A Public Accounting Return after Industry

July 15, 2020

By Kevin McMonagle, CPA

I left public accounting several years ago for a position in industry. That’s not unusual. What may be unique, however, is moving back to the public side. The return would entail a change in mindset and embracing becoming a revenue-generating part of the team. That fact alone appealed to my pride and is something I valued in the opportunity to return.

I started my career in public accounting working in audit for the first three years out of college. I established great relationships, learned valuable project management skills, and developed an audit mindset that has served me well. Ultimately, a desire to try something new combined with too much time away from home took its toll, and I transitioned to a role as a senior accountant at a large public company. I stayed in industry for eight years, working in various roles from senior accountant to controller. In 2015, the company was sold to a venture capital firm with plans to consolidate its accounting operations in Texas. During that time, I considered which career move would serve me best. I still had much to learn and was looking for an opportunity that would bolster my professional education. One position that excited me was consulting manager in the finance and accounting outsourcing practice at RSM US LLP. This opportunity would provide me with the ability to work with many different clients at different stages of their life cycles. I also could work with companies in various industries such as nonprofit, life sciences, technology, and consumer products. It was the right choice for me.

While contemplating the move back to public accounting from industry, some of the concerns I had were work-life balance, the ability to manage multiple clients and client teams, and the ability to partake in business development and networking activities to advance my career. While work-life balance had been a concern when opting to leave public accounting initially, I came to learn while working in industry that the work-life balance on the industry side is not much different from the public side. With ever-changing accounting technologies and systems, mergers and acquisitions activity, employee turnover, and company initiatives and cutbacks in accounting departments, there is always plenty to be done. Working in a public accounting consulting environment forces you to organize, plan ahead, communicate timely and efficiently, and work smarter. On the work-life balance front, I’ve come to learn that you ultimately have the most control over how many hours you work. To be successful in public accounting, the ability to manage your time is of the upmost importance and is something in which I continually strive to make improvements. Working smarter is much more important than working harder; to do that requires a shift in mindset to constantly analyzing where you are spending your time to accomplish what is most important and block out what is not.

The ability to manage multiple clients and teams has been challenging. All clients have expectations and deadlines that need to be juggled and delivered upon. Managing your clients by setting expectations that are reasonable to both your client and internal team is key. Typically, in industry, you are only reporting to one person; in the client service consulting world, it’s more of a matrix setup, where you typically have multiple individuals you report to. Again, constant communication and effective project management skills will alleviate a lot of the consternation that comes with this environment.

Networking was a skill I hadn’t developed much before coming back to public accounting. I’ve learned networking provides a great opportunity to not only progress my career but also learn new skills that help me in my work. The ability to succinctly talk about what you do in your career and to listen as individuals explain the same improves both public speaking and listening skills. These abilities directly translate to critically managing a team.

There are lots of networking events out there, and the key to successful networking is to narrow down the options to the ones that provide the most benefit. Once you’ve done that, you can stick with those events while exploring new ones from time to time.

The move back to public accounting has improved my time management and organizational skills. The learning opportunities have been tremendous, too. I’ve learned more in one year at RSM than I did in three years as a controller, including accounting technology options, business structure, client service, effective communication, and building collaborative teams and networks. In industry, it can be difficult to get exposure to all of these things.

While the demands in public accounting can be slightly more intense than industry, for me, they have proven to be more rewarding both personally and professionally.

Kevin McMonagle, CPA, is director, finance and accounting outsourcing, for RSM US LLP in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. 

Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, a publication of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


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