Would You Still Choose a Career in Accounting? What More Could I Want?

After more than 30 enjoyable years in accounting, I don’t believe I could find another profession as exciting, stimulating, and demanding. But my path has not been a straight line.

I went to college planning to major in math. I was good with numbers, and I liked the challenge of finding the “right” answer. Being a “girl,” I also thought I might find a future husband in one of my math classes. But I was restless. By the end of my freshman year, I had been a math major, a government major, an economics major, and a math major again.

The summer after my freshman year, I took a temp job in the accounting department of a company in Baltimore that was building shopping centers and developing the planned city of Columbia, Maryland. In a bustling accounts receivable department with two accounting clerks who had been there at least 10 years, by the end of the summer I was “directing” them. The comptroller asked me to lunch, and by the end of an ego-satisfying meal, I had accepted his job offer for the following summer and promised to follow his advice by taking an introductory accounting class.

The rest is history. After three sessions of my first accounting course, I switched to the College of Business and became an accounting major. I loved the structure, the challenge, and the thought-provoking classes. There were no female accounting professors and I was one of only four female accounting majors, but who cared? I was having fun. When I graduated, I was given the Haskins and Sells Award for the outstanding senior accounting student and had a job and a fiancé—an accountant.

I had interned at Peat, Marwick, and Mitchell in Baltimore after my junior year and interviewed with all of the Big Eight, most of which did not know what to do with a woman accountant. After graduating, I took a job at Lybrand, Ross Brothers and Montgomery (LRBM) in Boston. My assessment of LRBM as the most progressive Big Eight firm was based on the firm allowing its women accountants to wear pantsuits.

LRBM treated women as equals and with respect. Of the 40 accountants starting that year, five were women. Only three of us stayed longer than six months. After two or three years, we each went off to get our MBAs. We thought a woman needed an additional degree to succeed in public accounting.

I eventually returned to LRBM because I missed dealing with clients and being exposed to different industries. I loved the talented people and the pressure of finishing the audit. I loved the unexpected call from a client with a problem that needed to be resolved immediately, and I loved being a trusted business advisor. I was respected for who and what I was.

My path to becoming a professor started when Simmons College asked LRBM if it could provide an accounting instructor to fill an unexpected
vacancy. I had taught in-house training courses, so I volunteered. After missing five of my first 10 classes because of client responsibilities, my client schedule was reduced so I could teach introductory accounting to MBA students. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I became the first part-time employee of Coopers & Lybrand – Boston (LRBM’s successor firm) and accepted a full-time position as an assistant professor at Simmons College Graduate School Management.

But I realized that working part-time in public accounting was unrealistic. Eventually I did the unthinkable: I quit my dream job in public accounting. I replaced my goal of being one of the Big Eight’s few women partners with what I then thought was the short-term reality of being an accounting professor.

I have now been teaching accounting full-time for 21 years. I am a tenured full professor, doing research in accounting and business-related topics and teaching accounting to MBAs. I also have several consulting clients in accounting-related areas and help my husband with his accounting practice. I used to think that public accounting and auditing was everything. Now I realize there is more to my professional life.

I hate to say this, but the audit has become a commodity. Sometimes I think clients don’t value and understand an audit. Today, with the business environment becoming increasingly global and competitive, companies focus more on how accountants can save them money, increase their profits, and improve their systems and competitive position than they do on a quality audit. Will this change in the post-Enron environment? Perhaps, but maybe not. Regardless, I like to help my clients be more successful, and I like to help my students understand that, wherever their career leads them, they will be successful if they can help their employer ethically achieve financial success.

I also believe that what goes around comes around. When I first entered public accounting, we would flowchart a client’s systems, analyze their competitive environment, and suggest how they could be more successful, all as part of the audit. Today, CPAs do the same thing, only now they charge for each service separately and call it consulting. Thirty years ago, I would explain my job by saying that I was like a consultant who specialized in accounting. Today, I would just be called a consultant.

Would I do it over again? You bet. As a CPA and an accounting professor, I’m a member of a profession where women were treated as equals before it was the trendy thing to do. Accounting is fun, it’s challenging, stimulating, and always changing. What more could I want?

Susan Hass, CPA
Professor of Management
Simmons College
Boston, Mass.

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