2019 Top 100 People extra: Career obstacles
As part of this year’s Top 100 Most Influential People survey, Accounting Today asked, “Have you faced a major obstacle or challenge in your career? How did you overcome it?”
The full responses of all the candidates are below.
I have been in a global role for most of my career but when I was first making that shift, I knew that the only way to be successful would be to take the time to understand how to operate in different cultures. I spent a lot of time learning about unique customs and protocols and I incorporated that into my day to day approach. That approach has served me well, and like so many other things, when you understand diversity and respect similarities and differences, it ultimately makes things better and leads to better results all around
— Karen Abramson, CEO, Wolters Kluwer, Tax & Accounting Global Division
RSM has been a great place to work throughout my career, and I have been afforded many opportunities to grow and learn. One of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on and the achievement of which I’m most proud is when McGladrey & Pullen, LLP completed the acquisition of RSM McGladrey, Inc. from H&R Block on Dec. 1, 2011, returning our firm to a traditional partner-owned structure. This is when I was named managing partner and CEO of the combined firm but, more importantly, it marked a significant milestone that galvanized RSM’s strategy and culture. Like most challenges, it started with listening, vision and values, which are the hallmarks to success. This propelled our firm to the next level, and it has created significant benefit for our clients, all of our people, the profession and the communities in which we operate.
— Joe Adams, Managing Partner and CEO, RSM US
Early in my career I was a young product manager. Our CTO was a great leader, won national prizes and was very influential. He had some significant criticism about a product I was working on. Deutsche Telekom (largest telco in Europe) had strong criticism about a product I was working on.
My problem was that my analysis showed that the way I was designing the product was the correct way, and I just could not agree with my CTO and the prospective client. The CTO was smart enough to let me continue with my conviction. The customer agreed to include us in the RFP although he objected to the design.
In the end, we ended up winning a $100 million contract (that later turned into a multi-billion-dollar one) exclusively due to the new product approach we had.
It was a career-defining moment, teaching me to be very analytical, follow my gut and understand that innovation will cause friction, and you should be attentive, but critical.
— Chen Amit, CEO, Tipalti
Trying to work with leadership that was culturally incapable of embracing change. They had a narrow vision for the future and just wanted to milk the status quo.
I realized that it was a bad fit for me, so I left and decided to become a change agent in the audit profession. The result, I started Accountability Plus to work with other firms that were honestly interested in changing in order to drive the change that I saw was needed and is possible.
— Alan Anderson, President and founder, Accountability Plus
Landing from France as an immigrant twice in Silicon Valley and Canada in less than three years apart. Arriving with a rudimentary English was particularly difficult and frustrating experience as I had achieved a high education in Europe, but I had to prove myself all over again. After this, I had contributed significantly in building a high-tech team in Silicon Valley at a young age, but I had to prove myself all over in Canada which is more conservative when it comes to emerging young leaders.
In both cases overcoming it was simple but not easy: You work 12+ hours a day six to seven days a week and deliver more than others without appearing than you do, except to who you report to. Results speak louder than words, but you need to be careful not to build resentment with your colleagues.
— Solon Angel, Founder, MindBridge AI
Early in my consulting career, our firm had a good client that was going to take their work to another consultant. I met with the client to find out what we could do better and how we should do it. They were not satisfied with the way we were handling the engagement. This experience showed me the importance of being mindful of client relations, issues and operations before problems arise. It also taught me not to blame others. It’s not what happens, it is how you react to the situation. Fortunately, we were able to retain the client.
— August Aquila, CEO, Aquila Global Advisors
I was laid off from my first job at a public accounting firm just 15 months into the job. My boss at the time suggested I go into private accounting because he thought I had no future in public accounting.
Not accepting defeat, I looked at as a challenge. I went into my next job with the mindset that I would need to be assertive and consider the business side if I was going to be successful. That approach helped me tremendously in my next job at a large conglomerate in Miami. They ran various businesses, from television to theater and concessions, and I got a lot of experience in a variety of industries and gained the confidence I needed to go back into public accounting.
Shortly thereafter, I saw an ad in the paper that a local accounting firm, Caplan, Morrison, Brown and Co., was hiring. I interviewed, and after a month of negotiations, I joined the firm in September 1977. I worked my way up through the company and became chairman and CEO in 1997 and am happy to say I still enjoy going to work every day as much, if not more, than I did when I first started.
— Tony Argiz, CEO and Chairman, MBAF
Over my career I have experienced numerous challenges and at times setbacks. One thing I learned during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer was the importance of perseverance balanced with perspective to overcome challenges.
— Erik Asgeirsson, President and CEO, CPA.com
When my Plan A (getting married, having babies) didn’t pan out, I pivoted early and learned how to navigate the world solo. I Started to take great pride in the life I was building for myself, by myself. I set goals for myself and began checking them off: graduated college with honors in three years (while working full-time); landed a full-time job at the company I was interning with (and continued to get promoted); purchased my first house at age 23. I got some great advice as a teenager — that is to know how to be successful as “Kim” before I was ever someone’s “other half,” and achieving that goal is probably what I’m most proud of.
— Kim Austin, Business Development Manager, Intuit
When I decided to start LeaseQuery, the biggest challenge I faced was how, as an accountant who was practically allergic to technology, do I build a software company? I had absolutely no programming skills whatsoever, and I did not know how to evaluate programmers to determine if they could actually do the job. My “Aha!” moment occurred when I realized that even though I couldn’t program, I was a subject matter expert. So I could tell the programmers exactly what the software needed to do, and it was their job to figure out how to make it happen. In addition, I read a book called “Don’t Make Me Think.” It changed my entire perspective. Because I felt a bit intimidated by the technology, the book made me realize that the software must be intuitive and easy to use, so that any accountant could understand it with minimal prior exposure.
— George Azih, Founder and CEO, LeaseQuery LLC
Something else I’ve never reflected on; great question. I’d have to say learning that many of the orthodoxies in our profession are wrong was an enormous challenge — unlearning is often harder than learning. From billing by the hour, to tracking time in six-minutes increments as if we don’t trust educated knowledge workers to do the right thing, to occupational licensure and the audit monopoly, these sacred cows are past their prime and should be supplanted. Old strategies rarely produce new results. Does our profession have the vision and courage to change in order to stay relevant?
Quitting the practice of public accounting back in 2000 and throwing myself into writing books, speaking, consulting, podcasting, etc., has been how I’ve tried to influence the discussion in the profession and attempted to challenge my colleagues who cling to the present, which is already dying, and who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement, and profit potential, of value creation. At the beginning of this journey, these messages were not well received by a majority of the profession. But as the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, all truth goes through three steps:
- First, it is ridiculed.
- Second, it is violently opposed.
- Third, it is accepted as self-evident.
I would add a fourth: “I told you it was a good idea all along.” Having some of these ideas finally being accepted is what is most satisfying to me about challenging the status quo.
— Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute
The ability to balance my entire life has been a major challenge in my career. Raising children, leading the firm, staying healthy are a constant challenge and without evolving the firm culture to allow for balance I simply could not achieve success. The development and promotion #BEMORE culture has allowed me to live my best life.
— Tom Barry, Managing Partner, Green Hasson Janks
One of the more challenging projects I faced was trying to receive a material tax benefit in a foreign country and explaining to the in-country tax authorities why our company was entitled to the benefit. Being willing to explain the business model, the tax regulatory rules, while gaining trust of the government officials over a period of weeks was key to a successful resolution.
— Michael Bernard, Chief Tax Officer — Transaction Tax, Vertex Inc.
When I was appointed CEO of BDO in 2012, just two years after our firm’s Centennial, I adopted a phrase to describe the task before us — “Transforming a successful 20th century organization into a 21st century powerhouse.” I knew it was going to take more than a great strategy and talented people. We needed to come together as a leadership team and firm, aligned not just in our vision, but also how we would achieve it together. We developed our CLIMB strategy, which set us on our path, enabling us to assess, prioritize, and adjust our investments and resources toward the strategies that would make the most impact for BDO and for our clients.
I am strong believer in the critical importance of culture. In affirming our core values and establishing our core purpose of helping people thrive every day, everyone in the firm had the opportunity to participate. These enduring tenets of our culture have been a strategic lens and unifying force as we’ve grown and paved the way for our next century success.
— Wayne Berson, CEO, BDO USA
We were way ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of the web (at that time there was no cloud) and creating web-based solutions. That caused AccountantsWorld to be in the red for a number of years. We overcame that with the support of our team and our persistence.
— Chandra Bhansali, CEO and Co-Founder, AccountantsWorld
Throughout my career, particularly in the context of the profession, I have faced resistance (at least initial resistance) to any effort to make material changes. My ability to persevere and hold the course are critical elements of how I overcome obstacles, but the importance of listening, understanding the objections and working to mitigate them is also paramount.
— Ken Bishop, President and CEO, NASBA
Yes, restructuring our firm so that I take on what the CEO role means was a very hard personal journey for me. I had to fight many of my own selfish desires (and what other people expected from me at times) to give myself to a team and a profession that needs innovative and creative leadership. I have to sacrifice a lot to do what I do.
