The first two years of my professional work were as a staff accountant at a “Big 8” public accounting firm in Canada in the early 1980s.
That was an amazing experience. I benefited from the intense training provided by my firm—Ernst & Whinney, which later merged with Arthur Young & Co. to form Ernst & Young (EY)—and the competitive environment that inspired us all to work hard. Moving from auditing one company to another every few weeks, I honed my craft and learned so much about different businesses and the variation in corporate culture that contributes to success.
Those two years opened my eyes to career opportunities well beyond what I had been able to imagine previously. While I loved public accounting, I learned that the truly compelling careers were leadership roles within the businesses I was auditing. I wanted to be a decision maker, so I pivoted to set my sights on a career path in management accounting and finance in business.
CAREER ADVICE FOR MY YOUNGER SELF
Ask a lot of questions about how senior executives have achieved success and seek advice from people you admire. Use their input to create a long-term career plan for yourself, including the big investments that you must make in professional education and certifications.
I think I was often too focused on my next short-term goal. Perhaps my path would have been smoother if I’d had a clearer vision of how to get where I knew I wanted to go. IMA® CareerDriver is a career-planning tool that can help you assess your skills, plan your path, and envision your future.
SKILLS THAT EMPLOYEES NEED TO LEARN ON THE JOB
Your coworkers won’t be as direct with you as your college professors likely were. Much of your success in professional settings will depend on your listening skills and your ability to understand when priorities are shifting and signals are changing in the workplace.
Your studies will prepare you well for the initial analytical challenges. As you continue to develop your technical skills, you’ll also need to be a student of human behavior to successfully work with and lead other people.
CERTIFICATION IS IMPORTANT FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Preparation for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam pulls together the various threads of understanding that management accounting and finance professionals gain through formal studies, on-the-job training, and experience. For me, studying for the CMA exam produced several “lightbulb moments” that helped me to see how different concepts fit together.
The certification process actually made me better at my job. The credential enabled me to establish my personal brand and prove my competence, and it provided a structure for career-long continuing professional education.
GO BEYOND THE NUMBERS IN NEGOTIATIONS
My eyes were opened the first time I was involved in contract negotiation with a large organization in the aerospace industry. My CEO boss warned me that I would need to have a high tolerance for ambiguity. We arrived at the customer location with a well-crafted proposal based on my analyses and had to switch direction very shortly into the meeting.
That customer, who was always challenging, became our largest and most profitable client. A strong understanding of the numbers is essential, but business is full of uncertainties and risk. Be prepared to recognize new opportunities that emerge when carefully constructed, logical plans unravel.
THE CFO ROLE HAS EVOLVED
Much has been written about the changing role of the CFO from a steward who crunches numbers to a business partner who’s central to organizations’ strategic planning. In my early years as an auditor, I observed very successful CEO/CFO partnerships, and I never questioned that model.
I can’t imagine being happy in a more limited role. As CFOs, we’re called to contribute to profitability through our analyses and insight, and we must “lean in” to participate in setting strategy and solving problems.
MY YEARS AS IMA’S CFO
I’m very proud to have served as the CFO of my professional association, IMA, for the past 12-plus years—it’s been such an honor. My IMA membership and CMA certification were important factors in my early career success, and I’m so happy that I had this opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the accounting and finance profession. I worked each year with the IMA Global Board of Directors’ Strategic Planning Committee to develop IMA’s strategic plans, identifying the organization’s strategic assets and the competencies and directional changes necessary for prosperous growth. With a view to the future, we made major investments in technology and talent to support membership expansion, and we funded marketing campaigns that raised worldwide awareness of the CMA program.
While IMA opened offices all around the world, my team was responsible for sound operational policies and regulatory compliance in an increasingly complex environment. As IMA’s thought leadership, publications, and educational offerings gained increasing prominence, I participated as a practitioner in the development of the IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework and the learning materials for the CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) certification.
The best part of my job has been meeting loyal IMA members, CMAs, and candidates from all corners of the world who value our organization and our credential as much as I do. I retire this year knowing that our association is strong, and our members have a wonderful resource in IMA that will help them to drive their careers forward.