IN Play: Q&A With Lee Gould, CPA
The Society's 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner shares his insight on make change in the CPA profession.
“Of all my credentials, I’m most
proud of my CPA. It’s the hardest to
achieve, the hardest to obtain, and
the hardest to maintain.”
Lee Gould’s credentials, which include his CPA/ABV, JD, CFE, and CFF
designations, affirm his ability to set and achieve goals. His thirst for knowledge
stretches back to his childhood growing up on Chicago’s North Shore. “My father
was an entrepreneur who didn’t graduate college. My mom went to college and
got her degree while I was in grammar school,” Gould explains. “They both
realized the value of an education.”
Gould’s passion for education, lifelong learning, and meaningful experiences has
shaped his career, making him an influential leader, mentor, and advocate for
change in the accounting profession today. It’s no wonder he recently received
the Illinois CPA Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to
creating opportunities for next generation CPAs and striving for positive change
in the CPA profession.
How have your mentors impacted you and your approach to mentorship?
Early on at my first job, they didn’t understand why I wanted to go to law school in
the evenings. That was viewed as something that would negatively affect my
productivity at work. One of my mentors told me, “You need a business card
wherever you go. There are 21 meals a week and that’s 21 marketing opportunities
for you.” Are you kidding me?
I’ve had both positive and negative mentors over the course of my career. What I’ve
learned from them is that mentorship isn’t about taking a square peg and forcing it
into your round hole—it’s about listening and understanding your mentees and
sharing your knowledge of the profession to help them grow.
Listening is an action you preach the need for. What is it that leaders
in the profession need to be listening more closely to?
The profession isn’t one-size-fits-all anymore. We need to listen. We’re coming out
of the workaholic generation. We grouse about millennials not wanting to work as
hard as we did, but that’s not true—they just want balance. I have employees who
balance lives with children—they remote in and work from home at different times.
They get everything done, but it’s not the typical nine-to-five. It’s actually a better
relationship that way.
Good leaders change with the times. The important thing is to listen, because the
tone at the top needs to change.
From young professional member to board chair, you’ve stayed closely
involved with the Illinois CPA Society throughout your career. How has that positioned you to make change?
If you join the CPA profession, you have to be willing to protect the badge of honor
that we all share. From a professional standpoint, the Society provides great
experiences that get people to realize that the business world is bigger than
themselves. You learn to speak in groups and help bring positive change to the
profession. Our importance is that we can shape the profession; if you don’t get
involved, you can’t complain.
Do you have any insight for our readers that might have a
complaint or two about their careers?
Keep in mind that the people you meet on the way up are often the same people
you meet on the way down. I worked with people who leapfrogged me to the
partner track only to slide back down when they couldn’t handle it. Always be kind.
There’s so much pressure when you are in a big firm; everything is guided toward
being a partner as if that is the only thing you could ever want. Strive for significance,
don’t strive for success. Whether you are a partner or not doesn’t define you; what
defines you is your legacy.