— Jason Blumer, CEO, Blumer CPAs and Thriveal CPA Network
The profession is extremely conservative and resistive to innovation because of the related disruption. I was able to overcome this challenge by getting coaching from outside the profession and expanding my network of peers beyond accounting into technology, talent development, lean processes, leadership and business development. This has provided exponential and global rather than local and incremental thinking.
— L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist, Boomer Consulting Inc.
I've faced many obstacles and challenges in my career. The most significant would probably be the collapse of Arthur Andersen in 2002 while I was a senior consultant. I approached that challenge the same way I have throughout my career: Focus on what I can control, gather the right information/facts to make a sound decision and observe the situation from multiple angles in order to learn as much as possible so I can apply it to future challenges.
— Jim Boomer, CEO, Boomer Consulting Inc.
I believe like most professionals that are going a mile a minute, the challenge of balancing life and work is the largest and most challenging obstacle that one would face. During my professional career I made it a point to connect my wife and three children into my world. My entire family would take an active role in my professional life, attending many speaking engagements and conventions where they would meet other professionals. My children grew up connected to the profession and have traveled the globe. In fact, one of the highlights was having my son Brandon (12 at the time) open my NJCPA speaking session in Arizona. My topic was “Technology and the Profession” and his was “Know when to use technology and know when to turn it off”… . His session revealed candid shots of me using technology during family time. He stole the show, but pointed out a valuable life lesson for me: There is a time and place for family and a time and place for work — understand those limits, as although you may not be noticing, others (your family) are!
— Jim Bourke, Managing Director of Advisory Services, WithumSmith+Brown
Honestly, the biggest obstacle I’ve faced in my career has been succeeding long-time CEO Gary Bolinger. We worked together for 16 years before he left and you’d think that would smooth the transition, but I found it an extremely challenging balancing act the first year. Gary was, and still is, highly regarded in the profession and it’s well-deserved. But just when you think you don’t really have an ego, a challenge comes up that makes you realize you do and it gets bruised easily! But seriously, I hadn’t realized how much change I wanted to help lead and how hard it would be to do that while also respecting everything I helped Gary create during my tenure at INCPAS.
—Jennifer Briggs, President and CEO, Indiana Society of CPAs
As a former partner in a firm, my experience was unfortunately difficult to explain. Let’s just say that I was told I would never be a CPA, I would never do tax returns, and I was not really a good accountant, only a QuickBooks expert. I had a big decision to make. Was I going to agree with that analysis from my partners, or was I going to do something about it? Well, I decided no one was going to tell me what I could and could not do so I left the firm, started up my own company, finished and passed all four parts of the CPA Exam and even took it a step further and earned my Certified Fraud Examiner License. I am not a quitter and will continue to work hard in the accounting profession and help develop future accountants to be successful and help them commit to the same standards that we follow — nothing but 100 percent effort and commitment.
— Dawn Brolin, EVP of Business Development and Compliance, Powerful Accounting powered by Out of the Box Technology
I had a sever stutter as a child, and despite years of therapy still struggle with it to this day. And yet I became a tax lawyer, and then a tax professor, and now dean of a great law school. I overcame it through hard work, faith, and seeing “Hamilton,” which I have written about on my blog. (http://bit.ly/2MiMqHy; http://bit.ly/2ppuKRi)
— Paul Caron, Dean, Pepperdine University School of Law
When I came on board as the IIA’s CEO and president at the beginning of 2009, the country was in the depths of the Great Recession. Having been the chairman of the IIA’s North American Board the year before, I knew the challenges I faced. But I also knew that the IIA was an extraordinary organization. With the support of a strong board of directors and working with an amazing team of professionals, I led the organization through a process of downsizing and reorganizing designed to position us for recovery and to better serve the profession in the years ahead.
Though there were many days when the light at the end of the tunnel was dim, we emerged from that trying time stronger than ever, setting new records for membership, conference attendance, and the number of global affiliates. As a result, and thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff and volunteer leaders around the world, the IIA was able to mark 10 years of positive net contribution results in 2018, along with record revenue of $65.6 million — more than double the revenue of the year prior to my arrival.
— Richard Chambers, President and CEO, Institute of Internal Auditors
As a growing professional, I get bombarded with various lucrative opportunities from different sources. Sometimes, it is extremely challenging to pick which opportunity to focus on and which opportunity to pass. There is only limited amount of time and resources I have available. These often lead to dilemmas, and even trilemmas in some cases.
In those situations, focusing on my core values and making decisions based on the magnitude of impact I can make on the profession and the society (as opposed to pursuing monetary rewards) has worked for me.
— Shehan Chandrasekera, Head of Tax Strategy, CoinTracker
We started our firm at a kitchen table, with zero clients, so the early days were very touch and go. We learned how to sell and provide services. But I loved every minute of it! Every day has been a blessing — and I would happily do it all again!
— David Cieslak, EVP and Chief Cloud Officer, RKL eSolutions
I initially faced a huge challenge being effective in my role as the head of marketing at Ciuni & Panichi. For the first time in my life, I found it difficult to communicate my ideas and have them heard. I hired an executive coach, with the support of the firm, who helped me to understand my personality and theirs. I gained insight into how accountants think and the best way to communicate with them. It helped me become more effective in my role, and it was the best investment I ever made. The firm respected me for it and, as a result, continued to support it.
— Lauren Clemmer, Executive Director, Association for Accounting Marketing
Everybody faces obstacles and challenges along the way. To be successful, you need to fail, analyze the failure, not rationalize, adjust, and move forward. I tell people all the time that you find your core when things are tough, not when they’re easy.
— Joel Cooperman, CEO, Citrin Cooperman & Co.
During my career, I’ve more often than not been the first female in the company/firm I joined. From the first female professional hire in the local office of two different Big Eight firms, to the only executive-level female in countless startups. It has been one big challenge! I wasn’t ever motivated to be a trailblazer. I was just using my God-given gifts as a businesswoman, back in a time when this was very rare. I overcame it by not getting discouraged and keeping a positive attitude, continuing to forge ahead, and focusing on the mission!
— Gale Crosley, President, Crosley+Co.
My firm Forepoint did a major project for the largest producer and wholesale distributor of Christmas trees in North America. It was a family business that had been in operation for over 100 years and provided millions of trees to big retailers like Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, the Boy Scouts, etc. Their growth was being limited by their old outdated IBM mainframe system and our job was to provide them with modern state-of-the-art computer hardware and ERP software.
Virtually all of their sales happened over a three-month period of time leading up to the holidays, so it was critical for us to keep a tight project schedule to ensure they were up and running smoothly in time for their busy season. We started nine months ahead of time and everything went smoothly until they started to go live, which to our surprise (and horror) was when the new system began to crash repeatedly and lose data. They operated 24/7 during that time and the system would invariably go down overnight with lost orders and shipping information. The situation was really bad and getting worse and they were extremely unhappy, but no matter hard we tried, we just could not identify the problem.
Around that time, I received a call from the president of the company, who said that if we didn’t get the problem fixed within a week it would likely put them out of business … no pressure! I assigned several of our top consultants to be onsite 24 hours a day and monitor every element of the system to determine why this was happening. At 4 a.m. the next morning the system crashed again and our team jumped on tracing where the problem had originated.
What they found was that a part-time IT guy that worked for their company had installed a little “back door” four-port router hidden under a desk to allow the controller (who was also his wife) to access the system remotely and every time she connected it triggered the firewall security system and caused the system to crash. Once the unauthorized hardware was removed the system stabilized and worked perfectly … it was over a month of crazy stress and sleepless nights but in the end both their business and Christmas were saved!
— Kevin Cumley, Director – Sage Intacct Accountants Program, Sage Intacct
Yes, unifying the Canadian profession brought many challenges with it. To me, the biggest obstacle was understanding, navigating, and managing the competing desires from different stakeholders. Through the process, I really honed my listening skills. I took the time to understand where people were coming from and parse the “must-haves” from the “nice-to-haves.” This was critical to develop the path forward that worked for all parties.
— Kevin Dancey, CEO, IFAC
Being a working mother is a constant obstacle and challenge in my career. To be honest, it isn’t easy — the famous saying that “You need a village to raise children” is true. My professional role comes with a lot of responsibility that requires me to be away, but I am lucky to have family to help with overnights when I travel, friends to remind me that Friday is pajama day, a tribe of moms to lend an ear when the days get tough, a husband to support me and my goals, and a firm that supports women. With help from my “village,” the firm, and our leadership team, I was — and still am — able to manage. I am passionate about my work and wanting to leave a lasting impact, and now I don’t have to weigh the cost of balancing motherhood and my professional career. I am living both of my dreams, professionally and personally, to the fullest.
— Avani Desai, President, Schellman & Co.
Finding the proper work-life integration while being married with five children! I overcame it by being adaptable with when and how I worked and always owned my responsibility to take a proactive, solutions-oriented approach to making my schedule work for my family and the firm.
