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Executives & Entrepreneurs Share Public Accounting Roots

SelectOne
Thu, Jan 14, 2016

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I was a few weeks into my career in public accounting and had a stark realization: I knew with certainty it wasn’t for me.  This was a troubling conclusion to have reached so early in my career, after working hard to graduate toward the top of my class, and having earned a coveted spot at a prestigious firm.  I quickly pivoted to figuring out a game plan – I focused on passing the CPA exam, networking hard, and figuring out what could be next.  

Looking back on this after nearly a decade in the search industry, I’ve realized the career paths of CPAs beyond public accounting are anything but linear.  I know many former public accountants that are no longer in practice, but are continuously leveraging the network, skills, and work ethic they honed at their former firms.

Among the many aspirations of young public accountants is the desire to become an executive.  There’s no how-to guide or recipe to follow – it takes a lot more than strong technical accounting knowledge to rise up through the ranks.  Here are a couple of quick stories of colleagues I worked alongside that became industry side financial leaders.

  • Michael Englert is currently the Chief Financial Officer of Auto Plus Auto Parts. Mike and I worked together in public accounting, where I watched Mike work tirelessly to meet or beat deadlines and build relationships with client executive leadership.  Our firm worked to place Mike in a mid-level financial management role; he quickly learned his new industry and far exceeded the financial accounting responsibilities of his role, working hard for two promotions in three years.  After an ownership change and relocation, Mike earned a promotion to CFO.  
  • Mark Graczyk is currently a Finance Director within Moog ’s Aircraft Group Division. Mark and I also worked together in public where Mark was an annual top performer, routinely given exposure and responsibilities by firm leadership beyond his years of experience.  Mark built a professional brand with his primary client as an astute financial mind, quickly understanding the complexities of their intricate business. Shortly after taking a mid-manager finance role with another company, Mark joined his former client, Moog, in a Sector Controller role, and has since been promoted to a Director, running point on many strategic decisions for his division.

Many young professionals dream of becoming an entrepreneur, but few understand the grind that goes into launching and growing a business.  It seems sexy from the outside, but for all the benefits, if successful, there are certainly many unglamorous parts!  Time in public accounting, if maximized properly, gives a growing professional the unique vantage point of observing different companies, industries, revenue models, management styles, leadership team, value propositions, supply chains, ERP systems, and much more.  I’m one such former public accountant who took this path.  Here are a few quick stories of similar entrepreneurs with CPA roots.

  • Ryan Schultz and Nick Knab were also colleagues of mine in public. After leaving the firm to explore financial management opportunities at a healthcare services company, Nick and Ryan learned firsthand a critical gap that existed in the Health Reimbursement Account marketplace; as a result, they pooled their expertise, knowledge, capital, and relationships to launch a company called Empire Innovation Group to leverage slick mobile technology and automation.  A strong foundation in business process and internal controls coupled with deep industry knowledge and the identification of a business problem to be solved enabled Nick and Ryan to build software and launch a growing company from the ground up.
  • Ron Faso, fellow partner of mine at SelectOne, worked at a big four firm as well before joining a large WNY based healthcare provider in a financial management role. Ron, like me, knew he was not long for an accounting or finance working role, that he wanted to do something different.  After becoming a financial recruiter and learning the business from top to bottom, Ron launched his own firm with founding partner, John Baldo, in 2005 – SelectOne.  Growing a business from 2 working partners to a team of 16 takes a lot more than technical accounting and auditing skills, but certainly is rooted in the relationships and lessons learned in public. 

There are those seeking to make the climb to firm principal or partner, of course.  And certainly many folks leave public accounting for analytical, accounting, or internal audit roles at larger companies.  Some join smaller companies or non-profits in financial leadership roles.  And I could write a much longer post profiling the many dynamic people I worked with in public accounting who’ve since gone onto ascend in their careers and do really interesting, compelling work.  If leveraged properly, the experiences and relationships gained in public accounting can be the tickets needed to punch a fulfilling, diverse career.

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