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The One Personality Trait All CPAs Share

Patrick Lee medalsAs Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close, we share the story of one CPA, his remarkable achievements and the traits that were instilled in him growing up in a Chinese-American household. 

In my five years working closely with CPAs of diverse backgrounds, I am increasingly seeing one very consistent trait all CPAs seem to share, no matter what their background: drive. I know CPAs who have faced frustrating, even heartbreaking obstacles in pursuit of their credential. Even through the obstacles those same CPAs also strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives. 

That certainly seems to be the case with Patrick B. Lee, CPA. It’s not something he can shut off. Whether he’s teaching or running a marathon, he always seems to be devising new strategies to do things better and faster.

As someone whose instinct tells him to analyze and problem-solve, Lee, an assistant professor of accounting at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, finds that drive creeping into all areas of his life.

“I don’t mind the running, I guess,” said Lee nonchalantly. “I enjoy the mental game -- can I get it done? Being the accountant that I am, I’m thinking about my average mile time. Those calculations are running through my head the entire time.”

Lee doesn’t consider himself an athlete, yet he’s motivated to keep running. His office walls are strung with medals from Disney marathons and other events. Through running, he saw a local business opportunity, starting his own company that provides official timing for road races. Even a part-time job he landed in college -- what was supposed to be just a fun way to earn extra cash -- has translated into a 14-year stint managing high-stakes cheerleading competitions.

Lee juggles it all while growing the Southwestern accounting program, and the audience for his accounting-focused YouTube channel.

“If you really think about it, being a CPA you have to be driven, because those tests are not easy,” said Lee, who started his career as an auditor at Deloitte. “If you’re not driven to study for them, you’re not going to pass. If you’re not driven to work your 40 hours and then go home and study, you’re not going to pass. Whether or not you want to be driven, you have to be, and that drive spreads to the other things you do.”

Lee attributes much of his success to his upbringing in a Chinese-American household. His parents each emigrated from Hong Kong as children, and brought with them a culture that places high value on discipline and academic achievement, he said.

“That’s just the way we grew up,” Lee said. “You did your work first. If your homework wasn’t done, there was no watching TV.” Lee’s mother stayed home to raise him and his younger brother while his father worked late and on weekends at a warehouse job, picking up as many extra shifts as he could.

“The idea was the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be, and that’s part of the reason I’ve become so driven,” Lee said. The work ethic instilled by his parents is one facet of Lee’s richly diverse experiences.

Among all of his endeavors, Lee also finds time to work with the AICPA Diversity & Inclusion initiative, whose mission is to promote a workplace that is reflective and inclusive of the global communities in which they serve. Lee meets with students across the U.S. and encourages those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to pursue education and careers in accounting.

“Working with students is a passion of mine,” said Lee, who left Deloitte and then sold his own firm to pursue teaching. “And working with diversity and inclusion allows me to help create a better, more diverse population of accountants. Whether that’s in different ethnicities or having more females as CPAs, I think that allows the profession to grow exponentially for a diverse population that has diverse needs, all working to solve the same problems.”

We all know CPAs who demonstrate motivation and drive, like Patrick does. At the same time, we recognize that CPAs of diverse backgrounds bring different talents, skillsets and perspectives to the work environment. If you want to know more about how to tap into the benefits of a diverse workforce, and strengthen the diversity and inclusion programs at your firm, join me and my team at the AICPA ENGAGE conference, taking place in Las Vegas, NV and online June 12-15, 2017. Attendees gain access to six high-powered educational conferences and earn up to 35 CPE credits. Key sessions related to diversity and inclusion initiatives include a panel led by AICPA Chairman Kimberly Ellison-Taylor on driving innovation through inclusion, a session led by Kim Drumgo, Director- Diversity & Inclusion, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants- Public Accounting, on developing a global mindset, and a session on multicultural marketing led by Global Diversity Marketing founder and CEO, Tariq Khan. I would also recommend tuning in for a live webcast and fireside chat on disruption in financial services which I will be leading alongside Tariq Khan. Also, join me at ENGAGE for learning labs on understanding unconscious bias. 


Kim Drumgo, Director - Diversity and Inclusion, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants


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