As part of our Top 100 Most Influential People report, we asked all the candidates: “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?”
The candidates' full responses follow.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was regarding work/life balance and prioritization, which I’m often asked about. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition: Don’t approach it as work will always come first, or your children will always come first, or your husband will always come first…because you will have a day when one comes first and other days when the other comes first. It’s all about balance.
— Karen Abramson, CEO Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a number of mentors who have provided me both professional and personal guidance over the years. We recently invited John O’Leary to speak at our Vision 2022 Owners Meeting. John has an amazing story of survival and encourages audiences to “Live Inspired.” So many things about his speech stand out to me as sage advice for how to live and how to lead. In particular, he shared a quote from Viktor Frankl, “When you know your why, you can endure any how.” That really resonated with me because I have always tried to live my life with purpose and lead RSM in a very purpose-driven way. And it’s a focus we will have to continue as we forge our path to Vision 2022 and beyond.
— Joe Adams, Managing partner and CEO, RSM US
I read an article from Emeril Lagasse once where he explained that he has no issue putting his recipes online because people can follow them, but they will never cook the food the way he can. That confidence is something that has fueled our company. We put hundreds of training videos online for people to learn at their own pace. I don’t want to train people how to write a check – anyone can do that. I want to take them to the next level of ‘Should we be writing checks and if not what is the alternative?’ In the accounting world there are so many people who can help you with your books, but it is a different feeling to say I can help you with your business. We have not feared losing clients nor competing in this space, because we know our secret sauce is our ability to do it better.
— Marjorie Adams, CEO, Fourlane
I have a bookmark on my desk that my son made me that says “Rest when tired, just don’t quit.” I love that it acknowledges that we have limits, but it also speaks to the power of perseverance. When I started my firm, I couldn’t have dreamed that it would have grown to what it has now, or that it would have spawned two additional business ventures. I just kept moving forward.
— Amanda Aguillard, Co-founder, Elefant
You can only lose your credibility once.
— John Ams, Executive vice president, NSA
"Be a great listener," from my mentor, Darwin Volton. Listen for understanding, not response. Unfortunately, many professionals are most interested in talking.
— Alan Anderson, President, Accountability Plus
A former undergraduate professor once told his history class that “It is better to die with honor (i.e., do the right thing) than to live with shame and disgrace.” That has always stuck with me and I have tried to live my life accordingly.
— August Aquila, President and CEO, Aquila Global Advisors
It’s an African proverb on teamwork: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”
— Erik Asgeirsson, CEO, CPA.com
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.
— Kim Austin, Business development manager, Intuit
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, George Gilder taught me that profits come from risk. There are no guarantees in enterprise, and if you are not willing to take risks you have no business being an entrepreneur.
— Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute
When I took on a new, and much expanded role, my new boss told me to surround myself with the best possible people, ensure that they complement each other well, remove obstacles for them, be certain they constantly communicate, and ensure that they operate as a team. If they operate as a team and each know their respective roles and execute, success will follow.
— Jon Baron, Managing director, Professional Segment, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
The best advice? Stop being a perfectionist and become a risk-taker. A perfectionist's mindset is that failure is unacceptable. A risk-taker understands that sometimes you need to fail to succeed. This advice is especially useful in a disruptive world, where change is a prerequisite for business survival.
— Joanne Barry, Executive director and CEO, NYSSCPA
No one will manage your career for you; it’s up to you to make it great. Never stop learning. Meet as many people as possible. Keep an eye out for that great new opportunity, and don’t be afraid to jump when you get the opportunity.
— Bob Berchtold, Podcast host, “The Abacus Show”
“To treat everyone with respect, dignity, and listen to all who come to me.” This has enabled me to have a completely open mind and be non-judgmental.
— David Bergstein, Evangelist, Accountant Segment, Intuit
Nelson Mandela, who I served with on the GAVI Board (the Vaccine Alliance), told me that leadership is about having people do what you want them to do and letting them take credit for it. Never take credit away from them.
— Wayne Berson, CEO, BDO USA
It's not about the cards you're dealt, but how you play the hand.
— Chandra Bhansali, CEO, AccountantsWorld
An organization is as good as the capacity of the employees to learn and apply.
— Sharada Bhansali, President and Co-founder, AccountantsWorld
I recently spoke to a group of college students and was asked this very question. When I responded to it, I realized that my answer would have been different earlier in my career. I had a former boss tell me that I should never work at a job that did not fulfill me. He professed that if at the end of my work day I did not feel that I had accomplished something worthwhile, I would not be satisfied. He further suggested that if I was not fulfilled, I should find something different to do. As I have evolved to different jobs with different ranks, I have followed that advice and believe it is reflected in my attitude, productivity and effectiveness.
— Ken Bishop, President and CEO, NASBA
When my partner has not only asked me what kind of firm we want to grow together, but asking me if I want “what that means.” We all want to grow. But are we willing to do what it takes to truly achieve the growth that is possible. Exploring that question is the best advice I’ve ever received.
— Jason Blumer, Founder and CEO, Thriveal Network
Early in my career I was told that the most important job that I had as CEO was to develop people. I believe that is true today and will always be true. No matter the advancement in technology, regulatory or standards environment or whatever business concern that we have, without an appropriate and continuing focus on development of people, we jeopardize the success of our business.
— Gary Bolinger, President and CEO, Indiana CPA Society
Read. The people you meet and the books you read will determine who you will be in five years.
— Gary Boomer, Visionary and strategist, Boomer Consulting Inc.
