Each summer, the editors at Accounting Today begin the groundwork for our annual Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, which will appear in our Sept. 22 issue. These are the folks we feel have exerted a not-inconsiderable influence on the profession over the past year and, in many cases, for far longer than that.

During the year, I’m frequently contacted by readers asking exactly what criteria we use when determining our 100 finalists, or even the larger list of preliminary candidates.

Giving a standard answer to that is akin to squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. Meaning that the only standard is that there is no standard. You could make a cogent argument for the head of a Big Four firm as easily as you could for the overseer of a popular chat room of CPA dissidents.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed emotional arguments over who was the greatest center fielder or the greatest middleweight actually escalate into fisticuffs. (Lesson No. 1: Never debate baseball or boxing with rabid fans of either.) Fortunately, debates over exactly who belongs on our Top 100 list have not, and probably never will, carry over to fistic passion, but it’s interesting to argue the point, nonetheless. Not to mention infinitely safer.

Given the past two years, the 2003 list should be all the more interesting. First, because the accounting landscape has changed, and not insignificantly. And second, because of the ongoing restoration project that remains ahead.

In a not-too-subtle irony, some Web searches for CPA have resulted in URLs for “Coalition Provisional Authority,” the rather formal nomenclature for what is better known as the peacekeeper force in Iraq. And in the scope of things, both holders of the CPA designation and the U.S. Army are charged with imposing rebuilding efforts. Both are underway - though the one currently ongoing within the profession has had a sizeable head start - but, sadly, neither are close to being completed.

Which brings us back to our Top 100 list.

There will, of course, be the requisite association and regulatory heads, not to mention a good chance of more than one candidate from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. And how competitive would the profession be if it were not for the top technology vendors?

But even that leaves more vacancies than a haunted hotel. Do we select candidates who specialize in “repair,” or others, like several of the new state society chairs, who can help rejuvenate the profession at a grass-roots level? How about the 2003-2004 chair of the American Institute of CPAs, who has a platinum opportunity to make a statement about the direction of the institute and its commitment to the restoration of the profession?

How about the marketers? CPAs historically have been as adroit at marketing themselves and their services as Chevy Chase at a Cirque du Soleil tryout. But organizations such as the Association for Accounting Marketing are trying to change that. Then there are the enrolled agents, financial planners, educators and consultants. And let’s not forget those accomplished heads of small to national firms who really are the backbone of the profession.

And in truth, some selections will be unanimous, while others may leave readers asking, “What were they thinking?”

If nothing else, it should be interesting - and relatively safe.

Bill Carlino

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