learning will ensure you’re always adding value to your organization, teams and clients.

— Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO, KMPG
Johnston-Randy-K2 new 2019
Block time in your weekly calendar to plan and learn something new.

— Randy Johnston CEO and founder / EVP, Network Management Group, Inc. / K2 Enterprises
Groskopf-Thomas-Center for Plain English Accounting
Read and view content from diverse perspectives, including those you disagree with.

— Thomas Groskopf, Technical Director, AICPA Center for Plain English Accounting
Amy Vetter 2
Stay agile and open to change. We no longer can put processes and technology in place and walk away for 20 years before we need to review it again. It’s important that we are always open to learning, no matter what stage of our career we are in.

Be curious, find delight in the process of innovation, and create a culture that allows for people to try new things without anyone being branded long-term if a research initiative doesn’t work out. If you create a culture that allows for everyone to equally contribute and provide ideas, it will create a workplace that everyone wants to be a part of, and a positive client experience that can’t be matched.

— Amy Vetter, CEO, The B3 Method Institute
Alan-Anderson-AccountAbility 2018
Become technology sponges. Embrace technology and explore avenues that can positively impact what accountants do on a daily basis to help their clients — whether they are internal clients for those in industry or their firm’s clients if in public accounting. Look at technology as a way to unburden the profession from those things that were uninspiring anyway, that can free up time to use our higher-level skills, knowledge and talents.

— Alan Anderson, President and founder, Accountability Plus
Don’t try to conform to an antiquated accountant stereotype that isn’t true. So many of us allow professionalism to suffocate our personality because we’re trying to act like what we think an accountant should be. Except you are the accountant, so act like you. Recognize that you have expertise above and beyond your college degrees and certifications. Expertise gained through the unique perspectives each individual has because of their outside-of-work hobbies and passions can be a real asset to any firm or organization

— John Garrett, comedian, consultant and “Recovering Accountant”
Vaudt-David-GASB 2018
To be prepared for the future in this exciting profession, embrace learning all you can about technology. Stay abreast to technology trends impacting accounting — continually look for ways to expand your knowledge and understanding. Be the first to volunteer for opportunities in your work to be involved in new technology — it will be a career-enhancing move.

Technology will impact the accounting profession more than anything in recent times. The degree to which you immerse yourself in technology opportunities will positively impact your future in the accounting profession.

— David Vaudt, Chairman, GASB
Padar-Jody- new 2019
Go back to school and take a data science for accounting or data analytics for accounting class. It’s a whole new exciting way to solve real-world business problems. One can find a professional to do “the math.” But until you do the math at least once, it’s hard to understand the power or application of data. It’s now a requirement for most accounting degree programs.

— Jody Padar, CEO and Principal, New Vision CPA Group
Don’t hide behind being too busy being busy not to consult and advise your clients on issues that matter. Simply stated, if you stay “too busy being busy,” your clients will find other service providers who will advise them on the things that matter.

— Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group
Satterley-Heather-Satterley Training
I recommend that accountants allow themselves designated “tinker-time” to explore technology and apps. Focus on understanding the flow of data and learn a bit of coding or find someone who codes to become friends with. Also, break stuff (preferably in a controlled environment). It is the best way to learn how to fix things and tap into your creative brain.

— Heather Satterley, Owner/Founder, Satterley Training & Consulting and QB ‘Appy Hour Enterprises
Blake Oliver
Study the field of customer experience. In the past, I would have said that accountants should embrace technology, but I’ve learned since then that technology is but a means to an end. The end, at least as far as public accounting is concerned, should be an improved customer experience. Historically the customer experience of CPA firms is pretty terrible, so any accountant who learns how to create a good one will likely be successful.

— Blake Oliver, Co-Host, Cloud Accounting Podcast
Johnson-Dobek-Sarah-Innovautus Consulting
Embrace technology, but use it to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with your clients, not just to augment staff.

— Sarah Dobek, President and Founder, Inovautus Consulting
Eat, sleep, and breathe innovation and adopt a continuous-learning mindset. There is so much change happening in the profession, from AI to machine learning, technology is constantly evolving, and pushing us to evolve, too. Gone are the days when accountants were doing things manually — this means we must strive to always be students by upgrading our skillsets and gaining a better understanding of how emerging technology can be used to enhance our work. You can stand out among the crowd if you are ahead of the curve on innovation and technology.

— Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO, Deloitte US
Whitehouse-Geni-Even a Nerd Can Be Heard 2018
Ask more questions and get out of the office. Spend more time on site with clients really understanding the challenges they face and go to conferences (or find other ways to learn about all of the amazing changes that are providing new opportunities for our profession.)

— Geni Whitehouse, Countess of Communication, Brotemarkle, Davis & Co. LLP, Even a Nerd Can be Heard, Solve Services
Leary-David-Cloud Accounting Podcast
Constantly focus on what value you are creating for clients.

— David Leary, Co-Host, Cloud Accounting Podcast
Review the various emerging technologies and choose one to develop advanced knowledge in, and a secondary one to have a little less depth, but be conversant across all of them. I would also recommend at least two hours each work on learning new competencies.

— Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, Executive Director — Finance Thought Leadership, Oracle, Cloud Business Group
 Jim Bourke
Change your hiring process and look to bring in team members that look and feel different than the historical hires. In the past you would check the box with an accounting degree. I don’t discount that accounting degree, but instead supplement it with dual majors like those with a focus in technology, artificial intelligence, engineering, etc. It is going to take many different skillsets to service the clients of the future. Firms need to be investing in talent today.

— Jim Bourke, Managing Director of Advisory Services, WithumSmith+Brown
Thomas-Ralph-New Jersey Society of CPAs 2018
Accountants need to unlearn the old ways of preparing for a career in accounting and relearn new ways to thrive in the profession going forward. Younger professionals need to advance their knowledge of Excel/data analytics and their communication skills to ensure a smooth transition to CPAs becoming trusted advisors. Excel needs to be included as part of accounting students’ core curriculum.

— Ralph Thomas, CEO and Executive Director, New Jersey Society of CPAs
Accountants of all levels should work to learn more about how digital technology can help them do bigger, better things in their work — and they should do what they can do digitally upskill themselves. And if their organizations don’t provide the tools and technology for upskilling, they should push their leaders to do so!

— Tim Ryan, U.S. Chair and Senior Partner, PwC US
Learn from other industries that have gone through change and embrace it. We are not the first once to face this amount of disruption, so what can we learn from transportation, lodging and other industries who faced new competition unlike anything they pictured?

— Lauren Clemmer, Executive Director, Association for Accounting Marketing
Frederiksen-Lee-Hinge Marketing
Start doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Mergers are adding service lines, industries, and geographic reach — creating large, homogenous firms that are rapidly commoditizing the industry. Accounting leaders need to think smaller. While the giants broaden their service offerings, I recommend going deeper with fewer, specialized services.

— Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner, Hinge
Lacerte-Rene-Billcom new 2019
Keep learning. So much is changing in the profession, including technology, that accountants who continue to learn will always have an advantage. Adopt a new technology for your firm every year and incorporate it with all of your processes and clients before adopting the next.

— René Lacerte, CEO and Founder,
Telberg-Rick-CPA Trendlines 2018
The future is now. The time for preparation has run out. You either get moving or get out of the way.

— Rick Telberg, Founder and CEO, CPA Trendlines