IMA Life: The Importance of the CMABy
An instructor in one of my college accounting classes talked about the two main credentials available to accountants—the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) and the Certified Public Accountant (CPA). To help us understand them, he explained the differences between a career in management accounting and a career in public accounting. My two takeaways from that day were that (1) I wanted to be a management accountant and (2) if I ever decided to get certified as an accountant, I would take the CMA exam.
My first job in the accounting field was with a small multinational group of privately held businesses. Due to a number of circumstances, I ended up getting promoted to controller after only about six months on the job, and my determination to get the credential fell to the wayside. I was 26 years old. Three years later, in a risky move, I left my controller position to work for someone I knew personally who had a struggling business that needed help. Thus, I became a CFO for the first time at the age of 29.
Although I worked extremely hard in these positions and was successful, it hadn’t been that difficult to get either job. In the first, I was promoted from within, and, in the second, I was a direct hire by someone I already knew. So when it was time for me to look for my third job after being a CFO for seven years, I assumed it wouldn’t be that difficult. I was in for a rude awakening.
It seems foolish to say this now, but I was surprised to discover that nearly every executive position I applied for wanted someone with a CMA or CPA. Quickly I realized my mistake and set about to rectify it. From my perspective at that time, the only reason to take the CMA exam was for the tangible piece of credibility I would gain, i.e., letters behind my name. Once I started learning the material, though, I realized my mistake had been of an even bigger magnitude than I originally thought. I expected that preparing for the exam would boil down to taking a few review courses on topics that I had previously studied. It didn’t take long to discover, though, that I had never been taught many of the topics covered on the exam. I realized over and over again as I went through the exam preparation process just how much having that knowledge would have helped me in the first 10 years of my career. I had really missed out!
As I have become increasingly involved in IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) since that time, I’ve devoted the majority of my volunteer time to student outreach. Why? Because I believe that every young professional with a finance or accounting degree should start off with the invaluable education, confidence, and credibility that come with earning the CMA. Not only does it benefit the holder of the credential, but, as I’ve now spent nearly 18 consecutive years in controller or CFO roles, I know that the companies CMAs work for benefit just as much from the education as the CMAs themselves. And, as a hiring manager, I want more CMAs’ résumés to cross my desk.