You know things are going well for a couple of CEOs when it takes a few weeks to lock down time with each other for a conversation. That’s exactly what Todd Shapiro and I had to experience with getting this interview together. Two busy CEOs. Two thriving organizations.
It’s a good problem to have.
Here at Brilliant, we strive to keep a pulse on the strength and integrity of the accounting, finance and IT communities, and the labor markets, no matter how busy we are so that we can communicate to you – our clients and candidates – what to expect in your workplace. Often times, you’ll ask us for our view on the future of these professions, and we’re constantly researching and conducting studies to stay on top of this information.
That’s why, this is not about us at all. It’s about serving you.
When thinking about a good resource to obtain such information on the accounting profession, I thought about Shapiro, the President and CEO of one of the largest state CPA societies in the nation – the Illinois CPA Society – and most recently, named one of the Top 100 Influential People in the Accounting profession by Accounting Today.
Shapiro’s accolades don’t stop there. He is also the President and CEO of the Illinois CPA Foundation, CPAs for the Public Interest and an ex-officio board member for the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. He is on the Accountancy Advisory Board for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the AICPA’s Future of Learning Task Force and the AICPA’s Peer Review Board. Prior to joining the Illinois CPA Society, he was Director of Finance for Unilever, a multi-national consumer package goods company. Shapiro has 20 years of financial and managerial experience with many Fortune 500 companies including Helene Curtis, Quaker Oats, Zenith Electronics and Continental Bank.
It’s clear that Shapiro knows the accounting profession inside and out. That’s why I wanted to sit down with him for a one-on-one discussion and get his perspective on the future of the CPA including the challenges and changes facing the accounting world in the years ahead.
JW: From your perspective, what is the biggest challenge you see for corporate finance/accounting and public accounting professionals in the next five years? 10 years?
TS: First, I think there’s going to be some crossover (with my responses). I think pipeline is a bit of an issue. There are more accounting majors today than there ever have been, but the number of people who are pursuing the CPA credential is flat to a slight decline. There are a number of reasons that people don’t see the importance of getting that credential. Whether it’s because employers aren’t paying for it, they don’t have time to study for it, it’s too hard to do, or lack of work-life balance, there are a thousand reasons why.
While business is growing; the public accounting sector is growing; the finance sector is growing; there are not enough accountants and not enough accounting professors to teach all of the accounting majors. I think that’s a challenge to a point because it may come to the credential losing relevance.
Secondly, in the next five years out, there will be a fascinating dynamic occurring in the workplace. I’m not sure what the lost generation (Generation X) is going to do, and I’m not sure what their role is going to be in 10 years. However, you’ve got this massive influx of young professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who don’t want to wait to get promoted to a director level. Then, you’ve got the lost generation going, ‘Wait a minute. What about us?’ If you’re 45-55 years old, you’re really competing for that job against a 35-year old. It’s a challenge to make sure people are ready to take on that leadership role. Are they going to wait and allow the Gen X-ers to assume the positions they should be assuming? The bottom line is you’re going to see more turnover. It’s a little bit of a challenge with those generational issues.
The last challenge that I see is diversity. I think it’s going to take 10 years or so to see diversity take hold in our profession. I think everyone knows diversity is important, but I don’t know if we’re taking it seriously enough. We have to take a lead and it is a long game.
The top accounting schools in the country do not have significant populations with diverse backgrounds. We actually do things with a high school on the west side (of Chicago) where they focus on college preparation. The number of kids interested in majoring in accounting is amazingly low. Those who do plan to pursue an accounting career usually have exposure to the profession either from a family member or friend.
JW: What type of advice or guidance would you give to a younger or more junior CPA that would benefit them throughout their career?
TS: My thoughts come to two areas, one being experience. Never look at the job you have; look at the job you want. Are you getting the right experience to get the job you want? I know this is hard sometimes for young people to do, but I think you need to forward-think what you want your career to be. I was talking with someone on my staff who’s interviewing me for a class paper, and I said that when I was in college I decided to pursue accounting so I switched my major to finance. I wanted to become a CFO for a mid-size company. That was my goal. I know it’s hard for people to think that far ahead but the challenge is, if you don’t, you can end up seven years out going, ‘Well, (now) I want to do this or that.’
The other thing I would tell them is to think. Don’t do, think. The number-one thing I look for in somebody is analytical skill. What’s analytical skill? It’s really simple. It’s the first thing that a child says that annoys the living hell out of a parent: The question, ‘Why?’
Also, don’t necessarily look at the next job, you’ve got to look even further. You’ve got to understand what you’re getting yourself into otherwise you’re going to be in a position you don’t want to be in and that’s sometimes hard to change.
JW: So, what about the middle-level manager? Would you give similar advice or would you change your guidance for someone closer to 12-15 years of experience?
TS: Well, hopefully, a person with 12-15 years of experience has not put themselves on a path that is irreversible. For the most part, I’d have the same advice. I would say to now narrow down and say, ‘OK, this is what I did for the last 10 years. Now, I need to figure out exactly how that is going to play out.’ By 15 years out (of school), you should be thinking, ‘What’s the end game supposed to be?’
I think another piece is getting into the managerial side. For the most part, looking at the next level and seeing what is the best opportunity for you. What specific job, assignments and type of work do you need to get you to your end goal.
JW: If we turn our attention towards the accounting profession itself, what do you think are the biggest changes coming in the future?
TS: I’m going to go into public accounting more heavily with this response, but I think it affects both corporate and public accounting. I think technology is going to continue to have an amazing impact in how you stay relevant. Why shouldn’t I get Turbo Tax to do my taxes? Or with a simplified tax code, what will prevent the IRS from collecting taxes themselves? How will the automation of compliance functions impact the profession? How will the cloud and social media change the manner in which the profession attracts and interacts with clients? How can the profession add value while still making sure the client is there?
Also, it’s critical that we protect the public good. We have to communicate the message in a positive way. So, you have good people doing audits, good people doing tax, and it’s being done right because of the audience. I think that’s an important part of this profession, and it will continue to be.
I think technology is going to continue to drive every single part of our business. I think you’re going to see technology dramatically affect the work we do which is going to push us more into the consultative side of business.
JW: With respect to the IL CPA Society, what’s your vision?
TS: Our mission is, and if you’ve ever heard me talk, I say it every single time I talk, to enhance the value of the CPA profession. We do that through what we call strategic pillars: education, advocacy, information and connections. I believe that our vision is to help people, not just people who work in public but all CPAs and all finance professionals in the state of Illinois – and nationally. This all ties into our mission. If we do that, and we’re helping members succeed, I think the society will grow as an organization and fulfill our mission and vision.
JW: My last question, and you’ve been saying much of this already, but in terms of advocating for the accounting profession and representing CPAs in the state of Illinois, is it fair to say you’re really enhancing the value of the finance professional?
TS: It’s interesting. We’re trying to enhance value, and we’re doing that through advocating. If my staff says, ‘Let’s go down to Springfield to help,’ I have to make sure that we have a climate that encourages growth of the profession within the state and doesn’t inhibit the profession from doing their job within the state – all while making sure the jobs are being done well. That is why I’ve been focused on building our (member) connections so they understand.
We have a responsibility to help mold the profession from a state and national basis and protect the public good, and I think we’re doing that.
To learn more about the IL CPA Society, visit http://www.icpas.org/
What do you think about Todd Shapiro’s thoughts for the future of accounting and finance? Sound off in the comments below and let us know!