As I see it: Looking back & looking forward

By Clarke Price, CAE, President and CEO

I never thought about what I’d want to say in my final commentary to the membership. In all that I’ve written over the years and in all the presentations I’ve made, I honestly never thought what would my final words be about, so the prospect of writing this commentary is proving to be more daunting than I ever expected it to be.

Looking back

Lately I’ve been asked variations on the question “did you accomplish what you wanted” or “what’s been your major accomplishment as CEO” and that’s a tough question to answer. There are a lot of “highs” as I look back, and I have to admit that there are several “lows” too.

What stands out for me on the list of specific things that we’ve accomplished at OSCPA can vary the more I think about what’s happened in the 22 years that I’ve been CEO.

Streamlining OSCPA’s governance stands out as something that makes us a better, more responsive organization. Collapsing the old 12-member Executive Committee and 43-member Board of Directors into a single 17-member Executive Board was a positive step. But more beneficial was the change in our committee structure that led to appointing narrowly focused, short-term task forces to deal with a single issue. Time is a precious commodity for most of us and the old model of lots of committees that would meet four or five times each year and accomplish little because the agenda was too long represented a major abuser of our members’ time. Moving to highly focused task forces allowed us to make better use of everyone’s time, deal with developing issues quickly and produce meaningful results. While many organizations point to a long list of committees to demonstrate high involvement, OSCPA chose to focus on results rather than appearances.

Significant expansion of our advocacy involvement is another accomplishment that has been very positive. While some members may say “OSCPA has no business being involved in politics,” I prefer to say “the reality is the CPA profession is one bill away from catastrophe and nobody but OSCPA is looking out for the welfare of CPAs.” We’ve come a long way in the scope of both our statehouse activities and the depth of our relationships with Ohio’s Congressional delegation. OSCPA has accomplished a lot, and though there have also been battles that we’ve lost, The Ohio Society of CPAs and the CPA profession are now legitimate players in the legislative process. The benefits for the CPA profession are significant. The next challenge, however, will come as the Society continues to expand its involvement in public policy issues. OSCPA’s Ohio Budget Advisory Task Force Report in 2009 provided a dramatic step forward for OSCPA in the public policy arena and will soon be followed with other forays beyond clearly defined legislative issues. Again, this will increase our visibility and our voice on the critical issues facing Ohio’s businesses and citizens.

Certainly, our entry into the digital age and electronic communications is one thing that stands out. While we all have dimensions of any website that we like and don’t like, and I don’t think there’s any web page that is 100% perfect, I’m pleased with what we’ve accomplished in our online presentations (and the new website that will be unveiled later in 2013 will be better than ever).

I’m also very pleased with what we’ve accomplished lately in our presentation of web-based professional development. OSCPA’s Online Library is a great addition and our simulcasting of courses is taking the inconvenience of travel out of CPE for many members. Both of those are recent changes that will only expand and become better resources for our members.

Finally, being profiled in the book 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t provided significant recognition for OSCPA’s innovative culture. Working with Good to Great author Jim Collins and applying his research methodology to examining associations, the American Society of Association Executives identified nine associations that are “remarkable.” Having The Ohio Society of CPAs identified in that list, and be the only state-based organization, was certainly a high point as I reflect on what we’ve accomplished at OSCPA.

Looking forward

As I think about the issues that are developing over the horizon, there’s no question that the future will present new challenges and opportunities for the Society.

The legislative arena, both in Ohio and Congress, is going to be a continuing challenge. Tax issues will continue to be of paramount importance and will provide a platform for OSCPA to continue to be in the forefront of that dimension of the public policy debate. An advantage we have is that CPAs enjoy wide respect for their expertise and impartial views on tax issues. We need to leverage our bully pulpit to emphasize the need for common sense tax laws at both the state and federal levels.

The regulatory environment will continue to come under scrutiny. Will a state-based licensing scheme for the CPA profession continue to make sense in the future? Will a national or global CPA credential be a possibility for which we should be preparing? Those are questions that aren’t easily answered, but I think we’re going to face them sooner rather than later.

I’ve often said that as a profession we’re just one headline away from challenges to the respect we enjoy today. We experienced just how quickly public opinion can turn following the scandals associated with Enron, Worldcom, HealthSouth, etc. CPAs fell from the top of public opinion to the depths and while our image has recovered, we must always be prepared for that to happen again. The result can be more than challenges in the court of public opinion. It can open up legislative and regulatory challenges as well.

Will the pipeline into the CPA profession continue to be full? Today we enjoy a reality where college classrooms are overflowing with accounting majors. Will that continue to be the case? We need to continue to focus on why students choose accounting as their major and what we can be doing to drive graduates to the CPA exam and into the profession. A further challenge for all employers is to consider how generational attitudes and expectations are changing and how those who employee CPAs should be evolving what life is like for their associates. The historic status quo just won’t cut it for the future!

Finally, we need to constantly work to tell the CPA profession’s story in a manner that resonates with the public. We continue to work under stereotypes that don’t represent the realities of the CPA profession. Just as we are in the forefront of the debate surrounding major public policy issues, I’m confident that we can define a completely new – and more realistic – image of what being a CPA means and what the letters C-P-A represent.

One final observation I’ve been fortunate to work with a team of professionals who genuinely care about our members and their welfare. The OSCPA staff makes it possible for me to be out in front and often take the bows (some may say take the credit) for the work they do to serve our members. They make my job easy and they make it fun to come to work. I’ll miss working with them.

Wrapping up It’s been a great pleasure to work for The Ohio Society of CPAs. This isn’t the career I envisioned when I graduated from college in 1969, but it’s one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been a pleasure to work with CPAs and to be associated with this profession. We’ve come a very long way since I arrived on the doorstep 40 years ago and further since I became CEO in 1990.

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Society. THANK YOU.

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One Response to As I see it: Looking back & looking forward

  1. James D Gottfried says:

    Thank you for all you have done!

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