A senior manager during my time at Arthur Andersen taught me what it means to truly integrate work and life in a way that achieves the balance you desire. That balance must be determined by the individual; there is no “one size fits all” formula. His words and actions have stuck with me throughout my career.
— Jim Boomer, CEO and shareholder, Boomer Consulting Inc.
At work: It was actually from my CEO, Bill Hagaman. Every single time that he wants me to challenge myself and he knows that I am leery about pushing myself, he will say “Bourkey, make it happen.” I used to hate when he told me that because I knew that I was always up for another monumental challenge. But over the years I have embraced it and now simply strive “to make it happen!”
At home: From my wife, Jody. Whenever I am challenged with confrontation or people that may not necessarily be on the same page as me she tells me “Just take the high road.” I’ve learned that by taking the high road in the end I will usually prevail and create less friction in getting to that point.
— Jim Bourke, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
So much good advice! It’s hard to choose. I’d say, though, that a touchstone of mine is authenticity and just this week I received a note from someone in the profession I respect very much and her advice to me in the coming year and in my new role is to “Keep doing your thing.” For many years I tried to find someone to emulate; over time, though, the more focused I became on simply being myself, and approaching every day with my natural curiosity and annoying optimism, the better work I did and the more I enjoyed it. That doesn’t mean I don’t continue to learn and develop, but I don’t try to compare what I do to others, just to what I know I’m capable of doing.
— Jennifer Briggs, CEO-designate, Indiana CPA Society
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.
— Dawn Brolin, CEO, Powerful Accounting
Two pieces of advice have impacted me the most.
The first was business-related and came from a successful venture capitalist: “If you have the choice between building great knowledge or a great network, take a great network every time. Build relationships with people.”
This advice did not mean that learning is not important; it is saying that you get much more from the knowledge and the wisdom of others through their experiences and expertise. Although this advice was provided from a business perspective, I believe it is also true in everyday life.
The second piece of advice addresses priorities. It came from a pastor who provides care and comfort to the terminally ill. His advice came from his experience helping thousands of people through the last days of their lives.
This pastor told me that there are only two questions that a person is concerned with in the last moments of life: “Did I love others, and did I allow myself to be loved?” From this advice and perspective, I understand that the most important priority in life is to treat everyone the way you would want to be treated – not just in your personal life, but also in your professional life. In the end, that is all that matters.
— Jim Buttonow, Director of tax audit & notice services, H&R Block
Be acutely aware of what you do not know.
— Paul Caron, Publisher and editor-in-chief, TaxProf Blog
“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.
— Michael Cerami, Vice president of business development and corporate strategy, CPA.com
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received – and the lesson I share with others every chance I get – is to appreciate and understand the value of building and sustaining relationships. The importance of relationship acumen cannot be overstated. (I devoted an entire chapter to the topic in “Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail.”) You can’t wait until you’re faced with challenges to build trusting relationships with those you might have occasion to call on later for assistance. I know that communication can be a struggle, particularly for those often viewed as introverts – and I daresay that includes many of us in accounting and internal auditing. Communication, though, needs to start long before an audit engagement, beginning with the relationships you cultivate with stakeholders and others within an organization. Indeed, survey results from the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Common Body of Knowledge indicate that the core competency stakeholders value most is the ability to communicate – not only in the writing of reports, but also when it comes to oral, written and presentation skills. If you don’t have the ability to converse with stakeholders informally, building positive relationships with them before you start the audit, chances are you will find yourself at a great disadvantage during the engagement. Building open, trusting, and enduring relationships helps ensure that each engagement is going to yield more value and greater success. No matter how strong you think your relationship skills are, a wise auditor is always prepared to learn new ones.
— Richard Chambers, President and CEO, Institute of Internal Auditors
90 percent of life is just showing up.
— Jack Ciesielski, Publisher, The Analyst’s Accounting Observer
Don’t burn a bridge. Or, in more positive terms, always value and prioritize long-term relationships. Just because a current opportunity doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean there won’t be chances to engage in the future. In the meantime, focus on adding value to every interaction and take the long view.
— David Cieslak, Principal, Arxis Technology
During my time in sales, I was told: Don’t just talk; you need to listen. This also applies in our profession. Too often we are so focused on what we are trying to communicate, that we don’t take time to listen to what someone is telling us. It can open new opportunities as well as provide insights to the client, the situation and to life. This becomes even more important as we are distracted by our personal technology. We all need to put down the cell phone and listen.
— Lauren Clemmer, Executive director, AAM
Focus on what is in your own highest good while always doing the right thing.
— Mario Costanz, CEO, Happy Tax
Find your passion, and God-given gifts. Then help others by using them.
— Gale Crosley, President, Crosley+Co.
Toss-up between “Be healthy in mind and body” and “Adapt.”
“Be healthy in mind and body.” Without good health most everything else in life becomes meaningless. We need a healthy mind to create a forward and positive path in business and in life. A healthy mind allows us to be aware, be positive, and enjoy!
“Adapt.” Adaptation is essential to success in business and in life. Success is not the survival of the fittest but survival of the most effective adaptor to change and all that it entails.
— Loretta Doon, CEO, California Society of CPAs
While artificial intelligence will unleash new levels of productivity, the role of accountants will change in the new cognitive era. In this new workforce paradigm, the way we work will be transformed. As the workforce of the future becomes a reality, business leaders need to develop a technology strategy that aligns with corporate values, builds stakeholder trust, and protects the company’s reputation.
— Lynne Doughtie, Chairman & CEO, KPMG US
Recently, my wife shared with me this piece of advice from Harry S Truman: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and advise them to do it.”
— James Doty, Chairman, PCAOB
Avoid debt like the plague, and honor God with what you do have.
— Phil Drake, Founder and CEO, Drake Software
Always raise money before you need to and more than you’ll think you’ll need. That strategy allowed Xero to keep growing strongly while markets have been rocky over the last 5 years.
— Rod Drury, Founder and CEO, Xero
I am fortunate to have received lots of great advice and lessons learned but my favorite is to "enjoy the journey." As a very goal-oriented professional, it would be very easy for me to move from one goal to another without taking the time to really enjoy the process of new experiences. This great advice made me pause and reflect on ways I could reorganize my day and schedule so that I can be "present." Whether I am in a board meeting, as a school trip chaperone or in a company meeting, I am determined to enjoy every moment. This approach enables me to approach life with a zest that I hope is infectious and conveys my love for the accounting profession.
— Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, Chair, AICPA
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.
— Cathy Engelbert, CEO, Deloitte
You can learn a lot more by listening than talking.
— Domenick Esposito, CEO, Esposito CEO2CEO
It was one word: Notice. At the time, I was struggling to incorporate feedback and effect a change in the way I was interacting with my team and communicating as a new leader. What I learned from that advice is that you can only change when you can see and feel, in real time, when you are exhibiting the behavior that you are trying to change. The only way to do that is to work on noticing when you are doing it. At first, you will notice after the fact – perhaps hours, days or weeks later. Over time, that time will shorten to the point where you will notice right afterward. If you stick with it, the magic moment will come when you notice right before you are about to do it. I call that the magic moment, because change can only happen when you are self-aware, intentional, and able to interrupt your own habits and patterns so that you can build or create new ones. It is a powerful moment and one that leads to meaningful, lasting change!
— Jina Etienne, President and CEO, NABA
From a college professor at the University of Dayton: Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.
— Kim Fantaci, President, CPAFMA
The piece of business advice I remember most was from a business management professor who said, “You have to know your competition.”
— George Farrah, Editorial director, Tax and Accounting, Bloomberg BNA
Love what you do and do what you love. If you’re not excited to go to work every day, you’re in the wrong profession.
— John Farrer, Founder and CEO, Right Networks
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.
— Lewis Ferguson, Board member, PCAOB
Embrace the power of “And.” It will force you to think more expansively, prepare more exhaustively and be more inclusive in your collaborations.
I bestow this advice on others at least once a week, usually when challenges or solutions are presented as a “this way or that way” scenario. Having an “And” mentality usually resolves more issues and has a more far-reaching effect.
— Joanne Fiore, Vice president of professional media, academic and student engagement, AICPA
Early in my career, I was fortunate to have two mentors whose guidance shaped my career, my leadership style, and my overall outlook on life. One of my mentors taught me an invaluable lesson: the importance of regularly pausing to step back and reflect on the big picture. As we all get increasingly bombarded by day-to-day information in our personal and professional lives — social media, e-mail, text messages and so on — this lesson seems more valuable than ever.
— Cindy Fornelli, Executive director, CAQ
My business school professor, Germain Boer, who was an accountant and who encouraged me to start Confirmation.com ends every e-mail with, “Never give up!” I love that encouragement and advice.
— Brian Fox, Founder and president, Confirmation.com
Dave Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., used to dish out lots of good advice to the staff and management at the GAO, and the many audiences he addressed as comptroller general. Some of his key advice, which I embraced during my tenure at GAO, included the following:
Adopt a set of core values to serve as a foundation for how you will live your life and make decisions every day;
Use those core values to set a true course and make good decisions on complex and controversial issues;
Don’t be afraid to say what you mean, and mean what you say; and
Have the courage of your convictions and do what you think is right, even if it may not be popular.
— Jeanette Franzel, Board member, PCAOB
Embrace disruption and change when others fear it.
— Lee Frederiksen, Managing partner, Hinge Strategy
Ron Baker said: You will never get the price you want, if you don’t ask for it.
— Hector Garcia, CEO, QuickBookkeeping & Accounting
“Listen to those with more knowledge and experience.”
— J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Prior to Xero, I spent eight years at Capital One, where I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with CEO Rich Fairbank. He was, in essence, a startup founder who in 20 years led Capital One to its ranking today as a top 10 bank. Rich taught me a lot, but the one piece of advice that has really stuck with me is to play an endgame; to figure out where the future sits and move towards it. Never play to today's market, but instead play by your own rules.
— Keri Gohman, President, Xero Americas
Always remain ethical.
— Russell Golden, Chairman, FASB
Stay focused on the metrics of your firm, the markets in which you serve, and the people who make it happen.
— Louis Grassi, CEO and managing partner, Grassi & Co.
I received this advice at the beginning of my professional career (from a former employer): “Make it happen. Don’t wait for me to tell you what to do. Go do it. It is up to you.”
I still live by this advice and frequently give it to others as well. The future is yours to make the best of!
— Angie Grissom, President, The Rainmaker Companies
Set ambitious targets and chase them down.
Andrew Harding, Chief executive, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
“Have no fear, and do the right thing.” I have found that whenever in doubt, I can always get to the core of knowing I'm doing the right thing for a customer, for myself, and for the business. Being fearless about pursuing opportunities and doing the right thing ensures you're always on the right track and continuing to innovate.
