Our annual Most Influential list sparks questions

There are just some things in the course of everyday existence that I don’t understand, and probably never will. For example, why does the drive-up ATM at my bank have Braille keys?

Moving right along, my next area of bewilderment (and trust me, those who know me will tell you that there are many)involves our annual Top 100 Most Influential People issue.

Each year, Accounting Today solicits nominations to that elite century list and, as expected, we get a host of potential candidates, some slam-dunks and others, well, let’s just diplomatically label them “unconventional.”

Nevertheless, we give each candidate consideration, and when the issue eventually comes out, there are some surprises and, naturally, some disagreements.

This, the third year in which I’ve been involved in this process, seems to have brought out the, ahem, competitive spirit within our readers.

After returning from a brief speaking engagement, when the T100 issue came out, I was treated to a half-dozen incredulous e-mails. Most demanded to know why some former T100 mainstays had been left off the 2003 roster, while others, (primarily PR flaks) shared their concerns about telling their respective superiors exactly why they didn’t make the final cut. Boy, would I love to overhear those conversations.

In my three years as editor-in-chief, I’ve never devoted more than one column to our selection criteria, but this time, I’ll make an exception.

First, let me make it clear that if we place a controversial figure on the list, it doesn’t mean that our editorial staff is mentioned in his or her will. Much like Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, to be named is not synonymous with popularity.

Second, there are always going to be constants — industry executives, regulators, and educators — whose influence over the profession is continual, such as the chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

Third, making the Top 100 list is not akin to a union no-show job. You actually have to do something or make a difference in the profession to deserve inclusion. It’s not a legacy: If you make it one year, that doesn’t entitle you to hold on to the spot if you take a year off, self-imposed or otherwise.

And remember, biggest is not necessarily a T100 criteria.

To align with our readership demographics, one could make an argument not to include any Big Four CEOs, as their influence — while considerable on larger accounting plains — is several hundred tectonic plates removed from the rank and file of public accounting, or at least those who comprise most of our audience. And many of the one- and two-man shops who are subscribers do not actively monitor what’s going on in the executive suites at places like PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.

But, that being said, leave someone from the Big Four off the T100 list and I will be besieged with enough phone calls to make an aggressive telemarketer blush.

Yet despite it all, the final selection is not an autocratic process, as I can be, and often am, outvoted. But I know that I can confidently turn to my editorial staff should I remain on the traditional “fence” about a particular selection.

But back to the matter at hand.

Are there candidates on this year’s list whom you may feel don’t deserve to be there and vice-versa? Probably, but that’s true with any subjectively selected list. It’s not quite like our Top 100 Firms, which are ranked purely on a quantitative measure.

Here’s hoping I’ve answered some burning questions about our survey, and for those who didn’t make it, I hope you didn’t take it personally.

So, until next year.

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