My message to Saint Mary's College accounting students

Jody gave the following speech for Saint Mary’s College (her alma mater) Accounting Awards, in which she was also presented with the Outstanding Accounting Alumna Award.

[IMGCAP(1)]It was 1994. The fall of the Navy Suit.

More than 20 years ago.

And I was sitting in your seat. 

I remember the painstaking search for the interview suit and the fights with my mother about what was appropriate. I ended up with a navy-colored, fairly conservative suit with a skirt. Along with it came a slip and nylons.

Do you all even know what those are?

One of my good friends, English major, even wrote a paper about me. About how I “got dressed” in my suit and went across the street to interview with the big firms. There were six of them then. She even came and pretended she was an accounting major so she could write her story. She thought “we” the collective accounting majors, had it all because we had “job opportunities” while she was walking through the dining hall wondering what vegetables to pick and what she was going to do with her life.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t really as sure as she thought I was. I was failing B-stats and I ended up dropping it, not sure if I was going to even graduate. It was iffy all the way to my spring final. 

My life at Saint Mary’s was nontraditional then for an accounting major. I think it’s a little different now. I spent my sophomore year in Rome. I spent my junior year internship with the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. living at Georgetown with my history and political science major friends. My friends and I all applied to the program but I was the only one accepted. I swear it’s because no other accounting students applied. They ended up in other programs around D.C.

Most of my friends went to Washington D.C. after graduation to “find jobs” and I went to Chicago to work for PwC where I had interned during the spring semester. I was in their technology group…go figure!

My first job out of school was rough; it was a bad year for me personally. I was sick and working 60 hours a week wasn’t helping. I quit after one year and went to work in corporate tax. Within a year at my new job, I was laid off and outsourced to Arthur Andersen. I chose not to go. Instead, I went to work for a mid-sized firm in Chicago. I found the work I loved to do but the culture was not great. I was pregnant and was still expected to work 55+ hours a week during tax season.   

The night of September 11, 2001, my co-worker was forced to stay till 9pm to finish a tax return while the partners’ wife frantically called about what was happening in New York. There was a mismatch between my values and what the firm thought was important.

My kids were born and I switch firms.

My new firm was a little better culturally but I was part-time. I was also getting my masters in tax. I perceived they saw me a “part-time” working mom and not a long-term professional. If I was going to make the sacrifices to balance my career and family, I was going to do it for myself. So, I came off a really bad tax season and I joined my Dad. He just retired from a corporate job and had a part-time individual tax firm.

So began New Vision CPA Group.

He told me to go get my own clients. And the clients I found looked like me, talked like me, and used technology and social media like me. They were 30 something.

The world had changed. Customers of my firm were next gen business owners who were working differently than the business owners that my two previous old school firms were attracting, aka the baby boomers. They were internet and mobile driven. So, I changed how I worked with them.  

Technologies such as cloud allowed us to work in real time, sharing the same financial statement. It didn’t take as long to do the financials so we could add advisory services on top them.

Gotomeeting/Skype became the preferred method of video chatting and sharing screens. I would never think of “going to their office” They had distributed workforces and many of my customers didn’t have offices.

They friended me on Facebook. That’s how we strengthen our relationships.

And when work that used to take four hours now took to minutes, I had to rethink how I would charge for my services. Billing by the hour would no longer work.

When I would go to state society meeting (my alleged peers, Baby Boomer men) none of them even had realized that a shift was happening. So I went to Twitter to solve my problem. I met up with about 10 next generation professionals who were doing thing differently just like me, but were scattered all over the country.   We met up in Las Vegas at Zappos to learn about customer service and I presented a session called “You Got Your Dad’s Firm Now What?” The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) coined us a movement seven years ago and said we represented what all their studies had shown firms would look like in the future. Yet, it wasn’t happening in the future, it was happening then in the present. It was 2009.

I started blogging about the changes that were happening mostly to organize my thoughts and I quickly found a following on social media. And an industry got behind me to create real change for our profession. Certain CPA leadership gave up their social capital to support me because they knew it was the right thing to do, while others tried to limit my voice. But the power of social media doesn’t allow that anymore. I was a disruption to the traditional CPA business model. Old school “thought leadership” didn’t like what we were doing.

Fast forward seven years and the AICPA, the very organization that said firms like us were far off into the future, is now endorsing us. Today. I have mixed feelings about that because I like being a disruptor! I like being radical! But it also feels good to get validation from the big boys too. Firms that are small and have the new business model now make up about five percent of firms out there. Top 100 firms are taking the ideas and changing their firms. And the technologies we need to run our firms differently are being developed. 

The radical voices of 10 or so young professionals who knew the world was changing and that there had to be a better way are about half way through turning a profession on its side.

When I think back on what my Saint Mary’s education gave me. It has nothing to do with the technical skills I learned in Financial Statement Accounting with Professor Hicks, or Economics, or even Claude’s tax class.  

It was a belief in myself that I had the power to change the world for a greater purpose. It was exposure to new ideas and cultural views from living in Rome, before global was trendy. It was learning to write well and speak confidently. It was being “forced” to take Art History and other subject that were not easy for me but gave me an appreciation for thinking critically. It was a certain quiet confidence that allowed me to sit in an intimidating room full of men and make sure my voice was heard.  

And above all, it was the girlfriends who have been my never-ending support on my journey. My besties who are nurses, teachers, lawyers, speech pathologists, and moms who have also impacted their worlds and have given me treasured friendships.

So think about this as you “suit up” for your interviews.

Your accounting background is strong. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. But more importantly take the confidence, the critical thinking skills, and the communication skills from having a liberal arts background. Your greater purpose, which you might not even know yet, will make you successful.

You might even change a profession, if you want to.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is the chief executive officer and principal at New Vision CPA Group and the author of The Radical CPA.

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