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The Story Behind “Earn Your Seat”

By J. Stephen McNally, CMA, CPA
July 1, 2021

I discovered rowing while in college. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I watched the movie Oxford Blues.

 

The next day, I saw a lone rower on Philadelphia’s mighty Schuylkill River. It made an impression. Two months later, back on campus, I found out that Villanova University had a rowing team. I immediately joined.

 

I quickly learned that rowing is one of the most grueling sports, both mentally and physically. Rowing coaches say they can teach 90% of rowing fundamentals in a day. It then takes a lifetime to learn the remaining 10%. I currently row for the Toledo Rowing Club’s Masters Crew Team and, decades after Villanova, I’m still working on it.

 

Rowing requires hard work, persistence, and commitment. Perhaps that’s why the phrase “earn your seat” so aptly summarizes what each member of the team must do (and why it’s the subtitle of my IMA® Chair profile). To be a successful rower, you need highly polished technical skills and attention to detail. Rowing also requires leaders (coaches and coxswains) who possess effective communication skills and the ability to engage and inspire their team. And rowers need to be strategic, especially on race day. How fast should you start? How hard should you pull? Should you take the rate up to pass another boat? Or take it down? And how do you navigate those bends in the river, staying tight to your line without getting tangled in your competitor’s oars?

 

I consider rowing the ultimate team sport. You often hear that teams are “only as strong as their weakest link.” For crew teams, this is fact. Whether rowing in a pair, four, or eight, you know instantly if a teammate is having an “off” day. When that happens, you hold your breath that the boat doesn’t flip. But there’s no feeling more incredible than when everyone is perfectly aligned, when the rowers are moving and pulling as one. The boat glides across the water. (All these lessons have been brought home to me again recently as I’ve begun rereading Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, the story of the University of Washington crew team and its epic quest for a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’ve especially enjoyed learning about Joe Rantz, whose personal challenges and sacrifices along with his grit, determination, and persistence ultimately enabled him to “earn a seat” in the winning boat.)

 

Rowing, in my opinion, is a great metaphor for our profession. Management accountants—whether students, young or seasoned professionals, or even CFOs—must “earn their seat” as business partners and strategic advisors. Solid technical skills, hard work, and persistence are mandatory. But to be truly successful, you need strategic perspective, strong communication skills, and a team focus. IMA is here to help you do so each step of the way.

 

I look forward to serving as your Chair of the IMA Global Board of Directors during the upcoming year—and to exploring further how to “earn your seat”!

 

J. Stephen McNally, CMA, CPA, is CFO of Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI) Group of Companies and Chair of the IMA Global Board of Directors. He’s also a member of IMA’s Toledo Chapter. Contact Steve at steve.mcnally@imanet.org, or follow him on LinkedIn.
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