Archive for the ‘Crafting Your Career’ Category

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Insights From Krista McMasters

IMG_3867I was delighted this summer to have the opportunity to meet Krista McMasters, chat with her and hear her talk about her 30-year journey in the CPA profession.

She joined Clifton Gunderson in 1978, the same year I joined my firm. She was admitted as a partner in 1985 and after years of service in various capacities became CEO in 2009.

She was the first female CEO of a Top 25 Accounting Firm. In 2012, with the merger of Clifton with Larson Allen, she became co-CEO, along with Gordon Viere-CEO of Larson Allen, of the larger organization CliftonLarsonAllen. That lasted about year, when in March 2013, McMasters announced her retirement and the position of solo CEO was established and filled by Viere.

McMasters spoke at the Association for Accounting Administration National Practice Management Conference in San Diego in June, where I enjoyed the opportunity to meet her and listen to her story – tidbits follow:

The most important traits of leadership, are the basics:

  • Honesty, candid, fair, authentic and a good person
  • You build a healthy organization with trust
  • Consistency – without it you have chaos
  • Humility – Give other people credit
  • Communication must be simple, concise and clear if you want results
  • You can only be yourself
  • There is not a substitute for experience
  • There are no mistakes, only lessons (let your people make mistakes)
  • She is grateful that someone pushed her
  • You must “push” other people
  • Her experience with a women’s initiative – the best thing was the training
  • She grew because partners gave her tough assignments and asked her to stretch
  • People learn from doing

Her advice to the firm administrators at the event:

  • Your role is to help people see the path
  • You need to be honest with the managing partner and other partners – don’t sugarcoat your message
  • Feedback: Don’t be defensive. If you are defensive they will stop giving you feedback.

I was so delighted that we had similar stories. When I read about her being named CEO of Clifton, I imagined her to be very “hard” – focused, aggressive and all of those kinds of words. I found her to be humble, genuine, caring, honest and very professional.

If you are a leader inside a CPA firm, pick out action items from McMasters’ advice and then implement.

  • Don't be intimidated by what you don't know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.
  • Sara Blakely, Worlds Youngest Female Billionaire (Founder of Spanx)

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Are You Happy?

Often, working inside a busy accounting firm, unhappiness vibes abound.

CPAs and their team become stressed, tired, grouchy, impatient and so on.

Then, there are the happy firms. There are plenty of happy firms but not enough!

Sometimes, the people trying to keep people happy inside CPA firms are not happy themselves. Here’s some of their beefs….. We try this, we try that, partners won’t agree, we have to make an exception for old Joe, partners still give the young team member grunt work (and call it that), they don’t want to do social media, they think it is a waste of time, they say they are paperless but we still print a heck of a lot of stuff, females want to be partner but they won’t work for it, males want female partners but they don’t understand, we have too much turnover, we won’t invest in new technology, truthfully, we have fun when we are told to have fun….

Hey! I’m sick of all this…  It’s the weekend – start today and be happy about your success in the CPA profession. If you aren’t happy in your job – quit and do something else that makes you happy.

Please watch this entire video – It’s Pharrell Williams’ happy. Dance as if no one is watching.

More happiness needed? Watch the Despicable Me 2 version.  Wow, I am happy!


  • Bring me down, can't nothing bring me down, my level's too high.
  • Pharrell Williams

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Helping Men Understand…. Crying and Other Things

I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding in the CPA profession about the need for some special training and attention to the females working inside CPA firms.  Recently, I have observed some men show bitterness and disbelief when the two words – women’s initiatives – were just mentioned.

Here’s a story of how simple understanding can make a difference….

This story is about a young, male CPA, experienced as a CPA but new to the role of managing partner in a smaller firm (about 20 people). In a smaller, the MP handled all of the performance reviews and other performance and personal related conversations with employees. This led to his first experience with women crying in the workplace and it made him extremely uncomfortable.

Luckily, he had a female firm administrator, he could talk to about his uneasiness.  This is where the understanding part comes into play. The FA advised him, “When women cry, it an emotion they have no control over. Almost all of the time it does not mean a thing – it doesn’t mean they are hurt, mad, fanatical, or sad – it does mean they care about the topic and simply cannot physically escape the tearing-up.” The young MP put a box of tissues on his desk and offered them when tears appeared and just kept going with the conversations.

Most of the time, the above story plays out. However, men often yell when they are angry and women show their anger with tears.

Women – when your emotions show via tears, acknowledge the emotion but don’t apologize, just move on.

Here’s an interesting article about crying in the workplace from Fortune.

What I have often observed is that occasionally a man will let tears flow – others think it is touching, heart-warming, etc. – - “He’s so caring….” When a women cries, she’s weak and emotional.

