Big ideas from the Big Easy

AICPA’s gathering of brightest young CPAs proves illuminating.

by Jeff Drew

August 19, 2014


Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs, delivered the opening address at the E.D.G.E. Conference in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of AICPA Young Member Initiatives.

The 2014 E.D.G.E. Conference gave its more than 200 attendees plenty to think about earlier this month in New Orleans.

The AICPA’s fourth annual gathering of emerging young CPA leaders lived up to its theme: Big Ideas in the Big Easy. Featuring a blend of thought leadership and attendee interaction, the conference provided a plethora of advice, resources, and lessons learned.

Following are some of the highlights of the E.D.G.E. Conference.

The Millennials are taking over

About three-fourths of the attendees at E.D.G.E. indicated in live polling in the conference’s opening session that they are part of Generation Y—the demographic cohort also known as the Millennials. Consisting of those born from the early 1980s to around 2000, Generation Y is much larger than Generation X, the generation that followed the Baby Boomers and represented just under 25% of the E.D.G.E. attendees. Generations X and Y are poised to surge into leadership positions as Baby Boomers retire en masse during the next several years. This is part of a “shift change” described in the opening keynote session by Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute. Click here to see the slides from that presentation, called “The Bounce: Maximizing Your Career Trajectory,” on

The No. 1 challenge is time

Asked in another live poll during the opening keynote to identify their top challenges, conference attendees easily made “Not Enough Time” the top answer with 25% of the votes—more than double the second-place answer, which referred to the difficulties of being proactive when so much time is spent reacting to work-related events and assignments.

Learning is fundamental

The ability to learn will be a key differentiator in business and accounting in the future. As Hood put it, “In a period of rapid change and increasing complexity, the winners are going to be the people who can learn faster than the rate of change and faster than their competition.” To accelerate learning, Hood said, CPAs should read as many business books as possible. His personal favorite is The End of Competitive Advantage by Rita Gunther McGrath. See other book recommendations from Hood on his SlideShare page. (For more on the evolution of the learning process for CPAs, see a special report on the AICPA’s Future of Learning project). 

Social media levels the thought-leader playing field

Hood recommended that young CPAs improve their visibility in the profession by communicating with peers through social media, blogs, and articles. Stacie Saunders, leader of the AICPA’s social media efforts, echoed those sentiments during a session she led on making the most of social media. “On social media, you can be a thought leader and an influencer without being a CEO,” she said. Saunders also shared a number of tools and tips for social media usage.

  • Monitor yourself and your firm via (for news) and (for social media).
  • Let your social network curate and bubble up hot news topics. A good tool for this is the LinkedIn Pulse news app.
  • A great way to become engaged on Twitter is to retweet and comment on others’ tweets. Doing so will expose you to more Twitter users and grow your followers list, expanding your circle of influence.
  • Many young CPAs struggle to find time to devote to social media work. Tools that can help streamline that process include Hootsuite and TweetDeck.

Top thoughts

The E.D.G.E. Conference delivered far more ideas and discussion than can be covered in this article. Following, however, are some of the other quick tips and thoughts that stood out.

  • Diversity is who we are. Inclusion is what we do. You can have a very diverse organization, but are you including diversity at all levels?—Kim Drumgo, director–Diversity & Inclusion at the AICPA.
  • Effective feedback is about performance, not the person. It is specific, considers the needs of the receiver, focuses on information sharing rather than advice, and keeps the relationship intact, open, and healthy—Tim Lyons, CPA, CGMA, Mauldin & Jenkins LLC.
  • The best recognition you can give is a sincere, specific “way to go.”—Sandra Wiley, Boomer Consulting.
  • Strategic career planning involves purposefully deciding where you want to and could reasonably end up in your career—and working toward that end goal from the beginning. To determine the path you want to follow, assess your strengths, weaknesses, passions, work style, and personal goals.—Mandy French, CPA, HoganTaylor LLP.
  • Focus on a pathway for living with fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity — principles that give us the security to adapt to change, and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.—Donna W. Salter, senior manager–Young Member Initiatives at the AICPA, in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders preconference workshop.
  • To fight fraud, you have to access the right side of your brain, be creative. You have to be able to think like someone who commits fraud. They subvert the process, break the controls. You can’t keep following the normal process.—Jeff Aucoin, CPA/CFF, Horne LLP.
  • Innovation is key to sustainable success. CPAs play crucial role in innovation. If you are too focused on efficiency, you may be hurting growth. Efficiency is about less and less. You need to balance efficiency and effectiveness.—Donny Shimamoto, CPA/CITP, CGMA, IntrapriseTechKnowlogies.
  • Clients will remember the quality of your work more than how fast it was completed.—Jeremy Dillard, CPA, Rivera, Jamjian, & Dillard LLP.

Has this taste of the E.D.G.E. Conference whetted your appetite for the full experience? Mark your calendar now for the 2015 E.D.G.E. Conference, which will be Aug. 5–7 in San Antonio, Texas.

Jeff Drew is a senior editor with the Journal of Accountancy and the Magazines and Newsletters Team at the AICPA in Durham, N.C.

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