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Today's CPA

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.
Todd Shapiro 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 profession now.

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?

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