— Joe Harpaz, Senior vice president and managing director, corporate segment, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
A tax client told me early in my career, “It’s not your job to make sure I never get an audit. It’s not your job if I get an audit to guarantee I never owe additional money. What is your job is for me not to be surprised.”
— Roger Harris, President and COO, Padgett Business Services
On the personal side: Be honest, kind and stand up for what you believe in.
On the professional side: Surround yourself with top-flight professionals with diverse backgrounds and listen to them carefully before making important decisions.
— Steven Harris, Board member, PCAOB
My father: Keep God first, be humble, pray daily and be grateful.
— Joey Havens, Executive partner, Horne
Listen and learn. I’ve had the privilege to work and partner with some of the greatest companies in the world including Bob Moritz at PwC who told me that a company’s next opportunity will not be uncovered by one individual, but by the collective experiences and learnings of the group. I’ve approached each day of my career thinking who can I learn from and how can I apply that to the accounting profession and our organization.
— Ryan Himmel, Financial partnerships lead, Xero Americas
Hire smart and develop your team. It is easy to hire people who are like ourselves. Leaders hire to expand not on their strengths, but on their weaknesses. Once they are on your team, it is the leader’s responsibility to nurture and develop the strengths of their team members. (Contributing to the lack of exit strategies is the fact that many Baby Boomer leaders of firms have failed to develop the next generation of leaders within their firm. They simply have no one qualified to take the helm.)
— Christine Hollinden, Principal and founder, Hollinden
People and process matter. Lesson learned as the volunteer head of the CPA Vision Project in 1999, which has stayed with me is when leading major change and transformation, process matters. Process that gets people involved and allows comment and buy-in which leads to alignment.
— Tom Hood, CEO and executive director, MACPA
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.
— Dustin Hostetler, Shareholder and chief innovation officer, Boomer Consulting
The best advice I received from one of my mentors was to achieve balance across multiple spectrums – family, health, education, career and community. When all of these areas can work together seamlessly, the results will be tremendously satisfying. At EY, we know that building a better working world starts with our people’s ability to bring all of themselves to everything we do, from delivering client service excellence, to being active participants in our communities and being members of inclusive high performance teams. So while living a well-rounded life is a personal priority, it is also one that we are passionate about helping all of our people achieve.
— Stephen Howe, Managing partner, EY
Life is not a dress rehearsal, so enjoy each day!
— Charles Hylan, Partner, The Growth Partnership
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.
— Sarah Johnson Dobek, President and founder, Inovautus Consulting
The difference between a professional and an amateur is knowledge of and practice of the little things.
Life is a journey, not a destination. Choose to explore and enjoy everything along the way. Don’t wait until later since you may not have a second chance.
— Randy Johnston, Executive vice president and partner, K2 Enterprises; CEO, NMGI
A former mentor and boss once used the phrase, “The candle is not worth the game.” Then she had to sit back and explain it to me.
Knowing when the stakes are not worth the effort and that it is time to move onto the next project can be tough but usually more valuable at the end.
— Warner Johnston, Interim head of North America, ACCA USA
Several days after I learned that I passed the CPA Exam, the partner I reported to in the CPA firm in which I was employed had a conversation with me about my future in the CPA profession. He was extremely upbeat and positive but he also told me that I had a responsibility to the profession – to influence it, to shape it and to give back to it. He told me to join the AICPA and my state CPA society, and to become active immediately. He backed up his words by paying my dues and allowing me the time to become active – and this was a very small CPA firm. I was active with my state CPA society for many years – serving on two committees, chairing one and serving on its board of directors.
The advice I received from this partner had a profound influence on my career – in part, having an influence on my decision to join the AICPA. The advice also has given me a deep appreciation of the many, many CPAs I have met over the years who volunteer in AICPA’s committee structure and who significantly contribute to our success.
— Edward Karl, Vice president of taxation, AICPA
“Rita, get over it.” I had a nagging issue at my firm. Times were changing and employees wanted less rigid rules and guidelines. I grew up in the old-school world where “professional” meant something very different than we now witness. It was about the way you talked, the way you dressed, etc. I was struggling with getting “my way” with a new dress code. A great mentor of mine said those words to me (“Rita, get over it.”) — another way to say it is, “Let things go” and move on and I have learned to do that with understanding, and often joy.
— Rita Keller, President, Keller Advisors
“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.
— Roman Kepczyk, Director of consulting, Xcentric
That vagueness is the enemy of progress. In my view, the lack of productivity is due to a lack of clarity, either about the expected results or in the assignment itself. Leaders are at fault for not being clear, and followers are at fault for not seeking clarification.
— Ed Kless, Senior director, Sage
Empathy trumps knowledge: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It’s not about you, it’s all about the client: Learn to listen so you can listen to learn.
Management is about getting results through others: Great leadership and management is getting people to a place they probably couldn’t have reached on their own.
When times are tough, force yourself to stay above water: When you’re having a really bad day, remind yourself of the worst job you had in high school or college and then ask yourself, “Is the problem really all that bad?”
On accomplishing things and getting things done in business: Every day, pick the three most important things you need to get done and accomplish those things first – no matter what.
— Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group
The best advice I received actually came from a former professional athlete to another professional athlete and I realized it fits for everyone. It was treating people as if they are the most important person when speaking to them, remembering that you pass the same people on the way up the ladder as on the way down.
— Mark Koziel, Executive vice president – public accounting, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Raise your rate — you’re worth it.
