Bigger isn’t necessarily better, according to Sarah Brack, CPA, CGMA.
Atkinson & Company, LTD
Bigger isn’t necessarily better, according to Sarah Brack, CPA, CGMA.
Sarah grew up and went to school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there just weren’t a lot of big firms. “In my graduating class, not all of us could work for the one big office in town, so we took jobs in smaller firms.”
Sarah’s experience in small firms has provided her with opportunities that she never would have had anywhere else. “I was given more responsibility and mobility in my small firm than if I had worked in a larger firm. I definitely have enjoyed my time working for a small firm. There are 40,000 member firms in the AICPA and most of them are small. Don’t be afraid to take a job with a small firm because there are a lot of avenues to succeed as a CPA.”
Sarah found her first small firm opportunity through networking. By asking some of her mother’s friends about potential jobs, she got an internship doing bookkeeping for a small CPA firm that worked with small business clients. In her first summer, she implemented a cost accounting system and knew that accounting was for her.
She interned with that firm for three summers, then took a full-time position there after graduation. Sarah performed most of the major financial operations for her clients’ companies — tax planning, strategic planning (including succession planning) — in addition to the bookkeeping she was already doing.
Because of the breadth of her work, Sarah was able to qualify for the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) credential. “The CGMA is a credential that comes from ACIPA and CIMA (who are well known) and shows that I have a certain level of competency other than in public accounting. I’ve got other skills that will make me useful to audit clients. For example, auditors are required to communicate certain internal control deficiencies that we discover during the audit. These comments can be very helpful to clients in improving operational efficiency or reducing the possibility of fraud. Knowing the business from the client’s perspective as well as an auditor’s perspective is an advantage.”
And being part of small firms hasn’t limited Sarah’s contacts in the field. She is an active member of AICPA, which has expanded her network through the Leadership Academy (she’s a 2010 alum of the program) and her service in minority initiatives. “At the Leadership Academy, I got to meet a lot of other young professionals and build my network of CPA’s across the country. Through the minority initiatives at the AICPA, I’ve been able to work with the future leaders of the profession by attending and teaching sessions at the Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop.”
Sarah’s shyness hasn’t inhibited her networks either. “Although I’m shy, I’ve found ways to connect with people. Being involved in professional organizations like the AICPA or my state society has really helped.” Her advice for CPA hopefuls? “Get on a committee where you can get to know people in a very natural situation. Participate in mentoring programs and ask your mentor to introduce you to people who they think you’d like to meet. And when at conferences, talk to people that you don’t know.”
Sarah’s time in small firms also allowed her the flexibility to discover her perfect accounting fit. She was scheduled to spend a few months in audit , and then tax to see where she fit, but she never left audit. “I love auditing. I like to know things, so I love asking questions like ‘Why are you spending money on this?’ and ‘Why did you do this thing this way?’ Audit is a great field for people who like to ask questions and figure out the way things work. Organization skills are also a must.”
Not sure if you’d like audit or management accounting more? Learn more about the CGMA credential and the auditing specialty, then check out the Find Your Fit tool.
6am: Wake Up
I’m traveling to a client location that is about an hour away, so I have to get up earlier than usual.
7am: Pick Up
Today I’m getting picked up at home by my Senior Manager so we can drive to the client’s office. This is a new client, so we’re gathering information and developing our understanding of the client’s internal controls to develop our risk assessment and tests of controls.
8am: Arrive at Client Location
Once we arrive, we set up all of our gear and figure out where we left off yesterday. When we’re settled, we call the CFO to go to the scheduled inventory observation.
9am: Connect with Staff
We learn from the employee in the office next door that the CFO had a family emergency and had to go to Colorado. Luckily, another employee volunteers to take us to the building where the inventory observation will take place.
10am: Inventory Observation
We are observing ordnance (explosives) inventory. The inventory is located in several “magazines” in the mountains behind the university. Our guide warns us that rattlesnakes like to go into the magazines to keep cool because it’s over 100 degrees outside. We count bullets (mostly) and observe that there are lots of abandoned munitions (rockets that go in rocket launchers) because it was easier for others to leave them rather than to arrange to take them somewhere else.
11am: Phone Call from Partner
The office can’t find manual binders for two audits that need to be issued. They were supposed to be on my desk, but never actually made it there. The reports need to be issued today so we might have to drive back to town.
12pm: Lunch Break
The binders have been found — crisis averted. Lunch time!
1pm: Year-end Cutoff Procedures
Since we’re at the client on the last weekday before the fiscal year ends, this is a great time to do some year-end cutoff procedures, like watching them receive inventory and do some counts at their facilities office. We walk through (observe) the warehouse supervisor receive some parts and enter it into the inventory system.
2pm: More Cutoff Procedures
We go talk to one of the purchasing clerks about how supplies are ordered and how they ensure that purchases are recorded in the correct period.
3pm: And More Cutoff Procedures
Time to watch a contractor measure the gasoline in the tanks, the supervisor’s calculation of the gallons, and LIFO calculation ofthe value of the gasoline inventory to be adjusted in the general ledger.
4pm: Pack Up
It’s time to travel back to town. I have to wait while the Senior Manager checks and answers emails, so I go ask more questions in the purchasing office before the ride home.
5pm: Volunteer Time
Once my Senior Manager drops me off, I jump back into my car to get to a board meeting at 5:30. I’m the treasurer of a local non-profit, La Familia, Inc.
6pm: Board Meeting
Tonight, the organization’s lawyer is in attendance at our board meeting. We’ve recently merged with another non-profit and are still ironing out the kinks.
8pm: On My Way Home!
Home sweet home. I get home just in time to have a delicious take-out dinner with my husband and relax a little bit.