insight magazine

Live Local, Think Global

In today’s business world, the globally minded CPA will inherit the work. By Sheryl Nance-Nash | Summer 2017


Once upon a time, caring only about the comings and goings in your neighborhood or city, and maybe even your state, was enough to get by in life and business. Those days are gone. Today, if you’re not looking at everything through a global lens, you may as well be blind.

“You’ll be so far behind, you’ll never catch up. Your competitors will surpass you and get the business,” stresses Debra Benton, author of “The Leadership Mind Switch.” “And you’ll miss out on some great food that your mama never made!”

All joking aside, “any business leader who is worth the role simultaneously thinks about globalization, changing demographics, and technology changes all of the time,” she adds. “It’s the new world of work.”

“Gone are the days when you could confine your thinking to domestic implications,” says Suz O’Donnell, executive advisor at global management consulting and leadership coaching company Thrivatize. “Whether you think your work is global or not, there are always global implications.”

What this all means is it’s imperative to build a global mindset if you want your career—and business—to keep moving forward.

“The higher you rise, the less important the basic duties of your job become. Crunching numbers, consistent accuracy, and critical thinking are all job requirements that got you to where you are now. Thinking globally will take you to the next level,” O’Donnell says.

But what does thinking globally really mean?

The challenge for most CPAs is that global thinking is a relatively new concept. “Most CPAs don’t think globally because we were never taught, nor encouraged, to do so. Most of us were simply taught to take good care of our clients—which meant doing quality work on a timely basis for a reasonable fee,” explains Howard Rosen, CPA, JD, AEP, director of business development at Mesa, Ariz.-based Schmidt Westergard & Company PLLC. “That’s not the world of today. Today we all compete on a global basis, and if we cannot do so, our future is in peril.”

The mindset behind global thinking isn’t just about sustainability or survival, though; it’s about making you a better professional— and building a better profession. Here’s how to get started.

1. Get Forward-Focused

“If you don’t want to get left behind, move forward,” says John Norman, CPA, partner at Charlotte, N.C.-based CPA and advisory firm GreerWalker LLP. Simply having technical knowledge and know-how isn’t enough anymore if you want to build lasting business relationships.

“‘Globalization’ has become the buzzword of the last two decades. Our industry in general might not have adjusted to the new market conditions as fast as other industries have,” he says, “but you clearly see that’s changing.”

“You need to have a genuine thirst for knowledgeable about economic, political, and cultural issues around the world, and to look into the complexity of international affairs,” Norman continues, suggesting tapping into the news and resources from organizations like World Affairs Councils of America, The World Trade Association, and the international chambers of commerce where your customers or clients do business as a good way to start growing your global mindset.

The point is a global mindset isn’t an innate feature, but it can be developed, adds Dr. Lilac Nachum, professor at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business in New York and an international business executive educator and consultant. “Social interaction with people outside one’s usual circles, and connection with people that differ from one’s own, is a particularly effective means for the development of a global mindset,” she explains. “Research shows that professionals across all business areas considerably improve their scores on global mindset tests after engaging in such activities.”

2. Tap Your Clients’ Minds

Thinking beyond the world you live in means also thinking more about the world your customers and clients live in. Truth is, today, even if your company or your clients are domestic, they have global competitors or suppliers affecting their business.

“Talk with your clients. See how they interact with their customers and learn how they do business outside their local markets,” Rosen suggests. “Global thinking is looking at your market on a worldwide basis. Do you have clients with operations in Canada or Mexico? Do your clients sell into Europe or Africa? It’ll amaze you how much international business your clients do once you ask them about it.”

Being curious not only benefits you, it likely benefits business relations, too. Sharing his experience, Rosen recalls a client from the printing industry. “One of their customers was a foreign auto manufacturer who had plants in the U.S. Our client printed owners’ manuals for the cars. When we did a bit of inquiry, we discovered a portion of the autos built in the U.S. were shipped to other countries for end-user sale. This created a tax planning opportunity that wouldn’t have been available if the cars were sold only in the U.S. Thinking globally allowed us to assist our client in an ongoing technique that lowered their taxes.”

3. Pull From the Profession

“To me, global thinking also means thinking about business opportunities existing outside of our boundaries and how our services can create value when we address the needs of foreign-owned entities doing business in the U.S. and domestic companies doing business in other parts of the world,” Norman explains.

What better way to learn about the needs of your foreign counterparts—and the value you can bring them—than straight from the source?

“Join one of the many international associations of accountants. Attend regional and worldwide conferences that accounting associations sponsor. Meet members from other countries,” Rosen encourages. “These are the best sources.”

For those of you already working in a global organization or firm that does business abroad, it would behoove you to take on a global role or expatriate assignment to enhance your global mindset, grow your leadership profile, and also to spice up your work life.

After all, even if you think you’re not currently working in a global environment, we’ve got news for you: You are.

“The reality of today’s business environment is that we’re competing with businesses throughout the world. If you’re still thinking that your competitors are just down the street, you will probably not stay in business for very long, at least not very successfully,” Norman says.

“The sooner we recognize this, the better,” Rosen adds. “If we don’t recognize the importance of global thinking, we as an industry are doomed to failure.”

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