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The Modern CPA Profession: Connected and Comparable

Tommye-with-Australian-Colleagues-300x225In my eight months as chair of the AICPA Board of Directors, I’ve done a lot of travel and gained perspective on the size of our country and our planet. But beyond that, I’ve learned how business is becoming much more interconnected and how CPAs fit into a broader business ecosystem made up of other professions, clients and stakeholders. A recent trip to the other side of the world showed me just how connected our profession really is and made me optimistic about its prospects for the future.

After traveling to the World Congress of Accountants in November and countless domestic trips since, I found myself back aboard an airplane in February for a whirlwind journey to Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand, for meetings with CPA Australia and the Chartered Accountants Australia/New Zealand, respectively.

My goal in meeting with the management and leadership teams of these groups was to discuss issues our organizations are facing, identify those we have in common, share solutions and discuss ways we might be able to work together. After discussing the implications of technology, the future of learning and the imperative to enhance audit quality (like the U.S., Australia has programs and resources to help ensure the highest quality work), I came away more convinced than ever that we are part of connected profession with similar challenges and opportunities regardless of location.

Lee White, the CEO of CA Australia/New Zealand, has a background as a regulator. We shared common views on the importance of strong working relationships among stakeholders, even when the issues may be adversarial. It is critical that membership organizations and regulators work together in the public interest.

I also attended two lunches with roughly 50 women who hold leadership positions at various Australian and New Zealand firms and organizations and noted that a focus on gender equality also transcends borders.

I was amazed at the similarities between my own story and the stories of these women, a trend that I’ve seen wherever I go. From our career paths, to the role our mentors played in our development, to our goals and aspirations, the stories and issues are the same for women whether halfway around the world or right here in the US. Gender equality has come a long way, though there’s still much work to be done. It wasn’t that long ago when many firms did not permit women to travel out of town on business, especially if male counterparts were assigned to the same engagement. Meeting with these women leaders reminded me of how fortunate I am to have been part of a great wave of women who have advanced in accounting during the last three decades. This wave of talent continues today and is one of many forces driving change.

Alex Malley, CEO of CPA Australia, has a television show in Australia called The Bottom Line and has interviewed several interesting and influential women, including Helen Clark – the former Prime Minister of New Zealand. Alex and I discussed the importance of women having the confidence to step into leadership positions with certainty of purpose. This attitude has great influence and sends a positive message to young female professionals, regardless of their profession or position. Each time I meet with a group of women leaders, I impress upon them the importance of confidence and the benefits that come from stepping out of their comfort zone to take measured risks. The most successful professional – man or woman – even if on the right track will get run over if they don’t keep moving forward. This message has resonated in every city and every country around the world.

By the end of my trip I realized just how similar the professional landscapes are between Australia and New Zealand and the landscape in the U.S. I was struck by the overwhelming notion that our profession is on the precipice of great opportunity and, more importantly, great change. My colleagues and I shared an understanding that our profession mirrors the constant and dramatic change occurring in business. We recognized that our profession must adapt, innovate and evolve to maintain its relevance and preserve our place in the modern business ecosystem. That’s as true 10,000 miles away in Australia and New Zealand as it is here at home.

Yes, it is a small world, and CPAs have a big role to play in it. After my trip to Australia and New Zealand, I’m more convinced of that than ever. 

Tommye E. Barie, CPA, Chair of the Board of Directors, American Institute of CPAs.

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