Off-the-Hinges Accounting Engagements: No Naps for Auditors—Or Controllers 

Chris Cobb, CPA, started his career drinking through the fire hose of corporate audits. He worked for seven years as an auditor for Deloitte where he typically had five or more clients each year resulting in multiple quarters and at least five year-end closings. Chris made the leap to corporate accounting in November 2011 when he joined well-known retailer Vera Bradley as assistant corporate controller. Chris is a 2010 alumnus of the AICPA Leadership Academy; Edge sat down with him to talk about his career and how corporate finance is different from auditing.

Edge: You worked for Deloitte for seven years. What was it like to start you career in auditing?
Chris Cobb: The first year was extremely overwhelming because you learn a lot of information within a very short amount of time. In college, you go to class and the learning is very basic. In the real world, it is kind of like the first year of college because you are taking it all in, adapting to the new environment, and juggling competing priorities, but of course there is a lot more pressure. There are no naps in auditing; in college, I napped daily!

Edge: Why did you leave auditing?
Chris Cobb: It was due to a mix of things—changes in regulations, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board coming down hard on auditors, increased documentation levels and, personally, I did not think I wanted to be a partner at the firm.

Toward the end of my public accounting career, I did a presentation for high school students and it made me more aware that I didn’t want to stay in auditing, so I decided to look around. I networked with my peer groups to determine what to do next. In college, you are advised to go to the Big 4 because of “endless opportunities,” but there comes a point where you don’t know what you want to do next. I decided to try the corporate world and get out of audit altogether. For a millisecond, I even considered financial planning, but I don’t have enough of a sales side for that.

Edge: How is corporate life different? Are you napping more?
Chris Cobb: Ha! There’s no napping in corporate either! Compared to quarterly and year-end work in public accounting, I have only three quarters and one year-end to manage at Vera Bradley, but there are a lot of other things to do in corporate accounting that I wasn’t exposed to in auditing. For example, I oversee SEC reporting, general corporate accounting, and financial shared services, including accounts payable/accounts receivable and payroll. I have many team members reporting to me and they have team members reporting to them.

I love what I do because every day is a bit different, primarily due to my large breadth of responsibilities. In corporate accounting, there is the blocking and tackling to ensure the books are right. The SEC makes sure we report to the public what we need to, when we need to, and financial shared services is what keeps the lights on and the cash rolling in. In my experience with the Big 4, I learned a lot from my clients about what works well and what doesn’t—something very valuable to my current role.

Edge: How about working at Vera Bradley? Do you have to wear paisley to work?
Chris Cobb: I love paisley! When the new product comes out each season, we get to have one of the products and there is always a bit of fighting over the best patterns. Seriously, though, the team here is strong, young, and energetic, and our CEO is also young and eager, making for a great work environment. The pace of work at Vera Bradley is very quick, especially since we went public in October 2010. We are trying to adapt to the increased scrutiny of being public, and the new reporting and internal control requirements, all while trying to keep the shareholders happy. My days are fast paced, with many projects and meetings—and no naps!

Edge: What do you do when you aren’t at work?
Chris Cobb: I got married in 2010, another reason I left auditing. We have a 1-year old boy named Paxton who is into everything. We still try to camp twice a year at a state park with friends from college. We just love to be outside, either walking around the neighborhood, going to the park, or letting the little guy splash around in the kiddie pool. Life is good.

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