Inside your firm, DO THINGS to encourage understanding of emotions, work styles, and challenges for (and between) men and women and also between generations.

Here’s a great book to use as a resource: Why Must There Be Dragons

NJ Women Summit

  • Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
  • Albert Einstein

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

At Some Point, We’ve All Known A Suck-Up

GuyKawasaki11_smWay back in 2006, the year I began writing this daily blog, I featured Guy Kawasaki and his opinion that we need to develop The Art Of Sucking Down.

Most of you are well aware of the meaning of “suck-up” and those around you who demonstrate that trait. It can be quite entertaining to observe. But how about “sucking-down”? It means reaching out and grasping an understanding of how to do good things for the people below you in rank, authority, years of experience, etc. Follow the link to get a refresher – it’s an important skill for CPAs.

Tom-Peters-hatThis week I am reading a manifesto by Tom Peters, Excellence. NO EXCUSES - one of his gigantic rambles that contain snip-its that can change how you relate to your employees, your work, your family and your life. Be prepared, it’s 843 pages long (just a few words on each page… easy reading). I read it as filler-reading when I have a few minutes here and there and need to be inspired.

His entry on page 36 reminded me of Kawasaki. Back in 2006, the CPA profession needed people – we had more work than we had people to perform the services. Guess what? We are back there again – everyone is looking to hire talented professionals. But it is more than that, once you hire them and train them you need to KEEP them. Being a CPA firm partner or managers isn’t about you… who can help you be more successful. It’s about how you can serve the people below you so they feel the passion for their work and their careers.

Here’s the words on Page 36 of Tom’s manifesto:

Suck “down” for success!

Make friends in “low” places.*

*It’s simple, really. “Down” is where the work is done! An Army of Fans “down below” is the greatest group of allies imaginable. If you are, say, making a sales pitch for a complex systems product, it’s true that the “VP” will eventually need to sign off. BUT … the analysis that wins or loses the battle will be done two levels “down” by a trio of young, invisible, unloved engineers. They are the ones you want on your side—find them and nurture them. (FYI: This is a … GUARANTEED … winning formula.)

As a CPA partner, how well do you know your interns? How well do you know your first and second years? How well do you know the people who work for the business owner you serve?

  • Most of our conscious life will be at work. Like it or not. Waste your work life and you have effectively wasted your life.
  • Tom Peters

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Clear The Hurdles & Win the Race – Winning Is Everything Conference

In January, I will be speaking at the Winning Is Everything Conference in Las Vegas at the beautiful Aria hotel, January 28-30, 2015.

If you are working in the CPA profession, I’m sure (at least hoping) that you are familiar with this premier practice management conference.

Winning is Everything is not just for large firms and only managing partners. The conference welcomes knowledge leaders and forward-thinking professionals who are ready to learn from other attendees and knowledgeable speakers.  Attendees include managing partners, partners, CFOs, COOs, Firm Administrators, Marketing professionals and HR professionals from firms around the globe.

Meets and Events:  Check out the Agenda.

Clearing the Hurdles: Your Coaches (the speakers)

Enter the race: Register here

I like the 2015 theme: Clear The Hurdles… And Win The Race.


  • Finishing races is important, but racing is more important.
  • Dale Earnhardt

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Little Things Can Make You Happy

Sometimes in our work-a-day world we get stressed. Sometimes we get very tired. Sometimes we get annoyed by people. Sometimes we get disappointed, in ourselves and in others. Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we get rushed. Sometimes we get our feelings hurt. Sometimes we feel unappreciated.

But, many times we feel happy. It can come from some of the littlest things…. someone shows appreciation, you receive recognition, someone says “thank-you,” you spend time with business colleagues who help you learn, someone smiles at you, your boss says, “good morning,” you get an email from an old friend…

Working with CPA firms I always recommend, IF you want to create a winning firm, one where young people will want to stay and build their careers and one where people feel joy in serving the clients, just remember that the little things can make the biggest difference.

A little thing happened to me last week. It came via social media. I tweeted about my participation in Advance 2014: The Accounting Career Summit and how pleased I was that on the agenda for the week I am listed right above Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay To Be The Boss and Not Everyone Gets A Trophy and many more. You know how often I recommend these books to you! If you want a copy of my 2014 Read List (for CPAs and their teams) you can download it here.

Well, Bruce Tulgan replied to my tweet! Sometimes little things can make you very happy.

What are you doing for the people in your work life (and home life)?