—Ted Dickman, CEO and Governing Board Chair, BKD CPAs & Advisors
Yes. I overcame them by not letting them define me. I learned along time ago that you need to trust your gut. This isn’t always easy for me as I am practical and logical. Many times my head wants to win out over my heart. I remember being in college thinking that one day it might be fun to be a consultant and work with clients to help them solve their problems. I never quite knew how I would get there, but I followed my gut. As I did that the doors that opened led me ultimately to where I was supposed to be and in a career I love and can make an impact. It definitely wasn’t a tradition path.
— Sarah Dobek, President and Founder, Inovautus Consulting
In every role, there are always challenges. I counter these challenges with positive thinking followed up with an execution plan. I start with positive thinking because it is very easy to reinforce negative, “can’t do it” thoughts and then it becomes a vicious cycle where the obstacle is made worse. The execution plan is especially key for me as I ask myself, “So, KET, what are you going to do about it?” The plan often includes communication and my seeking lessons learned from my personal board of directors.
— Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, Executive Director – Finance Thought Leadership, Oracle, Cloud Business Group
Yes, I faced major health concerns three times. I overcame them by a strong faith and a very strong family support network.
— Domenick Esposito, CEO, Esposito CEO2CEO, LLC
For years, I worked with my father. When you work for someone with such great experience and knowledge, it’s sometimes difficult to make your role your own. When my father died, it was a challenge to be seen for my own contributions and not seen as “my father’s daughter” – although that wasn’t something I was at all ashamed of. I was also a young woman in a predominantly male profession. It was a slow process but with determination and a willingness to become by own person, I was able to show that my passions were my own and not those of my father or those handed down.
— Kim Fantaci, President, CPA Firm Management Association
I have had two challenges. The first was changing careers. My father, Manuel Fishman, is also a CPA. He approached me about coming to work for him, and I started in November 1989. Immediately, he started bringing me to NCCPAP-sponsored CPE programs, even though, especially at first, most or all of the information was way over my head (I had taken some basic accounting courses in college). So I kept my ears open, my mouth shut, and I listened and learned. When I decided in 1990 to go back to school for accounting, the eventual goal being eligible to sit for the CPA Exam, while taking courses that gave you the theoretical knowledge, I was also getting the practical knowledge working in a CPA firm. Many times, you can look back at what was done in the past to see how to deal with something. Other times you ask the question — of the client, of your boss, what has to be done, how it is to be treated. Hard work, the willingness to learn, the ability to take criticism, constructively or otherwise, helped me to overcome this change.
The second challenge was when I relocated the firm from New York to Florida. I had to assure the clients in New York that they were not being abandoned, while building up a client base in Florida. I have been able to retain the majority of my New York clients while growing in Florida. Our clients know that I am always just a phone call away.
— Neil Fishman, President, NCCPAP
Earlier in my professional career, I struggled with being confident in what I brought to the table. While I consider myself “smarter than the average bear,” I rarely am the smartest person in the room. However, I think my ability to see the bigger picture and connect seemingly unconnected dots is one of my strongest skills, and it took me a few years to appreciate the value in that and to have the confidence in using it.
— Cindy Fornelli, Immediate Past Executive Director, Center for Audit Quality
The transition from academic to businessperson held many unexpected personal and professional challenges. My first step out of the academic world was to move to Washington, D.C. into a Big Eight accounting firm, Arthur Young. That provided my “personal MBA” and began my career-long interest in the world of accounting firms and how they grow and change.
— Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner, Hinge
My major obstacles were health issues exacerbated by an abusive spouse who was spending us into financial oblivion. I overcame it all by focusing on honing my skills, developing my business, and becoming strong enough to leave a toxic environment and teach others to succeed.
— Esther Friedberg Karp, President and CEO, EFK CompuBooks Inc.
The most challenging obstacle I have faced is having to reinvent myself each year. While at Xero we had a carousel of presidents and U.S. country managers as well as sales leaders. Each time a new leader would come in I had to fight to remain relevant and demonstrate my value on a daily basis. I started as Employee No. 15 in the U.S. and as the company grew I struggled with the fact that I was appreciated more by my clients, peers and external partners than I was internally. After six years I realized that I had worked myself out of a job and that what mattered most was that I was appreciated by the accountants and firms that I had helped transform. This gave me the confidence I needed to Join ATAX and take ownership of my future and also found the Contabi Alliance to take my experience and passion for the profession to an international level and create a community beyond borders and language.
— Arthur Garcia, President and COO, ATAX
Work/life balance has always been an issue for at least the first seven years of practice. I have always been very ambitious, wanting to pack 25 hours in a day; this has led to many sleepless nights and stress through the journey of building my practice. There are five essential things that helped me lead this change in the past three years:
1. Move the cloud (which allows me to work from home 80 percent of the time).
2. Focus on video-based marketing (which I record from my home office) which lets me get customers from all over the world when they watch my YouTube videos.
3. Value pricing has allowed me to focus on delivering more value to fewer customers, allowing me to slow down a little bit and enjoy more of my family while making the same or more as versus when I charged hourly.
4. Specializing; I focus on inventory and manufacturing businesses, most of my popular content is geared towards them, and this has allowed me to get the clients I can create the most value for while getting paid what my services are truly worth – and being one of the authorities in the subject matter, I get a lot of leads, so I can choose the clients I get to work with and easily get rid of the ones that would drag me down.
5. Take at least two vacations per year (committed to do it), one with the whole family and one just with my wife. This allows me to disconnect for at least two to three weeks out of the year. I also bring the culture of vacationing in my business; all my employees have paid vacations and we even help them (financially or logistically) pull it off. We even talk to our clients about their vacations and the importance to an entrepreneur of taking a break; as a matter of fact, “taking more vacations” is the ultimate goal behind our advisory work, we help our clients take more vacations … this is how we measure success.
— Hector Garcia, CEO, Quick Bookkeeping & Accounting
Making a career change from CPA to touring comedian is pretty unique. I’m not sure if anyone else has done this besides the absolutely hilarious Bob Newhart. But even he didn’t take it to the next level by marrying his profession and his passion. I married my professional background with my comedy background to become a speaker and consultant who works to make the professional world what we all wish (and know) it could be, while also impacting a company’s bottom line. The life of a full-time comedian is stressful, constantly trying to find new bookings each week and coordinating the travel to and from each comedy club city. It’s like being a consultant who travels each week in that I’d leave for several days, coming home to do my laundry and pay the bills before leaving for another four-day trip.
As a comedian, you might only see me on stage for 30-60 minutes, but I was taking the rest of the day to send emails and make phone calls to continue to fill the calendar. The grueling hours certainly made it difficult to have a balanced life and spend time with others outside of the comedy world. Now that I’m using my skills to impact real change in organizations, the reward is so much greater. There are moments when I ask myself, “Who am I to tell someone else how to better their organization?” Fortunately, with each firm I visit, audience member I talk to and each podcast guest I interview, I am encouraged to continue to follow my calling and help others have greater job satisfaction and retain talent by unlocking the person within the professional.
— John Garrett, comedian, consultant and “Recovering Accountant”
The biggest challenge I faced as FASB chairman was how to successfully improve financial reporting for U.S. capital markets—and promote and enhance the quality, comparability, and consistency of international financial reporting.
To overcome that challenge, our board continues to meet with the International Accounting Standards Board and other international standard-setters to share insights on best approaches to common standard-setting issues. It’s an ongoing process, one that I anticipate will continue after my term ends in 2020.
— Russell Golden, Chairman, FASB
Twice I’ve found myself with a pink slip. During the 1989-1990 downturn, my company relocated its headquarters from Irvine, California, to Missouri. I was the lone accountant who approached the CFO offering to move to St Louis to help with continuity. She was shocked (who leaves Southern California for Missouri?) but let me do it. I was 24 with a five-year-old and knew no one there. But it was the best big decision of my life to date.
The second time, I was the marketing director for a law firm (after I’d been in marketing for public accounting). I may or may not have gotten busted for sending my resume to a CPA firm. With only a severance check and no savings, I thought I might give consulting a try. I hung my shingle and began cold-calling local CPA firms. I only had to make six calls before I got a few takers. My first three clients started with an A, a B and a C. That was 1999. The first years were a little lean but I did OK after that! This became my next “best big decision” to date.
— Michelle Golden River, President, Fore
In 2010 while I was working at Intuit, I got an offer to be CEO of a privately held energy company. As much as I loved Intuit, I had always wanted to challenge myself by running a company. People I respected gave me the coaching that it might not be a fit, but I wanted the challenge and to prove to myself that I could lead a company. So I left Intuit and became a CEO. Turns out they were right. It wasn’t the culture I had grown to love at Intuit.
Sometimes in life you have to learn things the hard way — it helped me learn about myself and what’s important to me. When I came back to Intuit I gained a new understanding of the importance of values and culture. Intuit is a place where we live our values of dreaming big, working hard and being inclusive every single day. Where people care deeply about each other and the customers we serve. Now I’ve come full circle, and every day I apply these lessons to how I lead the company.
— Sasan Goodarzi, CEO, Intuit
Yes. I have faced too many to count. One big one was being in a position to consult with managing partners early in my career (in my twenties and thirties) who were much older. I knew I wanted to build and run the consulting arm and was determined to be successful doing it. In each relationship, I knew I had to immediately prove to my clients that I should be heard and that I could make a huge difference in their firms. I remember making the decision that I would, in fact, hire me as a consultant over other consultants if I were in their shoes. Once I made that decision in my head, I was unstoppable and the age difference had and has no effect on me. I give the same advice to my clients. Once you believe you would hire you and you are worth it, it sets you free.
