But I’ve learned so much more since graduation, both on the job and on my own through conferences, seminars, certificate programs, certifications, and reading.


Looking at the early part of my career, you’d never be able to guess where I’d end up, which is instructive for students who feel bound to a narrow, traditional career path. Exploration and experimentation can bear fruit in finding the role and industry and making decisions that are right for you long-term. While I often worried and neglected to put things in perspective in those early days, I’ve since learned to focus on that which I can control. My first job was as a proofreader, and I learned a great deal about the importance of good grammar and clear writing. Written communication is so important for any profession, including accounting and finance.


From there, I transitioned to the accounting profession, taking a job as a life insurance company tax accountant. I learned how much more I enjoyed research and analysis compared to compliance. Although an important part of the job was preparing and filing complex corporate income tax returns, the aspect of the job that I liked best was researching proposed income tax changes and analyzing the effect those changes would have on the company. I realized then that I wanted to be a management accountant, not a tax accountant.


Dedicating Three Decades to Our Organization


Almost 30 years ago, I initiated another significant career transition by joining IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), but this one stuck, as I’ve worked here ever since. I started as an exam project manager in the ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) department. My main responsibilities at that time were supervising the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam essay grading and helping develop CMA exam questions. At that time, the essay portion was 75% of the exam and was administered in a paper-based format. Twice each year, about 80 accounting professionals came to Montvale, N.J., to grade the essays by hand. Grading by computer, as we do today, is so much more efficient.


Some years later, I was promoted to director of examinations and was responsible for managing the question development and grading of the CMA exam. When my boss and mentor Priscilla Payne retired, I was promoted to vice president at ICMA. Later, I was promoted to senior vice president of certifications, exams, and content integration, my current role. To earn a promotion, it goes without saying that you have to work hard and deliver high-quality work beyond expectations, but it also helps to think beyond the confines of your current role so that you’re contributing to the overall success of your company.


In the time I’ve been working here, IMA has changed significantly in many ways, but its core mission to advance the profession of management accountants and finance professionals and the careers of its members has remained the same. What has changed is the makeup of our membership and how we deliver value. When I started at IMA, more than 90% of the organization’s members were based in the United States. Today, a significant majority of our members live and work outside the U.S. While remaining strong in the U.S., we’ve expanded our reach to help management accountants around the world develop their careers. Technology has wrought another big change. For the CMA exam, we’ve gone from paper-based exams delivered primarily in the U.S. to computer-based exams delivered all around the world. 


Transformative Technology


Technology has been changing the nature of the finance function for a very long time. When I started as an accountant, we used 13-column paper worksheets—yes, a long time ago! That didn’t last long with the introduction of the personal computer and electronic spreadsheets. It’s curious that with the advent of new technologies, everyone always says that accounting jobs will decline. That may be true of certain specific roles whose responsibilities can be automated, but what I’ve found is that with each new technology, there’s more work—and more interesting work—for accountants to do. One example from my early years was the introduction of the electronic spreadsheet. Suddenly, it was so much easier to do “what-if” analysis, and upper management wanted to see breakdowns of multiple scenario iterations. If anything, we were busier than ever.


Continuing education is essential for management accounting and finance professionals to prepare for the ongoing transformation of the finance function due to AI, machine learning, data analytics, and other technologies. The job of the management accountant is constantly evolving, and, for me, that’s what makes it such an interesting profession.


I wouldn’t venture a prediction for what will transpire in the future other than to say that the accounting and finance profession will change, and it’ll do so at an ever-increasing rate. Be open to continuous learning and new professional development opportunities.


It’s difficult to generalize about the skills that many new employees need to learn on the job that they may not be exposed to in the classroom, because not everyone takes the same path to our profession. What I will say, though, is that regardless of what role you’re in, you shouldn’t ignore soft skills. Students and early-career professionals must learn technical accounting skills, but leadership, communication, and critical thinking are also extremely important. When in school, don’t discount those liberal arts courses. Those are the classes that will help you develop your skills in critical thinking and communication, which will serve you well throughout your career.

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