Mark K. Rich is a seasoned young professional who has his eye on the future of the CPA profession.
The 31-year-old CPA from Texas is adding as many Millennials as he can to the pipeline with his Pathway to CPA program, which has exposed hundreds of community college and university students to ways the certification can jump-start their careers.
“This program is a response to that pending threat that we see: If we don’t add additional younger professionals, the profession could suffer,” said Rich, who is director of investments at the Kimbell Art Foundation in Fort Worth. “With this wave of CPAs in the Baby Boomer generation that are retiring, we will need to start replacing them or we won’t have the professionals that we need to perform the work that we, as CPAs, believe is critical in helping businesses succeed.”
The program helped Rich win the AICPA’s Maximo Mukelabai award, which recognizes young CPAs who show commitment to the profession, particularly by persuading young people to consider joining it.
The award was established in 2011 to honor Mukelabai, who grew up in Zimbabwe, moved to the United States, started his own CPA firm, and became a member of the inaugural class of the AICPA Leadership Academy. Mukelabai, who was the youngest chairman of the North Carolina Association of CPAs board of directors, died at 36 after complications from surgery.
Cheryl Reynolds, AICPA’s vice president of Communications, Advertising & Brand Management, said one of the hallmarks of a CPA is his or her willingness to give back to the profession. Rich’s “impressive success spearheading programs to promote accounting careers … made him a fitting selection for the Maximo Mukelabai award.”
Rich, whose résumé also includes a stint as an auditor at Ernst & Young, jokes that his children will have to fight strong family ties if they choose a profession other than accounting.
He has eight other CPAs in the family, including his twin brother, his father, his paternal grandfather, his father-in-law, and several uncles and uncles by marriage. Their jobs ranged from bookkeeping and university CFO to tax preparer and private oil and gas company CFO.
“All of them may have started in similar lines of work, but by the middle of their careers, none of them did the same work,” Rich said.” The work is dynamic, and it is very different from one professional to the other.”
Rich used AICPA data on the number of students who began their accounting careers at community colleges to design Pathway to CPA. He hopes to eventually track how many students become CPAs after hearing Pathway’s message.
Rich developed a presentation and an evaluation tool, and recruited and trained CPAs to give talks on local campuses. The Accounting Career Education committee of the Fort Worth chapter of the Texas Society of CPAs worked with him to train volunteers and expand the network. Several CPAs had started their college educations at a community college, Rich said, so that showed students they could achieve the goal.
“It has been a team effort, and I’m excited for us to continue to look for new ways to attract students of all backgrounds,” he said.
Tracy Williams, coordinator of Career Services at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, recommended Rich for the Mukelabai award because the caliber of the program impressed her.
“The volunteer CPAs have been able to present information to our students in a way that someone outside the profession could never hope to do,” Williams wrote. “I have seen how the students connect with the presenters and the information they convey, and it makes a difference. I will continue to partner with the program as long as possible.”
Sheon Ladson Wilson is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.