— Angie Grissom, President, The Rainmaker Companies
After the FASB issued Statement 142 in 2001, I was told countless times that goodwill would never be amortized again. It took 10 years of persistence in a variety of environments, culminating as a member of the Private Company Council, to bring together a broad consensus in ASU 2014-02, that the relevance of goodwill impairment was not justified by the costs of the annual impairment tests for private companies.
— Thomas Groskopf, Technical Director, AICPA Center for Plain English Accounting
I grew up in a small town in the deserts of West Texas. After graduating with my Ph.D, I landed my dream job at the University of Texas at Austin. But, like many young assistant professors, I struggled to get my research published. I kept writing research papers and submitting them to journals, but to no avail. After four-and-a-half years of rejection after rejection after rejection, it became clear that I wasn’t going to get promoted at UT and would have to leave. In late 2006, I wrote the following email to a close friend:
“So the bad news is that I got an email from [my department chair] this morning. The college wants my updated review packet by Friday. Of course, I knew this was coming, but I was hoping for some good news first … But no good news yet. My packet looks mostly the same as last year, so they won't be happy when they see it. … I don't want to see people from the department. I feel like a failure. Sorry for bringing up work stuff, but I can't tell people here how I feel and I don't want to talk about this with my family.”
That was a career low point for me. After that, I looked around for a job, but there were not a ton of opportunities for someone in my position, so I was lucky to land a position at Georgia Tech. I kept submitting papers during that period, in large part because I had some strong encouragement from one of my graduate school advisors, and the tide eventually turned. Fast-forward 11 years, and I am now back at the University of Texas at Austin, having recently rejoined their faculty as a tenured, full professor. I’m convinced that leaving Texas was crucial for my career development, and I never would have done so on my own. So, unexpectedly, I’m now grateful for having had the opportunity to fail.
— Jeffrey Hales, Chairman, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board
When we started working on Intacct, we had no idea the perseverance required to build a large, successful business. We had many major obstacles along the way, but our clarity of purpose, belief in the vision, and commitment to customers enabled us to break through the obstacles, recover when we didn’t do something quite right, and to persevere through the ups and downs of the market.
— Aaron Harris, CTO, Sage
There have been numerous challenges that I have faced in my career. At the time they all seem to be the worst challenge you could ever face, until the next one arrives. In every instance I try and take the emotion out, stay calm, and develop a plan don’t just react. I also try and wait at least 24 hours before I start to develop my plan to allow the situation to calm down and you can understand better the situation you find yourself in.
— Roger Harris, President and COO, Padgett Business Services
Yes, my biggest challenge was being disrupted in my years as CFO in the highway construction industry where an industry downturn had hostile conglomerates trying to force us out of business as a private independent construction company. That period challenged me to learn firsthand what it means to transform a business under pressure and how the CFO role is critical on the top management team to support the strategy and direction of an organization.
I overcame this challenge by perseverance, communicating our financial story to maintain support of our bank and bonding company, and leveraging my network as a member of the Maryland Association of CPAs. My key takeaway from that was learning how critical communication was during that crisis — internally with our people, externally with stakeholders like the bank and bonding company, and within our leadership team. The most rewarding piece was holding our team together with high morale with a very uncertain and scary situation. Ultimately, we were able to innovate in an adjacent industry that ultimately bought us time and money to sell our company and save our employees’ jobs.
— Tom Hood, CEO, Maryland Association of CPAs and Business Learning Institute
Internally, I had to overcome perception issues which threatened to erode my influence. The only way to start to overcome this was to directly get feedback on why I was being perceived this way. Once I had that feedback, I had to change what I was doing that was causing the mis-perception. What was changed was very small — but without being willing to listen to the feedback and make a change for the sake of others and the long term, the issue was not going to be resolved.
— William Hill, Product Manager, Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters
Being in a very comfortable position late in my career that I knew ultimately wasn’t going to take me where I wanted to go. Once I accepted that I wanted to change my path and was willing to do the necessary work to make it happen, I engaged with a professional coach to help me choose a direction. Through reflection, research, and numerous meetings with various contacts, I realized that after a 34-year career, my “highest and best use” and my passion was still in public accounting.
That passion lead to my sense of stewardship for doing what was best in the long term for my clients, my team members, and myself. Not knowing how clients would react, I am pleased to say that over 90 percent of my client revenue followed me.
That passion led me to discover that I still had it in me to be “uncomfortable” and move from what was good to what I think is great with a new role with UHY. While mentally and physically exhausting, I found the level of effort and amount of work to successfully transition my clients and team members to another firm to “start over” was the most energizing experience of my career.
The lesson learned is to never settle and accept what is offered; always strive for what you want.
— Laurie Lambert Hopkins. Partner, UHY
Modern tax is a dramatically evolving, complex landscape in which global tax authorities have enormous visibility and control into business processes at the transaction level. To deliver a complete global solution, Sovos has grown aggressively through acquisition since former private equty owner Vista Equity Partners merged Taxware with Convey Compliance Systems in 2014 and renamed the company.
Since then, Sovos has made eight acquisitions under my leadership, including Sweden-based TrustWeaver, U.K.-based Fiscal Reps, Chile-based Paperless, Brazil-based Invoiceware International and Turkey-based Foriba. Through acquisition and organic expansion, I have led Sovos to 5x growth since 2014. More than 1,300 employees work in 14 Sovos offices in 10 countries, and the company has more than 7,000 customers (including half the Fortune 500). Once a tax determination software player in a sleepy, mature market in the U.S, Sovos has evolved rapidly into the leader in a new and critical international market.
The Sovos team and I have tackled the challenges that come with the digitization of tax, building the only brand that can claim a complete global solution for modern tax, overcoming the challenges of competing against numerous local point-solutions, integrating multiple acquisitions and teaching decision-makers what it means to “Solve Tax for Good” as indirect tax compliance goes digital.
— Andy Hovancik, President and CEO, Sovos
I had a lot of people doubt my potential impact on the accounting profession based on the fact that I am not a CPA. I never took it personally, and instead focused on the old mantra my mom used to say, “Actions speak louder than words,” and I set out to show that cognitive diversity is critical for evolving organizations. I know my lane and try to build off my strengths while being the first to admit if something is not my expertise — people tend to respect that because there are so many emerging leaders out there that are trying to be everything to everyone.
— Kacee Johnson, Strategic Advisor, CPA.com
Yes, having insufficient cash flow to run a start-up business, and having our operational line called without notice. We were lucky enough to personally fund the loan amount until we could recover. Then, our team overcame this by increased sales efforts, changing collection terms and improving product offerings for greater margin.
— Randy Johnston CEO and founder / EVP, Network Management Group, Inc. / K2 Enterprises
My son Liam was diagnosed with severe autism before age 2, over 22 years ago. At the time, I was leading a division for Nestle, and asked to take my boss’ job to oversee the US operations. Instead, I needed to take a year off (along with my spouse) to research and implement a way to help our son. After that year, I sought work that would allow me greater flexibility than the one I had previously. I was hired 20 years ago to join Deloitte, into a role junior to my background so I could balance work and home. Thanks to great leaders at the firm, I was quickly able to work my way up to a senior position that exposed me to extraordinary opportunities: part of the core team that launched the first ever off-shore team in India; co-leading the post-Anderson “war room” for acquiring clients and talent in Pacific SW of U.S.; helping to lead/design/launch the pilot for the firm’s Strategic Relationship Management team (top partners transformed as relationship leaders to the largest firm clients). If not for the pivot in my career that brought me to the accounting world, I might have missed 20 years of the best fun of my life.
— Mari-Anne Kehler, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, Green Hasson Janks
Starting my own consulting practice after Boomer/PPC failed. I focused specifically on the CPA firm technology niche and targeted becoming the leading independent consultant by learning and sharing as much as I could about the profession.
— Roman Kepczyk, Director of Firm Technology Strategy, Right Networks
Being female. I am still working on it.
— Rita Keller, President and CEO, Keller Advisors
Not really, but my biggest challenge was leaving an organization that I helped to found. It was difficult emotionally, but clear it was the right thing to do.
— Ed Kless, Senior Director, Partner Development and Strategy, Sage
In college I flunked five accounting courses and hold the University of Wisconsin/UWM record for most flunked accounting courses by an accounting major. I also flunked the CPA Exam twice but was able to pass the entire exam the third time I took it. If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that perseverance, always believing in yourself and never giving up (no matter what) are attributes one must have in the game called business.
— Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group
I’ve faced several challenges in my roles with the AICPA. We continue to work on change management as the profession continues to evolve. Not every firm is on board with making these changes. But focusing on those firms that embrace change and want support to do so has helped me overcome the challenges faced with the profession moving forward. It’s rewarding to see those firms who do embrace change and are making progress based on the support of the Association.
