February 2003

The Road Taken

By Zev Landau, CPA

In his May 2001 column, Editor-in-Chief Robert Colson asked readers whether they would still become an accountant if they started their career over. Because of recent accounting failures, “shades of outrage, shame, blame, despair, and confusion” have spread, and another important question has emerged: how to revive the accounting profession.

I decided to pursue a career in accounting two decades ago, and I am pleased to report it was a decision that has enriched my life and has therefore been the right decision for me. Career decisions are not easy to make for most people, because of uncertainty, fear, indecisiveness, and moments of unquiet mind.

In his famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost described how he found “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and he was sorry that he “could not travel both.” Finally he chose the road “less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Two decades ago, pursuing an accounting career was indeed the path less chosen; nevertheless, my choice has made all the difference. The benefits that the profession has given me will endure for many years to come.

The accounting profession’s ability to generate so many streams of knowledge has always impressed me. If I were concerned about recent scandals I could attend a seminar about accounting failures, ethics, and what went wrong. If corporate mergers and acquisitions excited me I could study the issues of business combinations, industries, global and domestic issues, and much more.

The accounting profession is a branch of knowledge as well as a mix of “products.” For decades the profession experienced glory; at other times, accounting products were fragile and had to be handled with care. Accounting requires investment in research and development, marketing campaigns, and the study of consumer behavior, as well as advertising, publicity, and packaging. The awareness of accounting as a product is essential to success.

Although accounting demands skills, it also develops them. Today accountants are more than pencil pushers. They are analysts, advisors, marketers, managers, instructors, and planners—a much more accurate image of our profession.

Are students aware that the scope of accounting services is not limited to financial accounting, audit, compliance, review, and taxation, but also embraces cash flow forecasting, forensic and fraud accounting, and litigation support? Wouldn’t they be more interested in joining the accounting profession if they knew more about buy/sell agreements, industry specialization, mergers and acquisitions, management advisory services, e-commerce, consulting, and accounting history?

Some applicants are looking for ways to use their creativity, and others have an instinct for investigative work. Some practitioners love to market services, and others are attracted to the office environment and workpapers. The accounting profession has a place for every preference and skill.

If I had to study accounting all over again, I would look for more courses that focus on skills rather than merely on knowledge. I would check at an earlier age for any good coaching programs. Not only would I try to seek a strong advisor, I would also focus more on career and life goals and the obstacles that may prevent me from attaining them.

Although seminar speakers impress me with their knowledge, I’ve also learned from their presentation style, method of delivery, ability to simplify complex issues, and talent at making people listen. I have also met individuals that showed excellent organizational, decision-making, leadership, and interpersonal skills.

Over the years I have realized the importance of mentorship to both young accounting candidates and experienced practitioners that are looking for a trusted coach who can deliver them the proper tools and provide enduring benefits (For example, the BOCES program described by NYSSCPA President Jo Ann Golden in the September 2002 Trusted Professional).

In the NYSSCPA’s industry and taxation committees, I found the perfect forums for learning. I appreciated The Trusted Professional and The CPA Journal for publishing many of my articles and for asking me to edit articles for the Federal Taxation department. I developed my passion for writing because of the accounting profession. I have used this passion in my tax memoranda to clients and my protest letters to the IRS.

The revival of the accounting profession was a concern of the AICPA in a statement it released on September 6, 2002, which stressed integrity, competence, and objectivity. It seems to me that the younger generation should hear more often about career fulfillment, personal satisfaction, and the ability to close the gap between academia and the real world faster than in any other profession. They should hear about the resourcefulness and richness of the accounting profession and its integration with other professions such as finance, marketing, law, and technology.

“Reviving” is a term that has a loud impact and is much more optimistic than “surviving.” It sounds like a great awakening, with a renewed attention and stimulation—“Seize the moment,” as Golden advised in her column. But it also has the flavor of nostalgia for a past when the accounting profession was much more glorious. Reviving the profession is a powerful and inspiring call for an immediate action right now.

Zev Landau, CPA, has practiced in the field of accounting and taxation in New York City for more than 20 years and has published numerous articles in national magazines. He has also served on numerous NYSSCPA industry and taxation committees.

Mark H. Levin, CPA
H.J. Behrman & Company LLP

Contributing Editors:
Henry Goldwasser, CPA
Weiser LLP

Neil H. Tipograph
Imowitz Koenig & Co., LLP

Warren Weinstock, CPA
Marks Paneth & Shron, LLP

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