— Art Kuesel, President and owner, Kuesel Consulting
My grandfather always told me that “the most important way to success in business is to listen.” That’s one of the fundamental principles of all of my businesses, including Bill.com. I don’t know everything, but I’m fortunate enough to work with smart practitioners and employees that can help me anticipate and address evolving business challenges.
— Rene Lacerte, Founder and CEO, Bill.com
“Never burn a bridge.” I was mentored very early with that as a mantra and it’s served me very well. I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained solid relationships with all the employers and colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the past 45-plus years. A big part of “bridge work” is personal contact, so I work hard at staying in touch with people.
— Gregory LaFollette, Strategic advisor, CPA.com
I’ve heard this advice repeatedly, but the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was: “The risk of not doing anything is far worse than if we transform.”
This is a piece of advice I use in my teaching profession each day. As the profession changes, the accounting curriculum must change as well, and this means a lot of work needs to be done on each course curriculum which I am responsible for. Just a few years ago, the curriculum we had didn’t prepare students for the accounting profession or lead students to take the CPA Exam. The work was tedious and a lot of time was devoted to it, but if I didn’t lead the change and adapt our program to the professional’s needs, we would not be preparing students for the technological advances in the profession today. Today, we achieve 100 percent employment of my accounting graduates annually. Students learn how to integrate Microsoft Dynamics into their accounting knowledge. Our students put a lot of time and effort in experiential learning methods, rather than just standard theory methods which alone do not prepare students to be great accountants. It’s not a question of if changes are going to occur, it’s now a question of how fast will they come.
— Patrick Lee, Assistant professor of accounting, Southwestern College
“Your time is precious. Work with the people who really want to work with you.” This advice has saved me a lot of time (and heartache) over the years!
— Kristen Lewis, Director of marketing, EisnerAmper
Work hard, do more than you are asked, don’t look for credit.
— Taylor MacDonald, Senior vice president of channels, Intacct
Gretchen Pisano, a coaching and facilitation expert who works with many in the accounting profession, focuses on positivity – a much-needed balance in a world where negative news and challenging business environments prevail. One of the formulas she shared with me was about how the way you respond to events impacts outcomes, or (E)motion + R(esponse) = O(utcome). This advice is simple and yet profoundly transformative in managing stress and change in today’s workplace.
— Janice Maiman, Executive vice president of communications, public relations and brand, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
The best piece of advice that I’ve ever received was to figure out what it is that you do best, then work at being the best at it.
— Stephen Mankowski, President, NCCPAP
Most of my business and industry knowledge has come from advice of others and it is vital that we engage and leverage the knowledge of our peers. In the last year, I started to work with a business coach, Dave Evans, owner of Real Leadership Coaching, and he helped provide great clarity to my business through some specific advice. Dave’s advice was to build my long-term and short-term goals around a one-page “framework” that incorporates the firm’s values and beliefs and specific business strategies that can be easily communicated, supported, and managed by a team. This advice advanced the skills and commitment of every team member in all our organizations. It also allowed me to stay focused on our vision and become a true organizational leader bringing great excitement and vision to our organizations.
— Sean Manning, CEO and co-founder, Payroll Vault Franchising
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.
Samantha Mansfield, Director of professional development and community, CPA.com
The best business advice I’ve ever received was from an early mentor in the financial services industry. His simple but important advice was to always think about and manage the downside. He told me it was important to have a spine and to be bold to win, but in order to succeed with longevity in business that boldness must allow you to experiment routinely and to fail fast and small. Cultivating a culture of smart risk taking is what generates the most long-term and sustainable success.
— Jason Marx, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, North America
You can do anything if you try, and never, ever give up.
- “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” –Babe Ruth
- “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” ― Mark Twain
— Chuck McCabe, Founder, president and CEO, The Income Tax School
"Good things happen to those who have passion and commitment ... keep pushing forward." This is what Augie Nieto, my best friend and partner in a business that became Life Fitness, told me shortly after I left the partnership to pursue something else. Life Fitness went on to revolutionize the fitness industry and change the way we view our personal health. Although I missed that ride, I am proud of Augie for his dedication to the goal even when it was hard - I turned back too soon.
Most people give up when exhaustion sets in. Augie taught me that champions continue when others turn back! I never forgot that lesson and strive to bring passion and commitment to work every day. To make the lesson even more dramatic, Augie was diagnosed with ALS 12 years ago. He has never given up. Though he can barely move a muscle, is confined to a wheelchair, can't breathe without a respirator, or even talk, he has raised over $60 million toward a cure. They say ALS is Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but it’s Augie's Cure. Every day he is an inspiration for commitment.
— Scott McFarlane, Co-founder and CEO, Avalara
The best advice I ever got was: “Always be curious.” Always ask: Why are things the way they are; how can we improve by doing things differently; and, who can I add to my team to bring a diverse solution to a problem? That’s how we open ourselves up to innovation and improvement. This advice has been so valuable for me, we’ve incorporated it into our firm’s culture. And it points directly to one more great piece of advice for everyone: “Find a good mentor outside of your normal sphere of influence.” They can help you expand your perspective to overcome difficult challenges. And they can give you important advice – such as, “Always be curious”!
— Mike McGuire, CEO, Grant Thornton
First, perfection is the enemy of progress. As a profession and individual professionals we like the perfect answer. The world doesn't work that way as much today. We have to understand uncertainty, and complexity today requires us to be flexible.
