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IMA Life: Opportunity Dressed in Overhauls

By Patrick J. Stroh, CMA
April 1, 2017
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4imalifePanama Patrick

Last month I hit a milestone: 25 years of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) membership, 23 years as a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). My, how time flies when you’re in the trenches! My first position out of college was as a fixed assets accountant with a high-tech computer manufacturer in Minnesota. We used a Polaroid camera to document assets in the facility and etched fixed asset numbers on equipment.

 

Fast-forward to last month, and I was at an ­invitation-only HATCH Experience (an event that gathers business leaders, artists, and other innovators to foster creative thinking and problem solving) in the jungles of Panama. Let’s simply say it’s been an interesting ride these past 25 years.

 

I grew up on a small dairy farm, but I knew I wanted to be a business professional. I figured I needed some hard, marketable skills, so I went into accounting because I loved working with numbers. As I approached graduation, taking the CMA exam was an easy choice. I knew I wanted to go directly into management accounting, and I liked the broadness of the exam—technology, economics, decision analysis, and finance and accounting content.

 

My career progressed through manufacturing and services businesses in aerospace, healthcare, and retail, and it touched on other verticals. What began as a career in accounting took several ­pivots into adjacent disciplines. I held positions in IT leadership, quality, risk management, business strategy, and innovation.

 

My roles and speaking events have taken me across the United States and to Canada, Mexico, England, France, China, UAE, and last month to Panama. While I haven’t been a practicing accountant for many years, it’s always been the foundation for this crazy career journey. I’ve failed at as many things as I’ve been successful at, but my accounting background has always served me well. I’ve learned that whether I’m doing hard-core finance work, designing and executing a business strategy, leading an innovation initiative, or consulting for a startup, an organization’s “economic engine” must be understood and interpreted at an expert level. That is universal around the world.

 

As your journey unfolds, don’t be intimidated by changes or challenges. Accounting and finance jobs undoubtedly will change in this advent of the intelligence revolution with bots, deep learning, and artificial intelligence. But while some of our work today will be automated, the world will always benefit from savvy, diverse-experienced accountants who know their way around a P&L and balance sheet. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If you’re an accountant or finance professional within IMA and a CMA on top of that, you understand hard work and the importance of working smart. Opportunities will come to those who are looking. I hope someday you find yourself in a Panamanian jungle reflecting on how you got there!

 

Patrick J. Stroh, CMA, is president of Mercury Business Advisors in Minneapolis, Minn., focused on business strategy and innovation consulting. He serves on the IMA Global Board of Directors as well as the COSO ERM Advisory Board and is a former chief strategy and innovation officer at UnitedHealth Group. Patrick is the author of Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win! published by Wiley (2014) and Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value! published by IMA (2015). You can reach Patrick at (612) 432-7494 or patrick.stroh@mercuryba.com.  
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