KyCPA member spotlights
CPA career journeys and insights
July 19, 2021
Anne J. Brooks, CPA
Kim Hatch Burse, CPA
Retired, current volunteer for many community organizations
Olivia N. Davis, CPA
LaTanya M. Henry, CPA
Kevin D. Graham, CPA
Nate Littles, CPA
Michael F. Wade, CPA
Director, School of Accountancy
When did you first realize you wanted to become a CPA?
I was working as a receptionist at Freedom Dodge while in school and the office manager, Cindy Nabar, and controller, Janet Cowan, would bring me accounting tasks to work on such as reconciliations and invoice entry. The more and more I was introduced to accounting and learned about the possibilities, I was hooked and decided that was what I was going to pursue. -Brooks
While in my senior year of high school, I decided to major in accounting. However, it was not until my junior year at UK that I learned about the CPA certification process and requirements. It was at that time that I made the decision to pursue the "most promising" level in the accounting profession—becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). -Burse
I'm not sure that there was one single moment that I can point to, but instead, I just kept doing the next thing. When I had my first accounting class, I figured out fairly quickly that "accounting" might be a fit for me, but I didn't know what that meant. As I took more classes, I started to understand a little more about what accounting included and it was A LOT! It wasn't until I heard other students talking about the CPA exam that I started to set my sights on becoming a CPA. In truth, I still had no idea what it meant I would ultimately be able to do with my life. Since becoming a CPA, I have spent a lot of time helping spread the word to others about the amazing opportunities that being a CPA has allowed me to access. -Davis
I realized I wanted to become a CPA in college. I’m not one to do something halfway, so upon deciding to major in accounting, it was natural for me to pursue becoming a CPA after I heard from my professors and advisors the requirements of becoming one. -Graham
In college, I decided the CPA designation was the top of the line in the accounting field. -Henry
In college, after I received my first and only tax due notice from the IRS, in college. -Littles
For my first two years in college, I majored in sociology and psychology. After I figured out I could make more money in accounting, I switched majors. I tested out of 9 hours of math coming out of high school, but never thought about accounting as a career. I loved studying the relationship between people and groups. Becoming a CPA transferred my love of relationships to the studies of data between a variety of accounts on the balance sheet and the income statement. -Wade
KyCPA: Behind the NumbersIn July's episode of KyCPA's Behind the Numbers Podcast, most of those featured in this Q&A are also guests of the podcast. They provide additional insights and discussion to spotlight the CPA profession as a possible career option.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
The people! Every day I have a chance to interact with my clients and my teams. My clients invite me into their business, share with me their goals and challenges, look to me for support and insight, and trust me to deliver high quality service. This privilege and responsibility keeps me energized and excited every day. My teams challenge me to be better; one of the biggest honors is helping to develop each new class of associates and supporting them while they grow over time. They keep me on my toes, push me to think differently and make my job a ton of fun. -Brooks
As a professional, I loved helping individuals, companies and organizations solve business and financial problems. Currently, as a retiree and volunteer with several local organizations I love introducing---to as many students as possible---the wonderful opportunities an accounting career & CPA certification offer. -Burse
My favorite thing about my current job is that I am directly helping prepare the next generation of CPAs! When I was an auditor working in public accounting, my favorite thing was talking to so many people everyday. From my clients to the teams I worked on, it was amazing to interact with so many people. Knowing that I was able to use my expertise to help them either learn or solve a problem relevant to their business was the cherry on top! -Davis
My favorite part of my job is that the work I do is not stale. I do not come to work every day with the same tasks and objectives. There is always something new that challenges me and keeps me constantly growing. Some days I am a number cruncher, others a trainer, an innovator, advisor and the list can go on. My job fulfills my wants and needs, overall. -Graham
My favorite thing about my job is helping others reach their goals. For example, if a tax client needs their tax returns to buy their first home, I am thrilled to get them completed for them. -Henry
Helping others and the impact that we have on their lives! -Littles
Building relationships with people. -Wade
If you weren’t a CPA, what job would you want to have?
I always thought it would be cool to be a trial attorney, a ballet dancer or a police detective. -Brooks
Become a certified treasury professional. This is another field I pursued. I also became certified cash/treasury manager. Many parts of my past career required an understanding of both accounting and finance. -Burse
No idea, I love to learn, so probably whatever seemed interesting to me at the time! -Davis
If not for college and becoming a CPA, I would have wanted to join the Army and follow in the footsteps of both of my parents, grandfather and many others in my family, who all have served in the military. -Graham
FBI Agent -Henry
Financial Advisor or Wealth Manager -Littles
I would like to be a Community Organizer or involved in fund development. -Wade
What is something surprising about you that someone might not know?