Second, is the emphasis on “and.” Multiple strategies and decisions with options are required in today's environment
Third, is we must be focused on the short run and the long term. The adage says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago" – but the second best time is today; don't let the concern of hindsight stop you from doing something now.
— Barry Melancon, President and CEO, AICPA
“The balance sheet is more important than the P&L.” You can tell everything you need to know about a company looking at its assets and liabilities. The partner at my first accounting job told me this and its rung true ever since. People focus on the P&L, but the real meat is in the balance sheet.
— Trisha Ann Melikian, @parva_x
“Work carefully and deliberately and make sure you listen to and understand my instructions. If you cannot do the easy things right, how can I trust you to do the difficult things?”
— Edward Mendlowitz, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
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.
— Stan Mork, President, ITA
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.
— CeCe Morken, Executive vice president and general manager, Intuit ProConnect Group, Intuit Inc.
Ignore most people’s advice.
— Caleb Newquist, Founding editor, Going Concern
The best piece of advice I ever received came in two parts: (a) never take a laxative and a sleeping pill at the same time, and (b) never lick both sides of a knife. On a more serious note, as a young man my mentor named Don Istvan always advised me to "tell people (clients) what I always believed to be the truth about their situations. Don't sugar-coat it, don't beat around the bush. People pay you for your opinion and ideas, so give it to them.” I've always heeded that advice and encouraged my clients to do the same. There are many consultants and advisors to the profession who tell their CPA clients what they thought they wanted to hear to keep their consulting gig, versus what they really needed to hear. I'm sure my candor over the years has cost me a client now and then, but I've always kept true to myself. I've abhorred listening to consultants pander to their clients and offer the wrong advice to keep a gig. I'm convinced I have been a better advisor and far more appreciated offer my honest feelings.
— Jay Nisberg, President, Jay Nisberg & Associates
Given that the question asks what the best advice is I’ve received (not necessarily followed as well as I’d like to have) … I’d have to cite what is generally referred to as the “Serenity prayer.” Even if one leaves out specific mention of a higher power, it is great overarching advice, under which other, more targeted advice can be effected. In its most general form, it goes like this: Grant me: the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In a world where so much change is taking place – Artificial intelligence! Machine learning! — at such an rapid pace, it is important that experienced accountants not get discouraged by what they believe they cannot do, and instead focus their attention on what they can do – such as learning new skills.
It was only about five years ago, when many U.S. accountants were concerned about having to potentially move to IFRS, there was some talk among some folks about whether retiring was the better option than learning an entirely new set of GAAP.
Now that the IFRS roadmap has slowed down, and turned more toward a common set of high quality standards vs. replacing one set of GAAP for another — even before accountants could stop and take a breath — it seems the inevitable march of technology is here to stay. Unlike the U.S. GAAP/IFRS quiet revolution, where both sets of standards will, at least for the time being, peacefully reside, technological advancements threaten to displace a significant number of accounting jobs, whether tax, audit, or financial reporting-related.
This is where it is neither good to hide in the sand, nor to go down with the ship. Accept the changing tides that you cannot change, as they impact and will impact your company or client base, and have the courage to leap ahead in the midst of this change. Get ahold of a life preserver, jump on a boat, and learn to swim in these uncharted waters, but above all don’t give up, and if you don’t know what to do, turn to the resources offered by educational organizations and professional associations at the national, state and local level, which include virtual training and networking as well.
— Edith Orenstein, Associate editor, MACPA
“Don’t let the chip on your shoulder from how you were once treated hold you back from learning from the experiences of other old white guys. We are not all like that.”
Women in the profession are still grossly under-represented in the profession as partners. It’s hard to sometimes be “the only one in the room” from both a demographic and psychographic (showing New Firm ways). However, the more I have evolved, nothing is “all or nothing” and sometimes our own bias holds us back from the real intention of feedback. Also, I have come to find a lot of support and help from “these guys” who are adopting these new ways of thinking. However, it wasn’t until I was given the advice that my perspective was able to be open to all the growth that has resulted from it.
— Jody Padar, CEO and principal, New Vision CPA Group
My mother told me, “Before and after you do what you do, someone gets impacted by it.” It took me years to truly comprehend the depth of this advice that you must recognize your impact and do things differently to enhance the positivity of your impacts.
I can profoundly relate it to the accounting profession, and accountants. For example, it is not enough for any accountant to inform any person that he or she made a loss, but it is for the accountant to help that person understand why the numbers are what they are and how they are a result of the decisions that person has taken and not taken. It is not enough for an accountant to just prepare a tax return and even offer tax planning, but to relate how the future possibilities of doing or not doing the tax planning can impact, positively or negatively, the future life of that person. Accountants need to recognize the magnitude of the impact of what they do, even before they do what they do and after they do what they do.
— Hitendra Patil, Director of practice development, AccountantsWorld
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.
— Brian Peccarelli, President, The Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters
Truly listen before speaking.
— Carl Peterson, Vice president of small firm interests, AICPA
While it’s difficult to choose just one piece of advice that has inspired me, there have been a couple of formative experiences in my life that I’ve carried with me for the past 30 years and have had a significant impact on my unique teaching methodology. I was born into a family of teachers — from Ph.Ds in Physics and Mathematics to a Harvard Ph.D in Psychology — so education has always been highly valued in my family and seen as a true profession of passion. Despite this innate aptitude I had for teaching, I went off to college at California State University to instead study accounting. It was my Intermediate II professor that helped me fully realize my passion for teaching. His instruction taught me the importance of balancing the difficult concepts of accounting with personality in order to captivate students and teach them even the most difficult of topics. I attribute my success of helping people understand complicated accounting subjects and concepts to both my family and college instructors.
