insight magazine

IN PLAY: William K. Flowers, CPA

The Illinois CPA Society’s 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award winner has built a legacy by creating harmony between his passions and his profession. By Hilary Collins | Summer 2022

If you have the pleasure of attending a Zoom meeting with William K. Flowers, CPA, the first thing you’ll notice is his virtual background. It’s a photo he took of the Count Basie Orchestra, the swing band founded in 1935, performing at the Birdland Jazz Club in New York City in 2020. Flowers is one of their biggest fans. “If you think it’s corny, you might as well know that about me right from the start,” he chuckles.

You might not think of music when you think of accounting, but Flowers has found a way to combine his passion for music (including jazz, a cappella, and, more recently, classical) with his CPA knowhow. “I’ve always loved the discipline of accounting,” Flowers says. “However, what I didn’t love so much was the corporate world and the constant push for growth and profit, the constant cost-cutting. I found that I was getting more satisfaction from the volunteer work I was doing in the evenings for nonprofits than the work I was doing from 9 to 5.”

That early-career realization propelled Flowers from the corporate world into nonprofit accounting, where he’s served musical groups and other nonprofit organizations for the past 30-odd years. He’s currently celebrating his 10th year as CFO of Cedille Chicago, a nonprofit organization that produces and markets recordings of classical music by Chicago-area musicians and composers. He’s also assisted the Jazz Institute of Chicago on behalf of CPAs for the Public Interest and served the nonprofit organization Chicago a cappella in several roles over the past 20 years, including as board president and chair of the finance committee.

But Flowers’ passion for nonprofit work extends beyond music: He’s also served as CFO for both Inner Voice Chicago, a nonprofit providing housing for the homeless, and Association House of Chicago, a nonprofit providing bilingual assistance programs. “When I decided to pursue nonprofit accounting, I saw it as a chance to still use my financial skills but to also contribute by assisting organizations that work with the youth, the arts, and the homeless,” Flowers explains.

Over the years, Flowers has held more than 20 volunteer roles with the Illinois CPA Society and was a founding member of its charitable partner, the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. “I was very active on the endowment board,” Flowers recalls. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to help young people, minorities, and students in general. In reviewing the scholarship applications, one of my primary responsibilities, I found that the stories were all so different. You have those outstanding students who in a sense don’t really need our help—they’ll definitely find a way—and then you have the students who really do need the extra push our support can provide. We truly are making something possible that might not otherwise be possible for them.”

After more than three decades of hard work in nonprofits, music, and accounting, Flowers has created a legacy to be proud of, capped by receiving the Illinois CPA Society’s prestigious 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of everything he’s done in and for the profession. However, one suspects that even that distinction doesn’t hold a candle to another acknowledgement he received: The Count Basie Orchestra paid him tribute with a rendition of their famous theme song, “One O’Clock Jump.” (You can find it on YouTube.) It’s a fitting honor for a man who’s gone from a dreamer and admirer to financial advisor and friend. “I’ve always been a fan of music of all varieties,” Flowers says. “Then good fortune put me in touch with the right people and friendships developed—it’s just been wonderful.”

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