— Mark Koziel, EVP of Firm Services, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
I think the biggest challenge was to have the confidence in myself to launch my own consulting business. After five years of profitable growth, I needed to separate my personal time from revenue, thus the launch of the fully-scalable jvBD Academy. The next phase of growth will be the next major challenge — while balancing the complex needs of a dual-career couple, an energetic four-year-old, and a feisty six-year-old King Charles Cavalier.
— Art Kuesel, President, Kuesel Consulting
Over the last 20 years, I’ve had to make difficult decisions on a regular basis. One in particular stands out. In 2008, the recession was unfolding. I had to make a difficult decision at Bill.com to reduce the workforce. I’m proud of how we worked with employees who left and stayed, encouraging transparent and honest communications — even though it could be painful at times.
As a result, we preserved cash, kept the company running, reached critical milestones, and managed to reach the milestones we needed to raise money when we needed.
— René Lacerte, CEO and Founder, Bill.com
As I am very introspective and with the marketplace changing quickly, I am still finding the challenge is to exceed expectations within my realm of responsibilities at the firm, combined with staying ahead of the pace and pressures from the outside market. I am a believer that if the internal pace of business doesn’t meet or exceed the external, firms get left behind, which is not where PKF Texas wants to be.
— Jen Lemanski, Senior Manager of Practice Growth, PKF Texas
So many. The biggest was questioning whether to continue. When you are on your own in a profession that did not (still does not) understand they need professional help growing their firms, it can be frustrating. Figuring out how to solve their problems forced me to be creative and extremely entrepreneurial. I never look at something as if I cannot do it. There is always a solution. Growing your own business is hard. Another big obstacle/challenge was hiring the first employee. You take a deep breath there and hope for the best.
— Bob Lewis, President, The Visionary Group
I would say the biggest challenge in my career was the intersection of day-to-day career pressures with the personal situation of my husband’s illness and ultimate passing. I learned to be honest about what I was going through — and was blessed to have incredible support.
— Julie Bell Lindsay, Executive Director, Center for Audit Quality
Probably a few but I guess how I look at the obstacles are as new opportunities — maybe not right there in that moment, but when I take a breath and step back to assess the situation and next steps, I almost always can get to the opportunity. For example, at a company I worked for there was a major change in leadership, including my immediate boss who made changes to my role (and comp) without discussing either with me first. He thought he knew what I wanted but had never asked (something we coach almost every single day for leaders to get to know their people and ask questions about what they want more of and less of in their careers). That role didn’t work for me, so I explored other opportunities in the company and found a great new role where I could contribute my client service and sales skills with a leader I had interacted with only briefly. It was a great learning experience in many respects — and opened new relationships and opportunities while preserving the ones that were changing.
— Tamera Loerzel, Partner, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC
While I was launching Reconciled, I had to decide whether to leave a couple of comfortable CFO roles that I was in and go 100 percent with Reconciled. Taking the entrepreneurial leap was risky and a big financial investment in myself. I talked through the opportunity with my wife to make sure we were on the same page. It was the best decision I could have made.
— Michael Ly, CEO, Reconciled
Perhaps it’s a common obstacle, but about 15 years ago, I found myself separated from my previous employer. I was faced with a difficult decision: Do I attempt to capitalize on my subject matter expertise and work hard to find a new position in my current field, or do I accept a new and exciting challenge with (what was then) a small company that sits at the center of tax and technology?
I definitely made the right choice, but I can’t say it was always easy. We experienced a lot of growing pains as we evolved from a small business located in a converted mill building to a global company with offices across the world. And we didn't realize it at the time, but we used those years to grow, evolve and establish a series of tax research best practices that would ultimately become the first building block of Sovos.
— Chuck Maniace, Vice President of Regulatory Analysis & Design, Sovos
The biggest hurdle that I have overcome that will also require future attention on my part is that of a respected and supportive leader. In the early 2000s, I wanted to solve the biggest challenge I had, and the same for most businesses, and that was building and managing engaged teams. Not only did we need to change how we operated with new technology but we also needed to become more flexible with our people. Now, to stay relevant I need to share and model that behavior to support the next generation of leaders that will direct our companies well into the future.
— R. Sean Manning, CEO, Founder, Payroll Vault
Transitioning from an international accounting firm to a smaller, regional firm and building a practice from the ground up
— Harold Martin, Partner-in-Charge, Valuation and Forensic Services, Keiter
As a business executive, public speaking is a part of my day-to-day business life, but it wasn’t always something natural for me to do. For me it has proven to be a learned skill and one that takes regular and intense practice and preparation in order to succeed. I always solicit feedback during my practice sessions — direct, no-holds-barred, tell-it-to-me straight type of feedback — to help me refine my delivery. That’s not always easy in an executive role, but finding someone who will tell me when it is bad only serves to make me better.
I also watch a fair amount of Ted Talks and other public speakers, not just for the content (which I do find interesting) but to try and pick up the clues of what separates truly great public speakers from everyone else. Corny as it might sound, the power poses and deep breaths just seem to help me present better.
— Jason Marx, CEO, Tax & Accounting North America, Wolters Kluwer
I have hit a few major roadblocks and obstacles. The biggest challenge I have had was the resignation of my business partner less than a month before I had a baby. He took 60 percent of the revenue and 20 percent of the cost structure. I did not want to fire anyone to cut costs because I had made a commitment to my team. I was also left with a company to run with no support, clients to keep happy, and a newborn to care for. There was so much to accomplish and trying to push through postpartum depression, at times everything seemed so overwhelming. But being committed to my people, having them there on the journey with me, kept me pushing forward.
— Liz Mason, Founder and CEO, High Rock Accounting
Probably the biggest obstacle in my career occurred about three years ago at RitzHolman CPAs. It was early November and we felt that we had one of our best overall staff ready to enter the upcoming busy season. The night of Nov. 2, 2016, is something that will never be forgotten at our firm. That night our firm sent four senior accounting staff to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to present to a Beta Alpha Psi accounting club. On their return to Milwaukee, their car was hit head on by a drunk driver. Three of our staff members were killed instantly, while the fourth was hospitalized for close to six months. As one of the senior partners, this was the most challenging obstacle I have ever faced. Grieving co-workers, family members and clients all looked toward the partner group for guidance, support and leadership. The challenge was only amplified when we had to put all of those emotions aside and replace four experienced accountants in approximately 12 weeks to be prepared for the upcoming busy season.
We began to heal and overcome the only way you can — one day at a time. We were humbled by the outpouring of love and support from the accounting community, clients, recruits, former staff, universities and more who reached out to us to show their support and we began to rebuild. We got through busy season, with a lot of help from really great people. To this day we still have heavy hearts for the wonderful people we lost.
— William Mayer, Partner, RitzHolman CPAs
After five years as a regional director in the Mid-Atlantic and New York City regions, I was demoted. I could not obtain a comparable job without a college degree (I was still a high school dropout), so I accepted the demotion and earned AA, BS and MBA degrees (plus DBA) and ultimately founded my own company, which is still a successful multi-million-dollar business after 32 years.
— Chuck McCabe, CEO, The Income Tax School & Peoples Income Tax
Way back at the beginning of my career I thought I’d be president of a family business — a large hospitality and real estate enterprise. When my dad sold the business, the son of the previous owner wasn’t going to be in future plans for the business. And I was absolutely rudderless, I had no idea what I wanted to do. As it turned out, I got a tremendous break when an old family friend brought me in to a tech company. I guess you could say that my relationships got me into that position, and I was able to get into numerous other businesses. The hotel business was all about project management, and I had mastered that. Back then, building a software business was also mostly project management as well. Leading teams of experts to get things done was the same in both industries.
— Scott McFarlane, Co-founder & CEO, Avalara
After spending my early career in consumer goods, I joined interactive video game software company Activision during a platform transition. The role I was hired for wasn’t sustainable in the new platform and I was subsequently challenged to wind our investment down.
When I left, I considered going back to consumer goods, but had been bitten by the technology bug. Intuit offered me a role working with accountants, and though I knew nothing about the profession at the time, I have spent the past 10 years of my professional life helping to transform it. My wife is a lapsed CPA and we love to joke that it is my aspiration to rise to the top of her profession.
It is these very experiences that prepared me for the fast pace and cycles of development and technology — do things that challenge the status quo, get out of your comfort zone and act with agility.
— Jim McGinnis, EVP and General Manager, Professional Segment, Tax & Accounting North America, Wolters Kluwer
There were plenty of obstacles and challenges, since I had an active accounting business, that created unpleasant experiences; however, every disappointment and letdown was a learning opportunity which I was appreciative of (afterwards) and was able to grow because of. Perhaps there are a few I wish never occurred, but I survived them and cannot look back with any regrets. Also, the disagreeable were far outnumbered by the great people I met, worked with, and the extreme satisfactions from the too-many-to-measure successes in providing for my clients and truly being the first person they call before doing anything new and important when they want guidance. In retrospect. any regrets might come from things I did not attempt rather than those that did not work out.
