insight magazine

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. By Eric Scott | Fall 2019

lee-watercolor-310“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.

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