— Roger Philipp, CEO and owner, Roger CPA Review
Everyone wants to know the secret to success, but it’s not a secret. It’s hard work.
— Jeff Phillips, CEO, Accountingfly
Love one another. Building trust and authentic relationships with people is everything. We are meant to live in community and help others with the resources (time, treasure, talent, etc.) that we have. When more people are successful and engaged in communities, they can then empower more people. Always think about how you can be helping others more.
— Elizabeth Pittelkow, Director of accounting and compliance, ArrowStream Inc.
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.
— Amy Pitter, President and CEO, Massachusetts Society of CPAs
“Don’t believe your own hype.” In other words, stay grounded and always be willing to listen, learn, and grow.
— Terri Polley, President and CEO, FAF
My father owned a shoe store and my brothers (two of whom are CPAs and I’ve had the pleasure of working with) and I learned everything we know about customer service from our father. He taught us about problem-solving and adapting to trends. Most importantly, we learned that working with him wasn’t really about selling shoes, but it’s about providing what people need and want. I’ve carried his guidance, of providing our clients, our team members, their families, our community, and our profession with what they need and want.
— Charles Postal, Managing partner, Santos, Postal & Co.
“No” becomes your best friend. The more times you hear the word “No,” the further you are on your journey to hearing more people say, “Yes yes yes!”
Just do it - last year I took this advice and it led to the creation of Bookkeeper & Accounting Revolution, which now has 23,000 members in its online communities.
— Melanie Power, Head of bookkeeping, Xero
The owner of the company my father worked for, who was also a CPA, told me as a part of my interview of him for my 9th grade careers project that I’d make a great CPA. At the time I had no idea of how prescient that comment was. I never forgot it.
— Terrence Putney, CEO, Transition Advisors
The best advice I received was to create an online presence and a personal brand for myself and my services. This advice has changed my view of the traditional marketing model for accounting firms. Firms of the future will have to rethink the way they get and keep clients and the first step to doing that is by fundamentally changing the way they market their services. Creating an online presence allows you to become a thought leader and help transform the accounting industry over the next decade and beyond.
— Jeremias Ramos, Editor-in-chief, The Daily CPA
“Performance buys you the freedom to grow as yourself.” We all want to develop and make progress in our careers and lives, and performing well, with courage and commitment earns us the right to grow.
— Ian Rhind, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Corporate Performance Solutions
“You never fail until you stop trying.” — Albert Einstein.
Nothing can prepare you for the challenges of being an entrepreneur, or for the knowledge and relationships necessary to advance a profession that sits at the intersection of accounting, securities law, finance, and sustainability. I’ve received lots of advice, good and bad. My experience is that everyone likes progress, but no one likes change. After six years of standards-setting in the sustainability accounting area, what I come back to again and again is Albert Einstein’s saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.” We are beginning to make progress. Change will take longer. But in time, sustainability fundamentals will be as accessible and reliable as financial fundamentals and the markets will be able to react. Market infrastructure takes time and input from many market participants, but we will keep trying.
— Jean Rogers, Chair, SASB Standards Board
“Begin with the end in mind” (Stephen Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) is the piece of advice that changed the way I approached business and life. It’s this mindset that helped me live life and do business with intention.
— Darren Root, CEO, Rootworks
Make an impact in whatever you do. Whatever you do, do it 100 percent. I hate survey questions that provide a neutral response. I am frustrated by partners who refuse to express opinions on critical issues discussed at retreats. Everyone has an opinion. Or at least they should. When completing a consulting project with a firm, I try hard to ensure that the impact of my work is crystal-clear, erring on the side of offending someone with my boldness, instead of trying to get smiles with milquetoast advice.
— Marc Rosenberg, President, The Rosenberg Associates
Figure out what your highest and best use is and focus on that, hiring outside experts to do the rest.
— Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, President, bbr marketing
Don’t compromise who you are, and if you work hard you get lucky.
— Jane Scaccetti, Co-founder and CEO, Drucker & Scaccetti
Many years ago, I was given a life lesson around giving and receiving. It was even described to me at that time as “the secret to life.” It was simply this: The secret to life lies in the ability to know how to give in life and truly the ability to know how to receive in life. These are difficult things. Some people in the world are very, very good givers. Many times, those same givers may not be the best at receiving. It is critical that, in life, we learn how to be great givers and we learn how to be great at receiving gifts and receiving the benefits that are given to us — even when a gift or benefit comes disguised as a complaint or a roadblock. I think about this when I interact with people. What can I give that will help this person? What can I graciously receive that will help me know them better and understand what they need? The secret to a purposeful life — it really is that simple.
— Denny Schleper, CEO, CliftonLarsonAllen
It’s simple, but my dad once told me that life is two steps forward and one step back. Just as important as your successes will be the way that you respond to and recover from the inevitable failures – both professionally and personally. You must trust in your approach and not let the setbacks change the way you do things. The most important thing you can do is to keep pushing forward.
— Russell Shapiro, Partner, Levenfeld Pearlstein
The best piece of “advice” I ever received happened when I was 23 years old. I was a financial analyst and had just put together an analysis of the previous month’s results after getting information from our Taiwan manufacturing staff. I took the analysis into my director’s office. Clearly, the analysis was insufficient as my director looked at me and said “Todd, I know you’re better than this”. Wow, that shook and woke me up. I pledged to myself, at that time, to always make sure that my analyses were thorough and made sense.
