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New horizons: Advancing culture across generations

May 01, 2024




John Hawkins 
2024-25 Chair
OSCPA Board of Directors

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Oregon Society of CPAs Board of Directors for 2024-25 and am enthusiastic about the year to come. We are in a time of great change. Like many other professions, the accounting profession is experiencing a number of challenges, but we should also consider that we have many exciting opportunities before us. I am excited to be in a role where I can impact and support OSCPA members to gain awareness of these opportunities.

In preparation for this article, I took time to reflect on my professional background as a tax practitioner within a public accounting firm. I have been in tax my entire career and when this issue of the Society’s magazine publishes May 1, I will have completed my 38th tax season. For most of my career, I described my firm as one that provided traditional services of tax, accounting, and audit. Today, our clients now look to us for those valued traditional services, and more. This has greatly expanded the breadth of what we do. We serve clients as their most trusted advisors. This is desired by our clients — and is also an opportunity for the profession. Clients want and need consulting and advisory services to run and grow their businesses, and they need our expertise to improve their personal finances. We need to continue to adapt to these additional services that clients want and need from us. This is an exciting time to build on our relevance and thrive.

Although up to this point, I have been sharing my thoughts as a partner and leader of a CPA firm, I seriously encourage members in industry, non-profit, government, and education to consider the above related to the businesses and organizations you work for and with. They too need your guidance, knowledge, and expertise. This is why CPAs are so sought after. Trusted advisors are not limited to those in CPA firms but also the CPAs that serve and support others.

Yes, there are challenges. We have a generational shift in the profession with the retirement of many baby boomers, we dealt with unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, and we are still working on some of them. The pipeline is a challenge and, as humans, it is easy for us to share our negative stories, rather than the positives. Let’s remember to share the good news too.

The generational shift is causing changes. From where I sit, one of my big concerns for tomorrow is the large number of retirements and the need to find replacements and preserve knowledge. Recruitment and retention are also on my mind. What can we do?

I now see many firms focusing on and supporting leadership and soft skill-building, not just technical training. I have been a member of the Society for long enough to know that the most successful classes we offered as part of our CPE educational curriculum were technical. Soft skill classes simply had low enrollment or would be cancelled. When I was in the beginning stages of my career, I needed to focus on building a lot of technical knowledge all at once, especially since the significant Tax Reform Act of 1986 had just passed! Technology was different then as well. Leadership training was not the focus nor how to manage others.

Today, we are working on getting the next generation of leaders ready with more leadership training and opportunities. Plus, different generations are used to working in groups and have been exposed to leadership concepts much earlier in their education.

Let’s also remember that sometimes the right person is on the right bus, they just may need to move to a different seat.

Other essential functions of leadership include teambuilding and trust. People must have trust in the people leading them. Trust is created with integrity and competence. Teambuilding can be more challenging with hybrid and remote, but it can be done, and pays dividends.

I have emphasized the above topics of technical and non-technical skill-building, leadership, teambuilding, and trust as I believe in their importance. And I believe hybrid and remote work is a permanent change for business.

Pipeline, including recruitment and retention, is a challenge based on a variety of factors. During and post-pandemic, we have learned to work remotely or in hybrid formats. The challenge to that is that people are not physically together to ensure culture — we must work on continuing to build and maintain culture. People don’t have as many opportunities to connect about random topics such as how the game went last night, inquiries about their weekend, etc.

However, with time, we realized there are alternative ways of learning and advancing culture across organizations. New and upcoming technology allows us to stretch our wings and hire broadly, work hybrid schedules, and navigate digital challenges by using tools such as Zoom and Teams.

I’ve talked with several managing partners of Oregon CPA firms, and recruitment and retention continue to be a significant issues, although they seem to have slightly improved this last year. We are hearing that college and university enrollments are improving, as well as an increase in those sitting for the Uniform CPA Exam (a new exam could have influenced that as well). Locally, the OSCPA is working on a variety of projects including working collaboratively with the Oregon Board of Accountancy to reduce or eliminate unnecessary barriers to licensure. Other State Societies are doing the same. Nationally, AICPA and National State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) each have special task forces working to understand the details of the issues to make recommendations for the future.

Returning to the OSCPA, many of the same issues that our members in firms, business, and organizations face, also impact OSCPA. The Society will develop a new strategic plan next summer as we finish our current 2021-24 plan. We have fantastic leaders on the board and I’m excited to work with them and our OSCPA professional staff over this coming year as we address the challenges and identify the opportunities.

I wish everyone a wonderful spring.

John Hawkins
2024-25 Chair, OSCPA Board of Directors