In college, despite initial interests in both business and meteorology, Craig Connell had a feeling that accounting might be his thing.
In college, despite initial interests in both business and meteorology, Craig Connell had a feeling that accounting might be his thing. “It just came naturally to me,” he remembers. Even with a difficult first-year professor (“I think the pass/fail ratio in the class was 40%,” he says), Craig still managed to ace it. “I was like, ‘Well, I'm pretty good at this.’”
He’s pretty good at what he does now, too. As Audit Senior at Sweeney Conrad, one of the region’s largest locally owned CPA firms, he has spent the last five years looking at clients' finances the way you might study an approaching storm front – helping them see the right way to document what their businesses are doing and prepare for the future. "We've had some pretty significant adjustments to year-end books," he says. "$900,000 differences, $2,000,000 differences… you show them what their bottom line should really look like." In addition to putting his skills to the test, the audit world fits Craig’s “on-your-feet, changing environment” personality. He loves meeting new people, seeing new places. “When I get back to the office and am in my cube,” he admits, “I find I'm much more distracted."
Perhaps that why he’s also on the company Recruiting Committee, doing on-campus recruiting and interviewing at both Central Washington University and Washington State University. That gets him out and about in addition to helping his firm find fresh talent. And though both his auditing and recruiting tasks may put Craig in front of some people who are nervous to meet him, he’s found an approach that always works: Be yourself. “The more real you are with someone, the more you treat them like a real person instead of just an audit subject or job candidate,” he says, “The better they respond to you.”
Of course, it also helps to know what you’re talking about, and Craig’s got that covered too. College provided him with a good grasp of the fundamentals of accounting, which he acknowledges as essential. (“It's assumed you understand that when you come in,” he says. “If you don't, you're not going to be able to do the job.”) More often, though, he uses knowledge gained since graduating. “Auditing is so on-the-job,” he says. “There's no way I could do the stuff I'm doing now right out of college.” Which is probably why he likes it so much – the learning never lets up. “If there’s something I don’t know,” he says, “We’ve got RIA Checkpoint and a library full of books and accounting manuals.” And of course, he adds, “Working in a firm like this, you have a wealth of knowledge around you that you can tap." Between that and the 40 hours Craig studies each year to meet his Continuing Professional Education requirement, it’s safe to say he’s always up to date.
Stimulated, smart, and getting smarter – not a bad way to spend a career. Craig hasn’t looked back at meteorology even once. “I really enjoy getting out to businesses,” he says. “Learning about different industries, and mainly just helping businesses and meeting people. That's the thing that really keeps me sticking to this job.”
7am: Settling in
Arrive at work. Respond to weekend emails, send client reminders, knock out professional reading (the AICPA daily letter, Kiplinger’s, and Marbles Northwest).
I could also use this part of the day, which is usually a nice block of uninterrupted, productive time, to respond to a staff self-evaluation. That’s when staff I’m supervising on a certain engagement hit a certain benchmark (40 hours of work on the project, for instance), which triggers an evaluation. We look at things you did well – or thought you did well – what you may have struggled with, and so on.
Wrestling with Seattle traffic, sitting in my car. But not talking on the phone, of course, now that it’s against the law. En route to wherever our client is.
9am: Setting up
Time to break out the laptops, chargers, second monitors and so forth. This client is an assisted living facility, so they’re able to put us in an open apartment – nice.
It’s also time to go around meeting and greeting. Shaking hands with clients (the CFO, the Accounts Payable Administrator, the HR Director), introducing myself and my staff, letting them know when to expect us to ask for their time.
10am: Getting underway
Discussing my expectations with my staff. It’s just one person on this engagement, and this is only his second time handling something like this, so I take a few moments to let him know potential problem areas and things to look out for. I’ll also detail specific items like the unique differences between a 403(b) and a 401(k).
11am: Down and dirty
Because it’s just the two of us, I do a good portion of the heavy lifting myself. On this particular engagement, I’m reconciling TPA records to the client's records along with their trust records – three tales of the business’s activities, and they all need to fit together. I look at everything from their employees’ contributions to the benefits accounts to the annual performance of the funds that money was invested in.
Every Monday, 8 or 10 of us – CPAs, bankers, insurance professionals, commercial real estate people, etc – get together in a group we created to discuss what’s going on in the local market. We’ll talk about pipelines, as in who’s working on what, and throw each other business if it makes sense to do so. Conflux was started by me and a couple of associates who were looking for a group like this – one for those of us who aren’t “New Professionals” anymore, but aren’t quite CFO-level yet either.
1pm: Back at it - 2 hours
Reconciling and grunt work will take up a decent portion of the afternoon. Basically I’m going through the audit subject’s finances with a fine-toothed comb.
Here I take a break from work to catch up with emails, respond to anyone who needs something from me, just handle general communication-type stuff. I may also get a hold of the client’s H.R. director to let her know when we’re going to need her time.
4pm: Client work, staff supervision
The actual audit itself has to get done sometime, right? And that means my staff and I are hard at work once again.
5pm: The commute
It really shouldn’t take 60 minutes to go 15 miles, but it does. Ask me anything about local AM radio, and I bet I’ll know the answer.
When I get home, I catch up on my exercise. Right now I’m doing P90X, which is “a revolutionary system of 12 sweat-inducing, muscle-pumping workouts, designed to transform the body from regular to ripped in just 90 days.” It’s pretty rigorous, I’ll confirm.