What makes a visionary? The question was broached obliquely several times throughout the American Institute of CPAs' 2nd annual E.D.G.E. Conference, held in mid-August in Orlando, Fla.

And more directly when Tamera Loerzel, partner at national leadership and marketing consulting firm ConvergenceCoaching, told the roomful of CPAs with eyes on their iPads: "Being a visionary requires you to lift your head up."

Most did.

"How often are we lifting our heads up to see that big picture and say, 'Where does this fit? Why am I doing this?'" she continued.

The event itself, with the tagline "Sharpening the Next Generation of CPAs," catered to younger-generation visionaries. Sessions focused on leadership, advocacy, mentorship and sustainability, with entrepreneurship as this year's overall theme.

For Michael Hsu, CEO and founder of outsourced accounting department DeepSky, who participated in two sessions on the topic, his big picture comes when most people's heads are on their pillows.

Hsu took advantage of the 7 p.m.-2 a.m. window of time after his day job to work on starting his own business, he explained. Or what Loerzel would call "some quiet visioning time" away from the day-to-day.

Or what fellow panelist Jason Blumer, chief innovation officer at Blumer & Associates CPAs, and founder of the THRIVEal +CPA Network, would deem marginal. "You need a margin in life to be creative," Blumer explained. "That's where you add value as an entrepreneur."

In other words, don't count yourself out of that big picture, whether monetarily -- as Hsu counseled when noting that most entrepreneurs undervalue and underpay themselves for the work they do and the risk they take -- or because of an ingrained modesty.

"We all have self-interest," Loerzel told the attendees. "Why don't we talk about it? In preschool, we are taught not to be selfish." But these interests need to be identified and verbalized to colleagues, she added.

And your local government, advised Emily Walker, government affairs director for the Virginia Society of CPAs. During her session on political action committees, she detailed how one member of the VSCPA advocated for the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to make tax strategies no longer patentable, and then watched it signed into law by President Barack Obama in September 2011.

This message of one person initiating change resonated with the audience, or at least on the event's hashtag-aggregated Twitter screen. "Tax strategies patent issue proves that it only takes 1 person to speak out to make positive changes!" one participant broadcast under the #AICPA_Edge tag.

But not all takeaways were as rosy, as Heidi Brundage, senior manager of the AICPA's A&A product line and professional development team, pointed out how diversity in the profession lags behind population statistics. More than half of the total population growth in the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to an increase in the Hispanic population. By 2020, immigrants will drive population growth more than those native to the United States. Accountant demographics, especially in leadership roles, do not match up. The profession needs a large-format adjustment.

"Our environment is changing," Brundage said. "I'm afraid that as a profession, we're not keeping up. In order to survive, we need inclusiveness."

 

A MEMORIAL, A MISSION

Two members of the first class of the AICPA Leadership Academy had once shared this vision of diversity, and during the conference, one of them, Donny Shimamoto, was honored for his efforts in memory of the other, Maximo Mukelabai, who died at the age of 36 last year.

Shimamoto, founder and managing director of IntrapriseTechKnowlogies and current member of the AICPA's Governing Council and its Assurance Services Executive Committee, as well as chair of its Information Technology Executive Committee, remembered their first meeting while accepting the inaugural Maximo Mukelabai Award during the event's luncheon.

The two had bonded quickly, identifying the homogeneity of their fellow leadership academy members and recognizing a need for change. While Mukelabai is no longer here to help him realize this goal of diversity, Shimamoto said during his emotional speech, he now knew, looking out over Mukelabai's family and a rapt crowd, that he was "not alone" in his quest.

When Shimamoto later moderated Blumer and Hsu's entrepreneur panel, which also included A-lign CPAs managing director Scott Price, he had another bigger-picture moment. "I realize this is a testosterone-heavy panel," he told the crowd. "I'm throwing it out there that I want a girl-power panel next year."

It would be a wise move, based on Brundage's statistics - between 2002 and 2007, there was a 20 percent increase in the number of small companies owned by females. On the flip side, women represent 80 percent of all purchasing decisions. And the wider view: The accounting profession is expected to grow by 22 percent in the next 10 years, creating 200,000 new jobs.

But the future of the profession goes beyond numbers, as Gretchen Pisano, life coach instructor at Martha Beck Inc., articulated during a session. "The lens of what is possible to achieve becomes bigger and bigger every day to young people."

And accountants, after all, are familiar with scale.

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