Rumor has it that legendary saloonkeeper Bernard "Toots" Shor - whose establishment in New York was a nocturnal haven for athletes, politicians and entertainment celebrities alike - once was engaged in a barstool conversation with Dr. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Toots was reportedly in mid-sentence when he stood up and said, "Excuse me, Doc, someone really important just came in," and subsequently greeted New York Giants' star outfielder Mel Ott.The lesson here is that, while Fleming's discovery saved countless millions of lives, Toots was savvy enough to know that it was stars like Ott who kept his place going.

Now, while no CPA that I'm aware of was ever besieged by autograph seekers to the extent that Ott was, the call to recruit and keep good talent among the profession seems to be a New Year's Resolution heard at least as often as a last-place team's fans promising to "Wait until next year."

Each year at this time, it seems that as the frenetic pace of filing season begins to encroach, practitioners suddenly become aware of their staffs or, more likely, staffing needs.

Five years ago, when I assumed the helm at Accounting Today, I was besieged by statistics regarding a drastic reduction in the number of students at the nation's universities pursuing accounting as a major, as well as a lack of professionals with from three to five years of experience. As it turned out, the accounting profession faced a labor crunch - and, depending upon whom you ask, still does today - similar to the ones faced by the retail and service industries. A combination of the financial promise of the tech boom and the far-better-marketed and promoted MBA credential diluted the allure of the CPA designation.

The profession in general and the leadership in particular deserve at least part of the blame for that plunge, for focusing on expensive and often inexplicable projects that ultimately wound up on the cutting room floor, instead of concentrating on the core CPA credential.

At the American Institute of CPAs Fall Meeting of Council in November, 2005-2006 chair Leslie Murphy said that curbing the shortage of CPAs would be one of the front-burner challenges, and unveiled a new initiative: the Young CPA Network, a strategy directed exclusively at young professionals. Murphy spoke of placing an emphasis on diversity and that oft-heard human resources mantra, "work/life balance." She told attendees at the fall confab, "One size doesn't fit all. One size fits one."

Successful CPA firms, like any successful business, are the ones that not only adapt better to change, but strive to create a workplace that can both utilize and develop the talents of a diverse workforce. I'm not breaking new ground here when I state that the accounting talent pool of today doesn't remotely resemble the ones at Price Waterhouse or Arthur Young circa 1970.

And remember, "diversity" can encompass age as well.

Recently, AARP compiled a list of the 50 top places to work for those over age 50, and no accounting firms made the cut. And that's a shame, considering the value that older professionals can bring to younger members of the CPA workforce in terms of mentoring and guidance.

Toots Shor's street smarts about who was important kept his place in business for 50 years. I can't think of too many firms that would snub their nose at similar longevity. It's just a matter of developing your present and future Mel Otts.

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