Speech for MCC Accounting Bowl

April 26, 2013

Intro

Good morning.  My name is Laura Weise.
I’m an accountant and I love it.
Today I want to tell you a little bit about my background, how I got here and what I do as an accountant.

About Me

First, a little bit about me.
I grew up in Union, Illinois, which is the southwest part of McHenry County.
I graduated from McHenry County College in 2003 with an Associates of Science degree that I transferred to Judson College, a liberal arts college in Elgin
At Judson, I completed my bachelor’s degree in accounting.
I took and passed the CPA exam as soon as possible after graduation.
I’ve worked in public accounting my whole career.  I’ll get back to what that means in a bit.
I’m currently a senior manager at Ernst & Young, a Big 4 public accounting firm.
I work in the audit practice.

How I got here

So how did I get here?
When I was about 8 years old, my dad, who is not an accountant, clipped an article from the Wall Street Journal that discussed common stereotypes of accountants.  He gave it to me and said, “I think this would be good for you.”   I was pleased to have some input like this, so stuck the article in a drawer and the idea in the back of my brain until I started college.   In my first semester, which was here at MCC, I took the first financial accounting class, and really liked it.  I haven’t stopped since.
Now I’m a CPA

What I do

What is a CPA

What is a CPA?
You may have some ideas about what a CPA does.
Someone who prepares tax returns like 1040s?
Someone who sits behind a desk with a calculator and a ledger sheet crunching numbers?
Today’s CPAs are much more diverse.
CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant
Accounting is a regulated profession, and you are awarded a license from the state of Illinois if you have certain qualifications.
If you have a bachelor’s degree, including a specific list of classes in accounting, finance, taxes, law and ethics, you can sit for the CPA exam. 
The CPA exam is split into 4 parts, and is considered one of the most difficult professional examinations, in the same league as the bar exam.
Once you have passed the CPA exam and have a year of work experience under your belt, you can apply for licensure in Illinois.  Once you are licensed, you may hold yourself out as a CPA and use the CPA designation.

OK – so you can hold yourself out as a CPA.  What do you do?

What I do

CPAs work in many different fields
For example, I work in a public accountant firm. 
Think of this like a law firm, but for accountants. 
It’s a firm is made up of a bunch of CPAs.
We provide professional services to other companies who are our “clients”.
We provide tax services, such as preparing tax returns and doing tax planning.
We do consulting work, such exploring ways to make a resource supply chain more efficient and cost less money.
I work in the audit department. 
“Audit” is a word that doesn’t usually get a very good reaction.  People usual think about IRS audits and those are certainly not pleasant.  What I do is not an IRS tax audit.   Instead, I help my clients report their financial results clearly and accurately.
We review a company’s financial statements to make sure that they are being presented fairly and that stakeholders, like investors, can rely on the financial statements.
I love working with clients: being a professional, being an expert in a certain subject matter, being a trusted business advisor, providing solutions.
I spend my work day managing teams of people, talking to controllers, CFOs and others at my clients, researching accounting topics, reading about trends in my industry of focus, which is banking.
Other accountants work in industry (the private sector), in the accounting or finance departments of a specific company, like McDonalds, Coca-Cola, the locally-owned distributor down the street or the even here at MCC.
Finally, still more accountants end up in less traditional roles, such as in operations.  A good CPA has lots of skills at his or her disposal

Why I got here

What I really want to share with you today is why I got here.  Not how.  Why.
Louis Pasteur, 19th century the French chemist who invented vaccination and  the process of pasteurization, said that chance favors the prepared mind. 
I believe that is true.  You make your own opportunities.
You make your own opportunities by putting yourself in a position to succeed.   
With a prepared mind.
By doing the hard stuff first.
When the right circumstances align, you won’t be distracted with finishing a project that should have been completed a week ago.
You won’t be trying to read up on a topic you should have mastered a month ago.
You’ll have the ability and confidence to stand up and take the extra class, raise your hand for the next project, be prepared to meet a new client.

 

I can identify where this has happened to me a few times in my life.
When I was in college, I had a job at a software company.  When I was performing customer service and interacting with a customer, the CFO was impressed and hired me as an intern the following summer.   When I was working at that customer, they had their annual audit and I assisted in getting things ready for the public accountants (the auditors).  They manager from the public accounting firm was impressed and the firm hired me as an intern the following winter.   I think it was that internship that helped me land my first full time job after college.
Is this a string of chance?  I would venture to say it is the result of having prepared.
My philosophy was to make sure I had the important things done early and done well.  Not the easy things.  The important things.

I’ll give you another example.
A little while back, I saw noticed a team at work that I really wanted to join.   The team served a very prestigious client.   I made sure the partners at the firm knew my interest.  I demonstrated through some similar client projects that I had the capability to run a large client engagement.  I found out as much as I could about the client.  I helped everyone connect the dots and made sure everyone knew I was ready, willing and able to serve this client.  After a few months, an opening occurred on the team, rather unexpectedly.  I was asked to join the team, and received a unexpected promotion in the process.   The unexpected opening on the team was chance.  But I feel like I was chosen because I had demonstrated my ability and had prepared.

This isn’t all about chasing the next job or the next promotion. 
I’ve used this in my personal life as well – making sure, for example, that I was financially stable so that when opportunities came along, I had the ability to participate.
You need to be prepared in order to take advantage of opportunities.

Conclusion

I know that I have really enjoyed my career in accounting.   If I had to do it all over again, I would chose to be a CPA again.   My hope for you is that, whatever field you chose, whether it be accounting or something else, that you recognize that it’s up to you to do the legwork to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise.