Today's CPA | Summer 2019
Leadership: The CPA Profession Needs You
The change that is inevitable and unstoppable requires leaders to take command and guide us toward a profession of the future.
ICPAS President & CEO
Leaders are defined as the people who lead or command a
group, organization, or country. That’s a simple definition, because
real leaders exhibit more than command; leaders exemplify
courage, inspiration, vision, creativity, and innovation.
When I think of some of the great leaders of our time, Abraham
Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and our country’s Founding
Fathers come to mind. Today, we look back at these individuals and
admire their courage and vision when leading our country through
some of its most changing and challenging times. Yet, in their day,
many citizens were upset or scared by the changes they were
advocating. I see the same thing happening in the accounting
In hindsight, it’s easy to look back and see who has proven to be a
true leader. The accounting profession has grown into a major
component of our global capital markets thanks, in part, to driven
leaders like Arthur E. Andersen and Elijah Watt Sells and those who
helped form international accounting firms. Their leadership was,
and is, not without controversy — that’s OK. Today, I view AICPA CEO
Barry Melancon as a great leader in the CPA profession. One may
not agree with everything he says or does, but he has a passion for
the profession and is visionary, creative, and innovative.
The same can be said about many of the leaders of your Illinois CPA
Society. I recently came across the original minutes from the first
meeting of the Illinois CPA Society’s founders in 1897. They had the
vision to create a professional society for CPAs in Illinois that lives
to this day. Mary T. Washington Wylie and Lester McKeever also
come to mind because of their roles in helping African Americans
start and advance in the CPA profession. Bringing diversity to our
profession in the 40s, 50s, 60s — and still today — was a challenge
they stepped up to change.
I talk about leadership not just because the Society recently held its
Leadership Recognition and Awards Dinner to honor those who are
trying to make real differences in the accounting profession, but
because the need for leadership and great leaders in our profession
is more critical than ever. Our profession is at the precipice of
change unlike any we’ve ever seen.
Technology, over the next 10 years and beyond, will radically alter
what CPAs do and how we define ourselves. Yes, we’ve always
been impacted by technology, from the adding machine, to the 10-
key, to calculators, to Excel, to tax and audit software. It’s different
this time, and I know that you have heard that before. But these
productivity tools only helped us do our jobs more timely, efficiently,
and effectively. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic
process automation, on the other hand, will revolutionize not just
how we do things but what we do — these technologies won’t just
help us, they can ultimately replace us in many ways. We’re also
witnessing the largest exodus of talent in our profession’s history as
baby boomers (the largest working generation before millennials
came along) move into retirement.
This is where you come in. The change we must make to remain
competent, competitive, and relevant will be upsetting and scary,
and some may balk or pushback on the direction of our profession.
The change ahead of us will require vision, courage, creativity, and
innovation. The change that is inevitable and unstoppable requires
leaders to take command and guide us toward a profession of the
future. Will you be that leader?