Drinking From the Fire Hose: Michelle Dooley 

Pounding up the staircase, wearing full fire gear, and carrying a fire hose is all in the day’s work for Michelle Dooley, CPA, CGMA, a recent graduate of the AICPA 2013 Leadership Academy.

As lead controlling specialist for a German-based steel company, Michelle could simply sit behind a desk all day, yet her approach to work has her donning a hardhat, steel-toed boots, and sometimes fire gear when she visits her company’s operations mills at least once a week. Why? She believes it makes her better at her job of managing planning and finances for two production mills, Human Resources, Continual Improvement, and the company’s in-house Fire, and Environmental, Health and Safety Departments.

“My first manager told me to get involved in the operations side because you can’t do your job without knowing what goes on in that area,” said Michelle. “That was the best advice I ever received regarding my career and guides my approach to this day.”

When visiting the mills, Michelle helps with the monthly audits and is a visible presence so that team members see her as one of them—not just the corporate controller.

She even spent her own time one Saturday qualifying for the firefighters challenge with the Fire Department. The timed event included a 4-story stair climb with a high-rise pack, hose hoist, and victim rescue all wearing fire gear in under 7 minutes. Michelle’s time: 4 minutes, 58 seconds, “But our firefighters did it in 2.3 minutes!” she said.

The benefit of having completed the firefighter’s challenge?

“I understand the physical challenges they go through. I felt better for having done the challenge and gained an appreciation for the firefighters that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. They know I will support them in any way I can.”

Michelle finds being involved operationally really helps her get her job done more effectively, and engages employees in planning and budgeting activities, especially those that require cost cutting.

“It is my personal style to get involved at all levels because it really helps me gain buy-in when I work with the staff on cost-cutting projects,” said Michelle, who also manages quite a few corporate planning projects.

“We have a lot of capital projects. I’ll go to the mill and ask the staff to show me what’s happening so we can talk about alternatives. Because I’ve been onsite, I can have a technical conversation. I can also challenge staff to look for other solutions; there may not be another solution, but it is my job to play devil’s advocate.”

Michelle notes that the production mills generate the largest revenue, but that they also have the highest expenses. “Working with the team to make a slight tweak in the plan can save a lot of money,” she said.

Last fall, Michelle attended the AICPA’s Leadership Academy, an intensive education summit for young CPAs designed to prepare them for volunteer and leadership positions within the AICPA, their state CPA societies, and their companies.

“The Leadership Academy was a bit like drinking through the fire hose—pun intended—but it was a truly great experience,” she said. “Not only did I meet and network other young CPAs from across the country; I received some very valuable training that I have already started to use. The AICPA did a great job with the Leadership Academy and I recommend this experience to any other CPA looking to increase his or her skills.”

Being seen as an integral part of her company’s operations has helped Michelle do a better job. In what ways can you get involved in your company or firm to create more opportunities? Email your comments to



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