Year ago, I interviewed a municipal manager I had known for years. He had a statewide reputation and my job was to write a sketch about him. It was frustrating work. He took credit for nothing. The clerk did this; the road department that; the police something else. If you believed him, he just occupied a seat. Other people did everything of value.
In 1997, I first interviewed AICPA president Barry Melancon. Looking back, the two interviews could not have contrasted more. Melancon spoke enthusiastically at length of the various hand-held devices that enabled him to work as a mobile professional. He talked about vision and systems. He rarely talked about people.
To this day, he talks more about vision and theory than about people. I think it is this fixation on grand visions that frustrates many AICPA members. Vision comes first. People get lost in the shuffle.
The problem is that the job of AICPA president is a political job, as much as it is the job of an executive running a corporate empire. The needs of different groups need to be balanced. Views must be heard, maybe not accepted, but acknowledged as valid.
Melancon does not seem to have the ability to do that. And whether it's fair or not, this very talented, charming man, comes across often as not listening to members.
I think a more politically oriented individual could have gotten the membership to approve the global credential. (I am not saying it should have been adopted.) After the revulsion set in against Cognitor, if Melancon had said, "You're right. What were we thinking? I have messed things up. I assure you I will defend the CPA designation with all my being," he might have gotten the credential through. (And when he was interviewed in our offices last month, he tossed off all management responsibility for the credential saying, "we never said we thought that the credential would pass.")
Nor does he admit fault easily. When the vote of the global credential was announced, Melancon did not say in the conference call involving that decision that, "I'm very disappointed. I believed in this concept. I have failed to get my message across." Instead, he said that the AICPA had learned a lot of valuable lessons from the effort. As I have said before, you can learn a lot for the $5 million that the Institute admits to having spent to attempt to pass the credential.
Again, when Melancon visited the offices of the Accountants Media Group (our organization) last month with AICPA chair James Castellano, he displayed a lack of appreciation of the emotional side of issues.
Concerning the Enron debate and auditing fiascoes, Melancon seemed to maintain that the system works efficiently to prune companies that misbehave. I am sure the people who saw their 401(k)s go down the tubes because of the greed of corporate executives and auditors who are AICPA members, would not share his cheery view of the efficiency of the market.
Is there a lesson here? Yes, vision and grand planning is important. But vision must embrace people. It must rest on their needs, not substitute for concern. The AICPA is a membership organization that is very much built on people. I think it is time to move away from vision and towards people for a while.
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