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A Look Inside the Oscars

Oscar-statueWe are now a couple days away from one of the most watched and tweeted awards shows, the Academy Awards. Earlier this week the AICPA's CPA Letter Daily polled its readers to see which movie they thought would win the Best Picture Oscar. “12 Years a Slave” was the top vote getter, with 31.71% of the vote. Coming in next was “American Hustle” (19.59%) followed by “Gravity” (13.79%). We will just have to wait and see if the readers predicted correctly.

A highlight of most award shows, at least for CPAs, is not necessarily who won what or what they were wearing, but rather those 30 seconds of fame for the CPAs featured on stage during the national broadcast. Most years the CPAs wave from the stage, sporting briefcases embossed with their firm’s name. However, some years, they get a slightly different mention, as the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” gave CPAs two years ago at the Emmys.

In January, PwC, which has overseen the balloting process for the Oscars for the last 80 years, announced that Brian Cullinan, CPA, chair of PwC’s U.S. board of partners and managing partner of PwC’s Southern California practice, joined the leadership team managing the 2014 balloting process alongside Rick Rosas, CPA. They will be the only two people in the world who know the identities of the Oscar winners before they are revealed on Sunday.

Brian set aside a few minutes from counting ballots to speak with us about what it takes to become a CPA in charge of Oscar balloting. Brian graduated from Cornell University with a liberal arts degree (majoring in psychology), but states that he had always been interested in business and knew that he would need to continue his formal education by attending graduate school. “My plan was to work for a few years after Cornell and then return to school for an MBA. What I had not counted on was the difficulty of landing my first job, during a recession, with just a liberal arts background,” he explained.

He returned to school at Northeastern University, as part of the Graduate School of Professional Accounting. “I first decided to study accounting when I saw how difficult the job market was after college. Having an interest in business, I learned that accounting is the foundation and the language of all business and that I needed that background first to quickly land a job, and then, to begin a career.”

After earning his master’s degree, he went on to get his CPA license and never looked back. Like many CPAs, he has had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of companies and executives. For many years, he worked with large technology-based companies—mostly hardware manufacturers. Then, in 2000, PwC asked if he would move to Los Angeles and become a specialist in the entertainment and media sector. Fourteen years later, he is leading the Oscar balloting process.

Together, Brian and Rick select from their staff those individuals they believe would be good additions to the balloting team. The number of staff involved varies depending on the stage of the balloting cycle (e.g., mailing of ballots, tabulating for the nominations process, the final Oscars count itself and so forth). The team can range from just a handful of staff to more than a dozen at different times.

As for the telecast itself, Brian and Rick will have the privilege of walking the red carpet carrying the briefcases containing the winner's envelopes. During the show, they will stand behind the stage and hand each envelope to the presenters just before they walk on stage.

Since PwC has been conducting the tabulation process for the Academy Awards, a recount has never happened after the release of the names of the winners. Internally, PwC recounts the votes regularly, especially in close races or in the case of ties.

Speaking of ties, they have happened only six times in the history of the Oscars. Perhaps most notable was the tie for Best Actress in 1968 between Barbara Streisand in "Funny Girl" and Katharine Hepburn in "The Lion in Winter." The other five were:

  • 2013 – Sound Editing – “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty”
  • 1994 – Short Film (Live Action) – “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Trevor”
  • 1986 – Documentary (Feature) – “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got” and “Down and Out in America”
  • 1949 – Documentary (Short Subject)  – “A Chance to Live” and “So Much for So Little”
  • 1932 – Best Actor – Fredrick March and Wallace Beery

If you want to get ahead in your career, or maybe even take over for Brian one day, he recommends proactively seeking out a mentor, perhaps one who is not just one level above you but two levels above. Meet with that person frequently and pick their brain. Ask them how they became successful – and then follow their advice.

Brian also recommends not letting your career "happen" to you. “Decide each year where you want to be, one... two... three years into the future and take the steps now to position yourself to get there. Volunteer for the right assignments, let supervisors know your near-term career goals and ask for their help. It always amazes me how few people actually tell those higher in the organization what they want to do with their careers and seek their help and guidance.”

What else would you like to know about the Oscar process? Let us know in the comments and we may provide answers in a future blog post.

, Communications Manager, American Institute of CPAs. 

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