— Ed Mendlowitz, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
In 2014, my father passed away on March 7. Since I work with more businesses than individuals, it was an even more difficult time than it otherwise would have been outside of tax season. His decline was relatively quick from the end of January. It was the first time in my life where I honestly only thought about my mother and did not even think at all about work, clients, staff, or anything else but family. For about eight weeks I assisted my mom working through details. Neither of my parents had much in the way of assets, so I had to chip in to assist with many things, while hiding my emotions around my mother and maintaining balance with my own family. Luckily, I had already surrounded myself with an incredible team at work and my family — both immediate and extended — were so supportive, I was able to get through it. I even received assistance from many fraternity brothers, without whom I would have struggled. Our clients also had become close friends or even like family so everyone was so understanding, which allowed me to spend the time needed with family and come back when I was ready.
A year and a half later my mother passed after having a stroke almost a year after my father passed. I was even closer with her than my father so that was even more difficult. However, having recently been through this with my father and the fact that my mother made arrangements in advance, I was able to recover and move on with the support of friends, clients, soccer kids I’ve coached, and family. Our firm has been even closer every year since and I definitely have a new appreciation for life and live every day to the fullest.
— Mark Mirsky, Managing Director, ROI Business Services
Transitioning from a “corporate” (in-house) role as CMO of a firm to that of an external consultant. I sought the challenge of a more entrepreneurial venture and was willing to take the risk associated with greater potential reward. Careful planning, piloting and research prepared me to step confidently into the new situation.
— D. Scott Moore, Shareholder and EVP, The Rainmaker Companies
The major obstacle I have faced is overcoming the stigma and the barriers of being a young woman in a leadership position. I can’t tell you how many partners and managing partners have been resistant to my advice when we first meet simply because of the number of birthday candles on my cake and my gender. I think that what many of them find, though, is that I work hard to get to know my clients and their needs and have insight from an academic and research perspective that cannot be learned simply with age. It’s a fresh perspective!
— Adelaide Ness, EVP, The Rainmaker Companies
Professionally speaking the only career obstacle has been the inability to clone myself or find my own successor. My resolve was to be a sole practitioner for all these years and realizing when I no longer want to do this, I’ll just turn off the lights and say, “Good night, Mrs. Callabash, wherever you are.” My only other major career obstacle was in 1995 when my son passed away at the age of 21. It took me months before I could get back my stride and continue advising firms. One never overcomes the loss of a child, but I found coaching and helping others who have lost children a blessing in helping me overcome the greatest obstacle of my lifetime.
— Jay Nisberg, President, Jay Nisberg & Associates
I have faced many throughout my career, but one constant is anytime I’ve overcome a really big challenge, there has literally been a switch that goes off in my head that says: “I can do this.” From that point forward, I have blinders on and 100 percent know I can beat it and will not accept any other outcome. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when that switch has clicked, I’m so focused! My mindset changes to see only opportunities where before I saw obstacles.
— Carol Spindler O’Hara, Consumer Products Industry Leader; Partner in Charge, North Bay, BPM LLP
The biggest obstacle in my career overall was clearly my failure as a professional musician. I overcame it by starting over in the field of accounting. I went back to school to get the academic credits I needed to sit for the CPA Exam. I was able to do that while growing and eventually selling a small firm.
I never would have imagined before all this that my music performance background would end up being instrumental (pun intended) in helping me grow a firm and then enter the field of marketing in the accounting software industry. How did being a music major help me as an accountant? It turns out that many accountants hate public speaking — or doing much of anything in public. I, on the other hand, love getting up in front of a crowd. That made it easy for me to put myself out there at events and online in order to sell myself and my firm. For the last few years I’ve been putting that mix of skills to use helping a couple of software companies figure out how to spread their message to accountants. It’s a lot of fun!
— Blake Oliver, Co-Host, Cloud Accounting Podcast
Ten years ago I began on journey. I was confused about how the changes I was making (innovation) were impacting my firm, my customers and my life. I started to blog for clarity for myself. Ideas became speeches, tweets, and two books. Readers became loyal followers, fans and friends. Recently, I delivered a Radical keynote in Singapore. I impacted accountants who have a culture completely different than ours. I encouraged a young woman from the stage to jump out of a traditional path if she wasn’t feeling respected. She saw an opportunity and courage to ask a mature woman (yes, me) how to advance her career. You could hear the hope. She could forge a new personal path to her success. This young woman touched me. [That trip] made years of a sometimes hard, wonderful journey tangible. I get caught in the everyday to-do’s and work. I forget the sacrifices/choices I’ve made to continue the journey. I have impacted lots of CPAs, but on that stage I realized that those crazy ideas have changed the world! Ideas that many established professionals tried to stop. They were too disruptive. Ideas that many of those same established men own as if they were their own original ideas. My week ended with an incredible global party. And needed downtime at the most iconic pool in the world. #AnOMGmoment. Social business solved my biggest challenge and created an enormous opportunity for me to jump out of the traditional route to partner, find my unique voice and forge my own success.
— Jody Padar, CEO and Principal, New Vision CPA Group
Yes, I have faced plenty of obstacles. One in particular I will never forget. One of the first businesses I founded, ThinkLite, grew extremely fast. In fact, we were listed as the 46th fastest growing company in the U.S. in Fortune Magazine. Unfortunately our growth and accounting complexity resulted in some cashflow and cash on hand reporting errors. Ultimately, we thought we had more capital available and thus invested heavily in manufacturing equipment for a new lighting technology only to realize later that as a result we were not going to be able to make payroll in two weeks.
My business partner and I were determined to make payroll and couldn’t fathom sending employees home empty-handed, and thus we decided to go to every convenience store and supermarket within 10 miles and buy all the gift cards they had on hand using our personal credit cards. Then when payday came, we called the team together, explained the situation and told everyone that though we couldn’t provide them a normal paycheck we could give them the equivalent compensation in the form of Amex and Visa gift cards and that we were determined to make payroll by end of next month so if they would hang there, accept payment in this form, and continue working, we would then buy back all the gift cards with cash, as we understood you couldn’t pay for rent or a mortgage with gift cards.
Ultimately we went on to get a line of credit, made payroll the following month as promised and bought back all the unused gift cards. For the entire next year my wife and I paid for everything with the gift cards I bought back.
— Enrico Palmerino, CEO, Botkeeper
I left public accounting at 29 to dive into industry as the CFO of a family-owned Northwest jewelry retailer, with 32 stores across four states. Being right at the end of the Great Recession and no store closures, we had to restructure quickly to stay open. Working closely with the family, we privately restructured down to 15 stores by closing and laying off half the company. Although there were a number of hard decisions and conversations, we strategically implemented our aggressive shore-up plan and were able to save the existing jobs in the stores we kept and recover, as I have continued advising the family business for close to a decade now. By going through this experience, it inspired the Fractional CFO Services so we could help other family-owned businesses and owners.
— Erik Parrish, Fractional CFO Services Practice Leader, Kernutt Stokes LLP
In 2014, I underwent triple jaw surgery due to a medical condition. Unfortunately, I experienced a post-surgery complication that uprooted my entire life. I was scared and worried that Bookkeeper360 would fail due to the fact I was required to seek hyperbaric chamber treatment six hours a day for five months. Over this time, my mouth was wired shut and I was not able to verbally communicate with my clients and employees. I stayed positive, hopeful and patient I would recover and be able to return back to Bookkeeper360. Thankfully the treatment was successful and I made a complete recovery to return back to leading my organization.
— Nicholas Pasquarosa, Founder and CEO, Bookkeeper360
In the second year that I was a partner at GHJ, I lost over 80 percent of my compliance real estate practice due to the recession of 2008. This was an extremely challenging time for me personally. However, looking back, it was a great learning opportunity and allowed me to pivot. I began to change my mindset from compliance to advisory.
I led the growth of the transaction advisory practice (a new service line at that time), which is now one of several consulting services we have. My role as the head of the firm’s consulting practice has allowed me to grow personally but, more importantly, move the firm to the direction we want to go.
Looking back, even though the period of 2018 and 2019 was very challenging, the firm’s support, coupled with my strong internal desire to succeed, allowed me to drag myself from what I believed to be rock bottom at that time.
— Anant Patel, Partner and Head of Advisory Services, Green Hasson Janks
I have been fortunate to receive many great opportunities in my career, including those to set up businesses / new projects from scratch. On the way, I have faced (and overcome) many challenges and obstacles.
In my very first full-time job, the company was accused of doing things that illegally benefitted its owners and of tax evasion. The market regulators ordered an investigation and the media was ripe with unsubstantiated sensationalism (the term “fake news” was not coined then). The investigation team from the regulator’s office (a government body) turned the paper and computer records upside down and caused complete chaos in the company. Nearly 600 employees of the company and their families were living under constant fear of an uncertain future (unemployment rates were pretty high then).
By then I had spent about three to four years in the company and had mastered the core business processes of the company. After the investigation started, I was made in-charge of the largest (headcount-wise and volume-wise) and the most important processing department of the company. The regular work was still required to be done (average 100,000 documents to be processed a day, under regulatory compliance requirements) by staff that was fearful and edgy. I focused relentlessly on “facts and data,” and communication skills to ensure everyone was kept fully abreast of tasks, targets and outcomes required. At the same time, I faced immense scrutiny from the investigations team who came with a preconceived agenda to “prove the wrongs.” The process mapping documentation that I had created as a management trainee was one of the key pieces of evidence that helped prove beyond doubt that there was no malicious intent from the company.
