By Meg Killian, vice president – member relations
Meg recently interviewed Jeremy Spencer, CPA, regional controller in the Allentown office of Sodexo, a multinational food services and facilities management company, about the transition from holding an MBA to gaining the CPA credential.
A few years ago the MBA became the most popular post-graduate degree in the United States, according to Fortune magazine. There are several reasons, but much of the growth was driven by economics. It is a degree that is widely accepted by employers, and MBA candidates enjoy a high employment rate. An MBA can also be a great foundation for someone who is planning to become a CPA or might decide later on to pursue the CPA.
I recently spoke with one PICPA member about his path to the CPA credential. Jeremy Spencer started his career as a chef, got his MBA, and moved into financial operations. He shared with us why he decided to change careers and eventually become a CPA, and how he did it.
Tell us a little about your early career path.
I worked in restaurants/foodservice since I was 14. Up until about my junior year of high school, my plan was to go to college for banking and finance. I’d been working at a local restaurant during high school and really enjoyed the pace and the environment, so I changed plans to go into restaurants as a career. I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where I completed my culinary training as well as a bachelor’s degree in food service entrepreneurship. I was a chef and food service manager for about 10 years when I decided that I wanted to move into finance where I’d originally planned to be way back my teen years.
Why did you initially get an MBA?
Once I made the decision to move out of culinary and operations and into finance, I knew I’d need further education. At that point, due to my work schedule and personal life commitments, I enrolled in the MBA program online at Jones International University. I worked full time (still as a chef) while completing this program.
Jeremy Spencer (top left) and friends enjoying PICPA’s Day at Dorney in 2015.
Fortunately for me, I was working with my present employer (Sodexo), and my manager knew that I was taking these courses. An opening within my operation came up as a unit controller, so I moved from my role as a chef and manager into the controller position. It was a great fit for me and for the company, as the operations background helped me to better lead the team from a financial perspective. Since I knew many of the systems, I didn’t need to start from ground zero and was able to make an immediate impact with the team.
What made you decide to pursue a career in accounting?
I’ve always enjoyed math and numbers. While there are days I truly miss being a chef, I didn’t want the schedule that goes with being a chef…working nights, weekends, and holidays. Plus, the challenges for a chef are more physical in nature, and I wanted to be challenged more from an intellectual perspective.
Did you need additional work experience or education to qualify for the CPA?
I did need more accounting credits to sit for the CPA Exam since my undergrad work was not in accounting and my MBA was in finance. Fortunately, when I was wrapping up the CPA Exam and preparing for licensure, Pennsylvania changed the requirements pertaining to attestation. So, I did not need any additional work experience as they accepted the experience that I had as a controller.
How did you get the additional education?
I completed a specialized diploma program at Northampton Community College. That program is designed for people with undergrad degrees in majors other than accounting, and it gave me what I’d needed to sit for the exam (accounting and business law credits).
How was your experience taking the CPA Exam?
This was really the most challenging aspect for me. The time commitment was greater than I would have expected, but it truly paid off. I used Kaplan review materials (self-study), and that really was great in preparing me for each section of the exam. The biggest challenge was really committing to a review plan and sacrificing the time to be on a regimented review and study schedule.
Do you have any advice for other MBAs who may be considering getting their CPA license?
I would say that the CPA is a great complement to the MBA. My advice – and I’ve had several people ask – is get your MBA in accounting and not finance. As I mentioned, since my undergrad and MBA programs were not in accounting, I needed to take additional classes to sit for the exam. I would also say that I think having the CPA has really been more of a benefit than the MBA. It has opened many more opportunities up, so it really is worth the investment in both time and financial terms.
What has been the biggest benefit of getting your CPA?
After getting my MBA, there certainly were opportunities for career advancement, but the CPA opened up many more. Almost immediately after adding my CPA credentials onto LinkedIn, I began getting e-mails from recruiters. Prior to that, I was the one reaching out to them. Additionally, within Sodexo, this certainly has added interest to leadership and internal recruiting. So, again, I’ve seen significantly more opportunities compared to just having my MBA. Lastly, having the MBA and CPA opened up another door: I have become an adjunct professor of accounting, and teaching was never on my radar!
Were there any hurdles you’d like to share?
There was a significant time and financial commitment to pursuing the CPA. It was tough to make the decision to be a career changer after investing what I had to become a chef, but I am very satisfied now that I’ve done it. Those sacrifices were definitely worth it.