"What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet . . ."
Act 2 Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet
"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me."
What's one of the biggest hot-button issues roiling CPAs these days? You might guess the effects of Sarbanes-Oxley, the president's new tax proposal, or a growing dissatisfaction with the AICPA. But you'd be wrong.
It’s calling an accountants’ livelihood an "industry."
Over the past year my colleagues in the trade press have been repeatedly taken to task for referring to the businesses accountants run as an "industry."
"From the mainstream press who don’t know any better, I’d expect this, but not from you!" one irate CPA wrote me not long ago.
Just for a minute, let’s let cooler heads prevail and see if we can pinpoint exactly why this seemingly innocuous word inspires so much rage.
The word "industry" is commonly defined as the "commercial production and sale of goods" or "a specific branch of manufacture and trade." OK, I can see where being lumped together with widget-makers and soda-bottlers might make someone with an advanced degree wince.
Conversely, the definition for "profession" sounds so much more gentile and noble: "An occupation or career that requires considerable training and specialized study." Even the sentence the dictionary offers to help define the word is telling: "One of the highest compliments a child can pay a parent is to choose his or her profession" (Joan Nathan).
But my feeling is the two words are not mutually exclusive and both define the sum of what it is that CPAs do every day. From the largest to the smallest firms, CPAs create and sell products to their clients every day. They offer tax advice to businesses as small as the corner copy shop and as large as a multinational corporation, they provide clients with succession planning, estate planning, litigation support, payroll, computer hardware and software advice and benchmarking to see where they’ve been and where they should go.
They also run businesses – and they run them with an eye to making money. What may have started as a profession to provide a single service – auditing of public companies – has grown into a bustling, thriving industry – and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s capitalism rearing it beautiful head, and it shouldn’t be shunned or kicked aside as a venture unworthy of admiration or respect.
The men and women running the largest industries in this company are professionals, strategizers and business planners, too. And when they make great products for consumers, great returns for their investors and a great place for their employees to work, they’re praised and fawned over and held up as paragons of what is wonderful and rewarding about business.
So let’s not get stuck on semantics, and get on with the vital business at hand. And the next time you see accounting referred to as an industry, take a deep breath, smile and hold up your head with pride.
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