With my internal, personal strength of character, combined with my business process expertise, “let the data prove the truth” approach, and communication skills, and more importantly, the leadership skills I developed at an early stage in my career, I not only brought the average work turnaround time down to the most compliant in the history of the company, but also successfully closed the regulatory investigation to conclude with only a “some inadequate record-keeping process controls” remark, instead of the widely-feared-to-be-inevitable “closure (of the business) order” from the regulators. Had the feared inevitable taken place, it would have killed the future careers of all of us at the company. Unknown to me at that time, the industry was noticing my strengths and opened up new doors of career opportunities for me. “Fearless resilience to uphold the truth” is the virtue it instilled in me, which has always kept me prepared to face any adversity in my life and career.
— Hitendra Patil, Director of Practice Development, AccountantsWorld
I have been very fortunate and haven’t faced a major obstacle in my career. My first professional position was as nonpartisan staff for the South Dakota Legislature. I worked for hundreds and hundreds of people from all walks of life whose only common denominator was being elected to the legislature. Being exposed to so many different personalities first in my career has made the remainder of my career much easier.
— Scott Peterson, Vice President of U.S. Tax Policy and Government Relations, Avalara Inc.
When I started my career, I was nervous to talk to clients. I knew my communication skills would limit me unless I improved them. I joined Toastmasters, served on committees, and sought public speaking opportunities to improve. It took several years of practice, and I am now much more confident in my interpersonal skills and public speaking abilities.
— Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, Head of Finance, International Legal Technology Association
My first job in 1979 was at one of the Big Eight accounting firms. As a young woman, it was really tough finding my way. There were no sponsors, no role models and, honestly, no space in the culture for women. Social talk revolved around sports, and social activities were geared exclusively for men. I started to believe that my only alternative was to find a different career path. At the time, government was much more egalitarian at the staff and middle manager levels, although women were still far from being well represented at senior and executive levels.
Since then, I have taken every opportunity to change things for women and other underrepresented communities. As deputy commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and later as its commissioner, I implemented two programs to ensure that women and people of color were recognized and promoted. The first was an emerging leaders program where people opted into the program and received training, mentorship and sponsorship. In the past, future leaders were chosen by current leaders, and they tended to look just like them — white males. This program developed new types of leaders, and provided them with the tools and support they needed to advocate for themselves in the workplace. The second was a partnership with Bunker Hill Community College to identify interested students, provide them with a certificate program, an internship and a pathway to employment. This led to an influx of smart, talented and diverse young professionals who would have never gotten a job with the state otherwise. I am immensely proud of these programs and their successes.
Now, I have an opportunity to make similar changes in the accounting profession, which is why diversity and inclusion is such an important platform for me. There is nothing more satisfying than to personally overcome an obstacle, then help others do the same.
— Amy Pitter, President and CEO, Massachusetts Society of CPAs
As a woman in a profession that was not particularly diverse as I was progressing through the ranks, I would not have become the FAF president/CEO without the help of a number of mentors along the way, who encouraged me to find my voice and helped me develop my leadership skills. It’s great to see the progress that the profession has made in terms of increased diversity and mentoring future leaders. We still have a ways to go in terms of increasing diversity in a number of aspects.
— Terri Polley, Immediate Past President and CEO, Financial Accounting Foundation
Being a member of the LGBTQ community as a CPA was a challenge, particularly in the earlier stages of my career when the profession was not perhaps as welcoming as it could have been of members who were part of my community. Once I progressed further in my career to leadership and executive positions, I found the profession to have become more welcoming, inclusive and diverse. I stayed focused on balancing my personal life with my professional life, which kept me centered on the importance of inclusion, equality and diversity in our profession. I believe I am a better leader as a result of these challenges and overcoming them and living as my genuine self.
— Anthony Pugliese, CEO, California Society of CPAs
In 1998, the CPA firm I headed at the time was sold to a major accounting consolidator. I was subsequently forced to transition to, essentially, a new career overnight. We were the first firm acquired to lead H&R Block Business Services and I was chosen to spearhead that effort. Lacking any prior experience for much of what I needed to efficiently execute that strategy, I approached it as taking the ride of my life and absorbing a new experience every day.
— Terry Putney, CEO, Transition Advisors
As U.S. country manager at Xero, the U.S. is a significant market for us. Coming from the Southern Hemisphere, I had to spend considerable time in the trenches learning about our customers and people so we could bring our best global learnings into the market, while solving the unique challenges the U.S. market brings. It’s one of the largest small-business markets in the world. The opportunity in size can be a really positive thing and it can also lead you down the wrong path. While this is a challenge for us, I spend a lot of time with my team picking our spots because we’re not trying to win the whole thing at once. We work really closely with our partner community and make sure we’re with them throughout their Xero journey and as they begin to transform their firms.
— Ben Richmond, U.S. country manager, Xero
At one point, I was managing partner at RootAdvisors, executive editor of CPA Practice Advisor, was writing two books and launched Rootworks — all at the same time. I learned to focus on the things that I was uniquely qualified to do and would have the largest impact on the profession.
— Darren Root, CEO, Rootworks
When I first started my firm almost five years ago, it had a completely different focus. I handled the transition to “accounting only” clients by working with them to make sure that my service offering of coaching and technical guidance was what they wanted and needed. This led to working with Apps and helping them with Strategy, a space I cannot imagine not being a part of. Both sides of the business require constant maintenance, care, and guidance. Each client has unique needs and specifications, just like all humans. I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all solution. Like every successful business person, I course-correct as needed, fire quickly, and regroup as needed.
— Richard Roppa-Roberts, The ProAdvisor Advisor, Quasar Cowboy
The move to advisory is not new to us. It has been a challenge every day for my 21 years in the accounting industry. I don’t see this as an obstacle, rather a significant challenge and opportunity. What we do is the very definition of the move to advisory. Finding out a client’s goals, what they’re worried about and what they have done or haven’t done about it and then helping them with priorities is what I thrive on. Our challenge as a company, and me personally, has been to help the CPA advisors be in the planning lane versus the transactional or compliance lane.
— Louie Rosalez, President, HK Financial Services
Twenty years ago, I had achieved modest success in financial management positions with several companies, but I was in a rut and needed a different path. I got my feet wet a little with CPA firm consulting while working at a big CPA firm and felt that this was the ticket to my future. Prior to this, all my experience had been in internal positions with companies, mainly as a CFO and COO. I had never sold anything to anybody. I had no clients to build a business around. Not a soul in the CPA industry knew who I was.
But I proceeded to develop a name for myself and along the way, developed proprietary consulting practices, achieved proficiency at obtaining clients, made a mark by writing hundreds of journal articles for major publications and speaking at dozens of MAP conferences. Soon to follow was the creation of The Rosenberg MAP Survey, The Rosenberg Roundtables and ultimately, the Rosenberg Practice Management Book Series. To build something from nothing has given me an enormous feeling of satisfaction.
— Marc Rosenberg, President, The Rosenberg Associates
Around 2008, we started to see a rapid decline in CPAs attending in-person CPE. It was a pivotal moment for state societies. Without a CPE revenue stream, our ability to invest in and support the profession was challenged.
As the COO at the California Society of CPAs, I led the charge in moving our CPE business model from in-person to virtual. In 2008, no one else was doing this at scale — in any profession — and we flipped our business model from 98 percent in-person CPE in 2008 to more than 60 percent virtual by the time I left in 2013.
Interestingly, I believe we are on the brink of a similar transformation today.
— Clar Rosso, EVP, Engagement and Learning Innovation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
I had the fantastic opportunity to relocate to Singapore to run our Tax & Accounting business in Asia Pacific in 2010, and my husband was able to relocate his job there at the time also. Unfortunately, when my two-year assignment was up, it was much harder for my husband to move his job again, and we spent most of the next two years commuting thousands of miles to see each other! I’ve always been a strong believer in “Everything happens for a reason” and it did all work out well in the end, but it was definitely a challenge, personally, at the time.
— Charlotte Rushton, President, Tax & Accounting Professionals, Thomson Reuters
Integrating large, complex acquisitions is one of the toughest challenges I’ve experienced. Melding cultures and getting diverse teams of people focused on the mission are very difficult. However, without such focus, synergies are lost, and deals fail. The most important lesson I have learned is that you can’t change human nature. You can harness it and leverage it to great success, but if you fight it or try to change it, you will fail.
— G. Brint Ryan, Chairman and CEO, Ryan, LLC
I have, as most legal and accounting professionals have, experienced many professional ups and downs throughout my career. If you’re “doing it right,” that’s bound to happen when you’ve been in the same profession for as long as I have. While there is always something new to learn, there are very few professional challenges I haven’t faced. The work, for example, can be cyclical but I have overcome any “down” periods simply by never giving up — going to work every day and trying my best on behalf of the clients who trust me. I have found that if you ever make a mistake, or deliver a less than optimal result, people are usually forgiving if they see that you are committed to rectifying things.
