For someone who has problems balancing his checkbook, I get an awful lot of mail from CPAs either railing about, or asking my advice about, what can be done to veer the profession in the right direction.

Unfortunately, as I explain to many of them, I’m seldom in a position to offer sage advice, since I’m neither a fellow CPA, nor am I a member of the American Institute of CPAs.

Not that I don’t care what happens in accounting, mind you — it’s just that while I might be in a position to suggest change, I’m certainly not in a position to enact it. All I can do is to provide coverage of it — not that finding things to write about has been difficult these past several  years.

As editor of this publication since September 2000, I’ve heard both sides of the argument — times 10 — regarding the present state and future of the profession and their theories on the effect — beneficial or not — the folks at 1211 Avenue of the Americas have had on the accounting profession in general and the CPA brand in particular.

I won’t devote this space to a long-winded rehash of controversial AICPA initiatives, or current projects that are, to be honest, struggling. Historically, dredging up pain points has done little or nothing constructive for people and succeeds in accomplishing little more than shackling them to the past. And given the daunting climate of government oversight that CPAs currently toil under, it’s fairly critical that they do move forward.

But the question of whether Barry Melancon would continue to serve as president and chief executive of the institute was rather definitely decided by a 21-1 board vote last month to extend his contract through 2010.

If nothing else, it cleared up any member confusion and prognostication of whether a change at the top was coming following what was arguably the hardest two years in the profession’s history.

Critics of the board’s decision would be quick to point out that Melancon, who has held the institute’s top post since 1995, did little to take the lead in initiating reform during the spate of accounting scandals — inaction that resulted in reams of unflattering press. Eventually, Uncle Sam elbowed the institute aside and basically stripped it of its standard-setting powers.

However, supporters would argue that during his tenure, he has rightly tried to move the profession forward as part of the much-publicized Vision Project, including a heavy and long-overdue push into technology. That was much to the consternation of a membership who, to be fair to the institute, viewed change with the same kind of enthusiasm with which George Bush I eyed a teeming bowl of broccoli.

True, labeling those members who were both critical and recalcitrant to share his vision “laggards” was not exactly a method Dale Carnegie would have endorsed, but it was apparent it was not going to be business as usual at the institute under his auspices, and that the organization would try to evolve from its traditional roots.

For those who have placed their faith in the strategic compass of Melancon and his management team, there aren’t enough words to describe the scope of how much the ensuing half-decade will impact the accounting profession.

And 340,000 members should hope that Melancon and his task force are up to the challenge of not only dealing with change but, in contrast to the past several years, being proactive, not reactive.

The profession’s future may very well depend on it.

Bill Carlino

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