Screenshot 2014-07-19 07.26.03

  • Scheduling flexibility is the single greatest non-financial tool - and the number-one dream-job factor - at your disposal for winning battles in the talent wars. Use it.
  • Bruce Tulgan

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Kindness, Toughness & Honesty For Women In Accounting

IMG_1112Yesterday, there was a post on the Ohio Society Women’s Initiative Committee LinkedIn site titled, The False Choice Between Kindness and Success.

The topic of women in business being “nice” and “kind” and how it might hold them back, is certainly a valid discussion topic.

I believe that kindness and toughness go hand in hand. If you are kind, build relationships and win people’s loyalty, they will come to understand that some toughness, and honesty, must go along with the kindness. It is the way I have always operated.

The honesty aspect also plays into this topic. This quote from the article says so much relating to the CPA profession:I think people just want straight talk. It saves time and in the end, it is honest. That is the bottom line. Everything else is meaningless if you don’t have honesty. Be honest and true to yourself. And from there, we can do anything.” 

Absolute honesty is often avoided inside CPA firms because it can be a tough discussion. Yet, CPA firm employees crave honesty. I observe so many male (and female) CPAs avoiding being honest because it might lead to confrontation or to uncomfortable conversations. People see right through it – not being completely honest and coming across as self-serving is a losing combination.

To me it is a false choice, as the title of the article reflects. You do not have to choose between kindness and success. In my situation as a CPA management consultant, I know I do not win “jobs” because I am a woman. I have even heard feedback that other, male consultants have actually told potential clients that “Rita is too nice.” Give me honesty and kindness any day and results will follow.


  • Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.
  • Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

TomPeters_PreviewThis week, Tom Peters shared a 9-page paper: The Moral Bedrock of Management. 

Today, I am using his words from Page 9, hopefully, to inspire you:

Where the (Moral) Rubber Meets the Road

If the regimental commander lost most of his 2nd lieutenants and 1st lieutenants and captains and majors, it would be a tragedy.

If he lost his sergeants it would be a catastrophe. The Army and the Navy are fully aware that success on the battlefield is dependent on an overwhelming degree on its Sergeants and Chief Petty Officers. Does industry (and CPA firms) have the same awareness?

The argument here: While men and women “at the top” are responsible for setting the moral tone, the vast majority of employees work for a first-line supervisor. Hence the transmission of – - and the “walking of the talk” that matters – - is set by the full cadre of 1st-line chiefs.

Companies tend to take these jobs “seriously.” But such seriousness almost invariably falls miles and miles – and more miles – short of using this set of individuals as the singularly important transmitters of the corporate culture. Hence the “moral duty” discussed in this piece is executed first and foremost by the 1st-line chiefs.

Act Accordingly!

Yes, I worry about the performance of the managers inside your CPA firm. Are they great technicians?  Yes, probably and you have helped them get there. Are they walking the talk, coaching, inspiring and holding people accountable?

Help them get there!

  • "Too much focus on things, not enough focus on commitment." - - John Bogle

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

ADVANCE 2014: The Accounting Career Summit

Jeff Phillips, is that you with Rita?Would you like more opportunities to hire top performers, not just from your local universities, but from across the country? During my public presentations, when I ask the simple question, “Are you hiring?” every hand in the audience goes up.

Advance 2014 might be the perfect venue for you to gain more exposure to top accounting graduates. I am pleased to be working with Accountingfly (formerly, College Frog) again as part of their 2014 Accounting Career Summit.

On August 14 from 1 to 5pm ET, they will bring together hiring managers from some of the nation’s leading accounting employers with qualified job seekers looking for new career opportunities.

During that week, you will be able to attend webinars from industry leading experts who will discuss best practices in talent acquisition and onboarding.

Monday – Recruit Like the Big 4 with Jeff Phillips, CEO of Accountingfly

Tuesday – How to Be a Best Firm to Work For with Dan Hood, Editor-in-Chief of Accounting Today

Wednesday – Creating a Firm Culture To Retain High Performers with Rita Keller, President of Keller Advisors – management consultant to CPA firms.

Thursday – Developing Superstars: A Playbook for High Potential Young Talent and The People Who Manage Them with Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay To Be The Boss (one of my favorite books!)

Get all of the details and registration information here.

As I continually suggest – - Embrace change, do things, try things – finding and retaining talent has entered a whole new dimension.

(Jeff Phillips, is that you with Rita?)

  • You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
  • Wayne Gretzky

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Monday CPA MAP Talk With Rita Keller – 3 Performance Groups

It’s Monday. You are back from a long holiday weekend. To help get you back in the swing of things…. you know, all of those thought-provoking, interesting, perplexing, challenging, rewarding things about working in public accounting – I thought I would give you the chance to listen today, rather than read so much.

Remember, you have three performance groups inside your firm. You need to deal effectively with all three.

  • There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
  • Morpheus, The Matrix