I take my role as a watchdog of and for the profession and a chronicler of its news, trends and events very seriously. There aren’t many independent accounting media organizations out there, and before Enron turned the profession on its head, the mainstream business press was only interested in what was happening inside accounting firms if there was a scandal at a large company like Xerox or Waste Management.

A reporter’s job, the old axiom goes, is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." It takes great discernment at times to decide who’s comfortable and who’s afflicted, and roles can often be reversed. It’s no secret, for instance, that over the years I’ve held the American Institute of CPAs’ feet to the fire for actions and deeds which I feared may not have been in the accounting profession’s best interests. The campaign for Cognitor, and the way CPA2Biz was conceived and executed come to mind.

But it’s only fair to point out when an organization or individual does something spectacularly right, and give credit where credit is due. The AICPA’s recent conference in Phoenix on the current state of the profession and where it’s headed, was the most informative, interesting, diverse and well-run conference I’ve attended in six years covering the profession.

Here’s why it stood out. First, it offered a comprehensive look at the political and regulatory landscape since Enron. It offered outstanding and knowledgeable speakers like Comptroller General David Walker, liability attorney Dan Goldwasser, Washington lobbyist Vin Weber and even former Andersen chief Joseph Berardino. And its centerpiece was a two-hour Town Hall meeting where AICPA executives and prominent CPAs tried to answer every single unedited question put to them by the conference’s participants.

Sure, the AICPA stated its position on many issues and may have seemed a bit defensive at time, but it didn’t attempt to shape the debate at the conference, instead offering up often diversely opposed viewpoints on how and why the profession got where it is today and where it might be headed in the future.

The approximately 200 participants – all managing or lead partners from small and medium-sized firms, should now be well-armed with enough information and analysis to go back to their firms and start the process of figuring out how their firms need to grow, move or change to accommodate the brave new world they now face.

Any managing partners who missed this conference should network with colleagues who did, and brainstorm with their own partners and staff to determine their own course for the future. And make sure that they make early reservations for the next one.

 

 

 

 

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