— Todd Shapiro, President and CEO, Illinois CPA Society
Two pieces of advice come to mind.
The first came from my father, and the short version is this: Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. If it’s work you must do, do your best work.
The second came from my boss, Tom Hood. It boils down to this: Your path to success depends on your ability to outlearn the pace of change. Our profession is transforming before our eyes. We can’t change that. What we can do is learn the skills that will help us succeed in this “new normal.” Fast Company editor Robert Safian says the most important skill we’ll need going forward is the ability to learn new skills. I believe that.
— Bill Sheridan, Chief communications officer, MACPA
“It’s always about the client.” This advice has helped me transition my thinking from transactional service delivery to true product development. While delivering service is important, maintaining a focus on the client drives me to think through every element of product and ask, “How does this best serve our clients.” The end result is solutions that solve real pain points for the profession.
— Kristy Short, Partner and chief marketing officer, Rootworks
“There are people’s perceptions and there is reality – don’t waste my time with reality.” Always do your best to look at things the way others perceive them. This was told to me by the business manager and CFO of very successful professional sports team and business conglomerate.
— Michael Silver, Microsoft Dynamics 365 partner recruitment and channel enablement, Microsoft
Don't focus on profit. Focus on helping your clients succeed and you will make a profit.
— Joel Sinkin, President, Transition Advisors
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.
— Mark Soticheck, COO, North Carolina Association of CPAs
Hire smarter people than you. Take care of them. Listen to them and they will take care of your customers. (Advice from my mother)
— Christopher Stark, President and CEO, Cetrom
“Surround yourself with the best possible people” is the best advice I have ever received. This is especially true in the public accounting profession. The most successful firms have great people and strong leaders with positive energy.
— Joseph Tarasco, CEO, Accountants Advisory Group
You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen at least twice as much as you speak.
— Rick Telberg, Founder and CEO, CPA Trendlines
Ask for support — it is impossible to know everything —lean in.
— Arleen Thomas, Managing director, Americas, and CGMA global offerings, AICPA
The best piece of advice I ever received is to be a good listener and maintain a personal touch. These go hand in hand in creating an effective leader. One can get caught up putting actions into place instead of connecting with those around you, whether it’s clients, staff or colleagues. Being a good listener helps you to know what course you should take, and putting a personal touch on those actions, whether it’s face-to-face visits or a call, helps ensure you are going about it the right way.
— Ralph Thomas, CEO and executive director, NJCPA
The best advice I ever received was that to add value in your position, you need to learn the business. This gives you the context to learn, grow, and influence. “The business” includes your industry, how value flows, your customers, how decisions are made in your company, and what are the levers to being an influential business partner.
— Jeffrey Thomson, President and CEO, IMA
Always start a business whose primarily ingredient is water. The margins are fantastic.
Take a job where you can’t fall off the floor. The only option you have is to go up.
Parenting is a slow retreat.
— Ian Vacin, Co-founder and vice president of education and partnerships, Karbon
“Live a balanced and meaningful life.” So often we get caught up in it all and get our lives totally out of balance. Technology has brought about significant benefits, but we must fight to make sure technology doesn’t control our life. Work/life balance is so important, yet we often give it little focus. Take the time prioritize and set life goals just like one sets professional goals.
— David Vaudt, Chairman, GASB
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.
— Amy Vetter, Global vice president of education and head of accounting, USA, Xero
Don’t be afraid to try new things or volunteer for new projects you never know what opportunities will present themselves as a result.
— Garrett Wagner, CEO, C3 Evolution Group
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.
— Jennifer Warawa, Executive vice president of partners, accountants and alliances, Sage
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.
— Tom Wheelwright, CEO, Provision
Aim so high that you will never be bored. Aim high soaring! Aim low boring!!!
— Philip Whitman, President and CEO, Whitman Business Advisors
When I ran into challenges early in my life – some of them that felt pretty devastating – my Dad said, “You have one day to whine, cry and feel sorry for yourself. Then, pick yourself up and don’t let it get you down. What you are going through can only destroy you if you let it.” It has saved me many times in my life.
— Sandra Wiley, President and Shareholder, Boomer Consulting Inc.
Do not give up. Be relentless. When it doesn’t work the first time, try something else. Be #unstoppable.
— Jennifer Wilson, Co-founder and owner, ConvergenceCoaching
Hire for aptitude over ability. If the aptitude is a fit for your business, you can solve the ability problem with training and patience. However, aptitude is the fruit of determination, motivation and work ethic and much more difficult, if not impossible, to engender in others. (Paraphrased from a Q&A session with Scott Cook and an audience of accounting professions in 2001.)
— Joe Woodard, CEO, Woodard Events
Everything is not “black and white” or “right or wrong.” There is a lot of grey in the world and you have to be able to navigate through it. You have to hold onto your standards and beliefs but also be able to accept those of others with different interpretations. Of course, I’m not talking about compliance with laws and regulations or the Tax Code, which have limits on the ability for interpretation.
— Candace Wright, Chair, PCC
Treat others as you would like to be treated and be honest. As a consultant, I am honest with my clients and my staff. If someone wants to hire me to do something they don’t need – I am honest and tell them. I’d rather develop a relationship based on trust and respect than just make money. This philosophy has served me well.
— Diane Yetter, President, Yetter
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