The July 16, 2012, homepage for Yahoo! had an article called "Six Careers for People Who Don't Like People." As I read the article, my worst fear was realized: Heading the list was "Accountants." The author, Jennifer Berry, quoted Nancy Ancowitz, a business coach and author of Self Promotion for Introverts. Says Ancowitz: "Are you happier focusing on spreadsheets versus listening to coworkers or customers talking all day? Consider career options in accounting."
This article is an affront to all accountants who have been battling this image problem for decades. It enraged me so that I wrote Ancowitz a letter and copied Yahoo!'s president. Here is my letter.
Dear Ms. Ancowitz:
I am writing this on behalf of the accounting community regarding your characterization of a career in accounting as "a great option for people who just want to be left alone," or, as Yahoo! reporter Jennifer Berry headlined her article about your book, as a "career for people who don't like people." You have both taken the easy path of succumbing to a tired view that typecasts accountants as bean-counting number-crunchers who are people-averse.
I beg to differ.
I'm going to focus on the type of accountant I know best -- public accountants, or CPAs. Their existence is founded on the cultivation and nurturing of strong relationships. A CPA can be brilliant in their work and incredibly innovative in counseling clients, but these attributes are of little use if the CPA fails to establish a close working relationship with clients, inspiring leadership and mentoring to the firm's staff, and helpfulness to their clients' attorneys and bankers. Ninety percent of a CPA's new clients originate from existing clients and referral sources. Do you think these people would refer clients to a CPA who comes across as someone who dislikes being with people?
Ask clients to describe their CPA, which I have been doing for 24 years, and you'll hear things like: "One of the people I like the best is my CPA" or "I can't think of anyone I would rather go out to dinner with than my CPA" or "My CPA has played a meaningful role in my life." With the exception of recession years, the vast majority of CPA firms generate more revenue every year than they did the year before. Clients rarely fire their CPA firm. Would clients want to rehire their CPA year after year if they came across as anti-social?
Ask any successful firm what attribute of their personnel is valued the highest. It's not brilliant accounting and tax expertise. It's not rainmaking. It's not willingness to work long hours. It is interpersonal skills.
Baby Boomer CPAs by the thousands are approaching normal retirement age and choosing to keep on working. It's not because they need the money. It's not because their firm needs them to stay. It's because they realize that they enjoy what they do, mainly because of the love affair they have with their clients. And they don't want this to end. Does this sound like the kind of person who doesn't like being with people?
I'm quite sure that an examination of corporate chief financial officers, treasurers and controllers would yield similar findings. Their stakeholders are their staffs, top management, and key external people such as stockholders, investment bankers, attorneys, bankers and vendors. The careers of these people would have been doomed before they got started if these accountants didn't like being with people.
In stereotyping accountants, you have grouped yourself with people who say things like:
• Blondes are stupid.
• Arabs are terrorists.
• All generals love war.
• The wealthy are elitist.
• Lawyers are shysters.
You get the picture. Sure, accountants have an image problem. Uninformed people might think of accountants as nerds. Well-informed people, including writers who do their research, know better.
Someone once said "the most sincere form of flattery is an insult."
Thank you, Ms. Ancowitz.
Very truly yours,
Marc Rosenberg, CPA
Marc Rosenberg, CPA, is a nationally known consultant, author and speaker on CPA firm management, and president of The Rosenberg Associates Ltd.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access