I am incredibly excited to be writing my first Pennsylvania CPA Journal
column as chief executive officer! But I may be even more excited to work each day on behalf of the profession I care so deeply about. I’m currently spending some time refining my vision for the PICPA, which is no simple task. The PICPA has been a vital support network to the profession for the past 125 years, and it’s my honor and privilege to help guide the PICPA into the future. As I embark on a listening tour around the state that will help inform our vision and strategy, I hope to get input from PICPA members working in all sectors of the profession. I look forward to sharing more on these efforts in future columns, but in the meantime I thought I’d tell you a bit about my story.
I’d be fibbing if I said that I’ve always wanted to be a CPA. Growing up, I had no idea what a CPA was. Accounting in general wasn’t even on my radar. I vividly remember sitting in my first accounting class as the professor explained the concept of debits and credits. I was lost. It made no sense to me. For much of that first class, I thought I hated accounting. I had a few friends in the class, though, and the professor seemed nice, so I stuck with it. A couple of weeks into the semester, I began to understand the logic behind accounting, and, with that, I quickly went from hating accounting to loving it. The pieces started falling into place and I learned how to navigate the rules.
With each successive class, I grew more certain that my career would be in accounting. I embraced Intermediate Accounting, struggled with Cost Accounting, and met the challenge of Advanced Accounting head-on. Becoming a CPA was now in my sights, and I worked tirelessly with a full load of honors courses and a couple part-time jobs. With help from the faculty and staff at Temple University, I put together the foundation of the professional I would become and began interviewing for internships.
The first few interviews resulted in rejection letters, but I persevered and landed in the perfect spot for me. Goldenberg Rosenthal was a regional firm just outside of Philadelphia. Most of the professional staff worked across lines of business, doing audit, tax, bookkeeping, and other services that clients needed. I remember working hard on behalf of our clients and coming together in the cafeteria for home-cooked dinners each night during busy season. It was an incredible environment in which to start and grow my career.
I prioritized passing the CPA Exam early in my career, and I often tell students that, for me, this was the key to successfully passing all four parts. Right after graduating from college, I focused my time on studying. While it was difficult to put the typical 20-something social life on hold, the time invested was well worth it. I passed three of the four parts soon after graduation, going back to pass that last part about a year after graduation. (This was when the exam was on paper, was offered only twice per year, and candidates had to sit for all four parts). Truly nothing beats the pride of opening that letter informing you that you had passed the exam and all your hard work had paid off!
Early in my career, I got to build skills in a variety of areas and industries. I also experienced what many CPAs then, and now, confront: my firm went through two mergers. As the firm grew, ultimately becoming part of EisnerAmper, I specialized first in audit and then in serving nonprofit organizations. At every turn, I relished the opportunity to learn and grow. I loved the opportunities that public accounting afforded to work with the passionate leaders of the organizations that were our clients. I worked alongside wonderful people who taught me what it meant to be a professional. I loved public accounting, and after becoming a senior manager at the firm I set my sights on making partner.
But as will occur, “life happens” while you’re busy making plans. A friend saw that the PICPA was looking for a vice president of finance and operations, and sent the job posting to me with a note that said, “I know you’re not looking to leave public, but this opportunity just seems to fit your skills and interests so perfectly. You should check it out!” I loved my firm and my work in public accounting, but I took the interview. I remember how nervous I was sitting across the boardroom table from Mike Colgan, having not done an interview in about 15 years. (That’s how much I loved public! Despite challenges, I never once thought about leaving.) I was offered the job, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The rest is history.
In the six years that I’ve been with the PICPA, I have had the privilege of serving CPAs from all across Pennsylvania, first in the role of vice president of finance and operations and then as chief operating officer. The transition from a public accounting firm to an association presented learning opportunities at every turn. I had always been a CPA who thought I’d be bored on the corporate finance side. Since leaving public, I’ve learned what a misconception that was. Working in corporate finance, I’ve continued to grow and develop my skills at the same rate as in public accounting. I’ve especially enjoyed the opportunity to layer operational expertise with financial acumen, really owning strategy and resource allocation across the organization. I’ve experienced firsthand how the CPA credential, combined with hard work and wonderful role models, can lead to an incredibly rewarding and challenging career.
Ours is a dynamic profession, and we find ourselves amid much change. But I see immense opportunity for the PICPA and the profession. I look forward to partnering with my fellow CPAs to solve problems and create opportunities, because that’s what we do – we come together to get things done! .
Jennifer Cryder, CPA, is chief executive officer of the PICPA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.