insight magazine

The Future of the Profession Is People!

We must come together as people for our people if the accounting profession is to succeed as it heads into “The Next Frontier.” By Mary K. Fuller, CPA | Spring 2022

mary fuller 310I learned the importance of people, relationships, and connections early in my life. The personal connections I made while attending the University of Illinois Chicago led to meeting my husband Floyd and landing my first accounting job—a classmate introduced me to a Chicago law firm where I was hired for a part-time position while attending school full-time. A year later, I was recommended for a position with a large property management company, igniting my interests in real estate and accounting and inspiring me to become a CPA.

To obtain my license, I knew I needed to pass the CPA exam and work one year for a CPA firm. My plan was to put in my year in public accounting, obtaining the necessary experience before moving on. So, I interviewed with one of Shepard Schwartz & Harris LLP’s founders and the managing partner, Mr. Harris, earning the job that unexpectedly launched my long-term career with the firm.

I was good at math, problem solving, and helping people. I believe that’s part of what drew me deeper into a profession that I thought I’d stay in for just one year—a profession I’ve now proudly been a part of for the past 40 years. What kept me in public accounting is the ever-changing challenges, opportunities, and people I’ve met and worked with along the way.

My commitment and passion for people are essential in my managing partner role at Shepard Schwartz & Harris. There’s never a dull moment when my days are spent developing and guiding our staff, planning for our clients, and problem solving and strategizing for the future of our firm alongside my partners and other colleagues.

Our profession isn’t the same as it was when I started my career. Technology has played a critical role in how, where, and when we work. In many ways, it allowed me to get to where I am. And the past two years have only amplified and accelerated the strategic business decisions we all must make regarding the ways we work, how employees want to work, and what our clients expect of us.

The Great Resignation is affecting us all. People are leaving their careers for all sorts of reasons. Some struggled to adjust (or not) to remote work; others had trouble dealing with the pressures of a seemingly never-ending busy season; others couldn’t juggle family and work with limited resources. The pandemic has changed people. The stresses influencing people’s personal and professional lives has led to the reprioritizing of what’s truly important to them. Now, many staff no longer want to work the way I remember working during the start of my career, where long hours were expected and learning, development, and making connections were all face-to-face.

As a business leader, I recognize our most important asset is our people. As we navigate the post-pandemic workplace, I encourage balance and the search for solutions that keep our bright, talented people in the accounting profession. Providing challenging and interesting work is no longer enough; I could argue that their well-being and mental health are just as important. Flexibility, hybrid work arrangements, and seasonal employment aren’t going away. We need to embrace change and value our new ways of doing things. There is, however, the importance of in-person meetings, overhearing conversations in the office that often lead to new learning experiences or opportunities, and being able to read and understand body language cues—all things that contribute to our well-being, development, and feeling of connectedness that can’t be entirely overlooked.

I encourage accounting leaders to come together to find ways to make an impact and inspire young people to join us in becoming CPAs and remain in our profession. Are you up for the challenge? I am!

I’m deeply honored and excited to be the Illinois CPA Society’s chairperson for the next year. I look forward to meeting members and hearing what’s important to them, serving with my fellow board members, and working closer with the society’s staff and CEO, Todd Shapiro, who’s in his final year before retirement. Together, we’ll embrace new opportunities as we head into “The Next Frontier.”

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