— Russell Shapiro, Partner, Executive Committee Member, Transactional Department Chair, Levenfeld Pearlstein
Probably the biggest obstacle I’ve faced during my career came in 2000, when I joined the MACPA team. I was a sports journalist who knew nothing about accounting and finance at the time — a particularly big challenge for our association’s communications chief. I overcame it the way I overcome any challenge: by learning as much as I can, as fast as I can. I immersed myself in the profession, learned all I could from mentors like Jackie Brown and Tom Hood, and embraced accounting as my career.
Given the pace of change today, a mindset that embraces continuous learning has never been more important. “Professional student” should be included in every job description going forward. “The illiterate of the 21st century,” said Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
— Bill Sheridan, Chief Communications Officer, MACPA and Business Learning Institute
I recently wrapped up work with a client on a transformation project where we kept running into challenges because of their organizational politics. It was so severe, I was even questioning myself and whether I was somehow missing something. As I consulted with others and as the situation unfolded, we finally surfaced the underlying issues and again they were internal organizational dynamics and not things that I could affect. Through that whole situation, I persevered, and in the end, I got the reassurance from the CEO that she thought I had helped them a lot and that she was still appreciative of my efforts and expertise.
— Donny Shimamoto, Managing director, IntrapriseTechKnowlogies
When I first began helping firms execute M&A deals nearly 30 years ago, there were no benchmarks or written precedents as to how to value an accounting firm. The need was clear, but information was not published anywhere, and I was supposed to provide guidance. Who advises the most trusted advisor was the role I wanted, but I didn’t see a clear path. The differences in selling a CPA firm and other businesses were night and day. A typical business was sold caveat emptor or buyer beware. Down payments, notes, interest, goodwill … all were the norm. I learned over time that accounting firms were sold seller beware and had to adapt my thinking.
After years of asking questions and applying common sense, I started to understand how deals worked and from there created a company that could actually advise clients, teaching about alternative deal structures which ultimately lead to the creation of my “Two-Stage Deal,” which enabled practitioners to retain income, reasonable control and autonomy while transitioning their firm. If I only knew then what we know today!
— Joel Sinkin, President, Transition Advisors
Unfortunately, a leader in the bookkeeping industry took a strong dislike to me, and started viciously bullying me across social media. She took every opportunity to unravel and undermine my credibility in the industry. I tried, but realised I was unable to stop her. To overcome it, I went low and quiet for over a year, and shifted my career in a different direction, so she was not in a position to impact what I was trying to do.
I’m now a vocal advocate trying to tackle bullying in the accounting and bookkeeping industry by identifying resources to support people, so they become survivors, not victims. I would like to see companies, organizations and practices be able to direct people to the resources they need to survive bullying.
— Heather Smith, Anise Consulting
In one way or another, it seems I've always been at the center of organizations that lived and breathed growth and innovation. Every day is a new challenge, just to keep up. There is no Plan B.
You could say the same about the tax and accounting business today: Change or die. There is no Plan B.
— Rick Telberg, Founder and CEO, CPA Trendlines
One of my most challenging obstacles was in passing the CPA Exam while working in public accounting. Amid a heavy workload and client obligations, I was able to put the hours in to study and eventually pass the Exam due to some encouraging career mentors. Today, I help to encourage and motivate young professionals to take and pass the CPA Exam.
— Ralph Thomas, CEO and Executive Director, New Jersey Society of CPAs
Of course! In a big company like AT&T, change could be hard but inevitable. I led by being inclusive and building followership, with a call to action when AT&T was getting hammered in a competitive marketplace.
— Jeff Thomson, President and CEO, Institute of Management Accountants
The biggest learning I have had is to never hold too tight to an idea or way you want to deliver your services, because if the people around you are not on board, it will go nowhere. I learned this early on when I launched my first accounting practice.
I had been an auditor by trade, but I decided that if I open an audit practice by myself, it would be too much regulation to manage on my own. So instead, I originally thought I would launch a bookkeeping business. The idea was that I would hire bookkeepers to do monthly work for clients while I managed it. However, what I soon found was the prospects that were calling my business didn’t all want bookkeeping services. They wanted someone to help them understand what they were doing as far as their accounting, provide expertise on what the numbers meant and how to impact them, and help with technology implementation and design.
If I had kept pushing on my original idea, I would have never learned about technology in the way that I did, and I would not have grown my business in the way that I wanted. I needed to be open to listening to what my clients wanted and design my offerings to meet those needs. That meant in the beginning I didn’t know a lot about what they were asking for; however, I found as long as I gave myself time to research the solutions and be responsive to the client to let them know when they would get the answer they needed, they were happy.
— Amy Vetter, CEO, The B3 Method Institute
Everyday is an obstacle in some way, as I feel like I’m running a high-tech start-up more than any company in the accounting landscape. One of my most recent challenges is that I hired someone to run the CPA firm division of the company, C3 Advisory, and it was apparent pretty quickly that I made the wrong choice. The person was not the right fit for what we needed as a company and our goals. I had to take a hard look at what are the values of the company and the needs of our stakeholders and take immediate action and make a difficult and disruptive in the short run change in that position. Setbacks always happen, but I try and constantly move forward and not let the problems continue unfixed long term.
— Garrett Wagner, CEO/Founder, C3 Evolution Group, C3 Advisory, C3 Financial
Self-doubt, lack of confidence, listening to my head (that loud “should” voice) and not my heart. It is a daily struggle but one I eagerly face each day. I am so appreciative of the people and opportunities that seem to show up at just the right time and try to pay it forward for others. There is so much joy in helping others listen to their own hearts.
— Geni Whitehouse, Countess of Communication, Brotemarkle, Davis & Co. LLP, Even a Nerd Can be Heard, Solve Services
Starting and growing a company involves facing one challenge after another then another. It is hard to pick any one obstacle as being the largest as the real challenge is overcoming so many of them, one after the other. The key is to remain persistent in confronting these obstacles and accept that you will sometimes fail.
— Mike Whitmire, Co-Founder and CEO, FloQast
My life is full of challenges, which is no different from anyone else! The one time that comes to mind immediately is July of 2008 when I learned I had thyroid cancer. I went through treatment and had to stop consulting/traveling for four months. I loved the fact that my team just stepped up and took on clients, projects and all my work so that I could focus on healing. I’m a very fortunate person because today I’m healthy. Again, life is indeed very good!
— Sandra Wiley, President, Boomer Consulting
Too many to name! And I eventually overcome all obstacles by practicing my personal motto of being #unstoppable. When I read your question, I thought about the impacts of both the 2002 and 2008 downturns on ConvergenceCoaching. During those times, our clients (CPA firms and associations) contracted spending on retreats, strategic planning, and leadership learning programs and we were impacted. We survived by pivoting our service offerings to include growth consulting and assistance with cash management strategies and right-sizing or down-sizing. We also communicated transparently with our team about our financial performance, managed cash carefully including not taking draws, and sometimes putting money in, to keep the business going and our team intact. Going through those tough times taught me about business grit and gave me gratitude for the blessings that an upmarket and dynamic change bring.
— Jennifer Wilson, Co-Founder and Partner, ConvergenceCoaching
As most of your readers know, in 2018 Woodard Events suffered a financial downturn that ultimately resulted in the need to restructure the company’s debt under a Chapter 11. To weather this storm, we embraced a culture of public transparency with our financial situation, and we focused intensely on our company’s vision “to transform small businesses through small-business advisors.” Our transparency helped us to retain the trust of our customers, and our vision-focus within our team led to a season of purpose-driven innovation around our educational and coaching programs.
Ultimately, our ability to overcome this obstacle would not have been possible without the loyalty of our customers, and we are extremely grateful for the continued trust and engagement of our attendees, members, and sponsors. These cherished relationships sustained us during a very difficult time.
— Joe Woodard, CEO, Woodard Events
I think we have all faced major obstacles in our careers, and for me, the solution is to push through it. I try to work hard, surround myself with people who are smart in different ways than I am, and ask them for their perspectives. I also try to be honest with myself about my limitations, others’ expectations of me, and my own expectations of myself.
— Candy Wright, Chair, Private Company Council
As I was leaving all of my prior jobs, I was told I would not succeed. In the first, I made the decision to stay in sales tax and not move into income tax. In the second, I left industry to move to public accounting, and the final when I left public accounting to start my practice. I overcame all of my doubters through hard work and commitment to my passion. My entire career has been in sales tax and I’m proud of what I have accomplished. I am highly thought of and respected by my peers. It would have been easy to listen to others and not pursue a unique path. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not taken each of the positions I did. I worked hard to prove that I had what it took to make it in each new role.
— Diane Yetter, President and Founder, Yetter Consulting Services and Sales Tax Institute
As many new entrants to a profession learn, there are rules for engagement and for "adulting" in the real world. More than one time, I found out the hard way that I didn't understand the rules (how to be explicit) or agreements (such as a commission rate) with companies or colleagues. This kind of experience is not unique to me, nor even to our profession. What tends to come out of it is a bit of a "reality check" and the commitment to advocate for yourself and your worth. While it was difficult in the moment when I felt both underappreciated and taken advantage of, I was able to apply those learnings in future experiences to exemplify fairness and transparency in the way I do business myself.
— Scott Zarret, President, CPAacademy.org