I am the third oldest of 10 children. -Burse
I love to make costumes for Halloween or anything on stage! -Davis
I am not as outgoing of a person that I come off to be at times. When working or socializing, I am the person who loves to be actively involved and will participate in anything that I can. However, I would consider myself a home-body who can enjoy just sitting around at home with my family. -Graham
I am attending bartending school. -Henry
Outside of playing sports I really enjoy sitting down and drawing/painting. -Littles
I am a college tennis official. -Wade
How can the CPA industry be more accessible to all people?
Knowledge is key for entry, mentorship is key for retention, and opportunity is key for growth. These keys remove barriers, invite participation, and ignite growth; each being critical to making the CPA industry more accessible to all people. -Brooks
The industry needs to help more people know where to start and what path to take. Accounting is not really talked about and understood by middle or high school students. Only those students who happen to know CPAs or accountants obtain more exposure and a better view of the profession. Therefore, the industry needs to develop a better marketing campaign that helps all people understand the field, what CPAs really do and the fact that the field offers tremendous career opportunities and possibilities for lucrative lifestyles. In addition, the industry needs to recognize that the cost of obtaining the required 150 hours, exam prep and actual CPA exam fees has become very expensive and as a result acts as a barrier for those who may want to pursue becoming a CPA. In addition, for many students of color or first time college graduates, there are not enough mentors and career support systems for these students who need to understand more about what it takes to go the CPA career route. These missing elements are needed to help guide all capable students toward this industry. The cost and support system issues need to be addressed to open up access to more people who have the skill, talent and knowledge to be competent CPAs but lack the career guidance and resources. -Burse
Visibility! People need to know about the profession. There are plenty of people who graduate college with an accounting degree, yet not all of them look to become a CPA. I believe it starts in our schools, whether grade school (K-12) or college. Kids need to see people who are a CPA and know the type of work a CPA can do. We are trusted accounting professionals who hold ourselves to a higher standard and this should be known just as much as people know about doctors and lawyers. -Graham
Maybe making the CPA exam study guides and review materials more affordable. Having support groups to assist in the transition of completing coursework and studying for the exam. -Henry
I think the profession needs more vocal creatives or personalities (YouTubers/Podcasters) that talk about the exciting parts of the industry. -Littles
Individuals, such as myself, in the field can help to prepare and motive candidates and young CPAs on what is expected to be effective CPAs. We can also serve as mentors. -Wade
Did you have a mentor or someone who helped onboard you in the field? How did you find that relationship and what did you learn?
Yes - I have had mentors, both assigned and organic, who not only onboarded me in the field but have been influential throughout my career. These relationships worked due to being open and honest in dialogue to build genuine relationships. One of the biggest lessons I learned early on in my career was that there is value in understanding the why; ask questions to understand the why not simply to complete a task. This curiosity and search for understanding creates the foundation which will continue to be built upon. -Brooks
When I graduated from UK with a degree in accounting, I immediately started work with Arthur Young & Company (one of the Big 8 CPA firms in Louisville). My manager, Steve Olsen, and Office Managing Partner, Gerald Smith, supported me every step of the way to make my transition into the firm and accounting as smooth as possible. The training and support this CPA firm provided me (like all of its new hires) was tremendous, and it changed the trajectory of my career and life. -Burse
Too many to count! So many people invested in teaching me and helping me grow. I have tried to pay it forward as much as possible. I truly believe that had it not been for all those that "saw" me and provided help to me directly and were advocates in the secret spaces where I wasn't included, I would have never been able to accomplish so much. Everyday, I make one of my primary focuses to do this for others. -Davis
I did not have a mentor myself when I onboarded into the accounting profession, as I was more of a self-starter. As a first generation college student, I knew what is was like having to start something new with little to no guidance, so jumping into this profession by myself was nothing new in a sense. After gaining experience, I realized that having someone to have asked questions to or provide guidance from the beginning would have taken away a lot of “growing pains”. -Graham
I didn't have a mentor. I had other friends/ colleagues in National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA) that I sought advice. Through NABA, I have contacts across the states who I can call to ask various questions, learn from many others in the profession, share ideas and be involved in the community. -Henry
Ollie Green, CPA, he is my parents' CPA and was always open to chat in person or over the phone. -Littles
Everyone should have a mentor. In any career, especially accounting, mentors are important. I have had many mentors assist with onboarding in different aspects of my career. They have provided invaluable insight on how to navigate the sector, drawing from their own personal professional journey.
I had the good fortune to work alongside peers whose personal philosophy was to “lift as they climbed". These individuals are leaders in the field and continue to serve as a sounding board and resource for all facets of my career. One of the most important lessons I learned is that everyone who smiles with you is not your friend, and everyone you perceive as making your path difficult may not be your enemy. -Wade
What advice would you give to someone entering the field?
Stick with it! Get the credential! Plan to continuously learn! I learned so much over the first few years in the profession; staying even when it was challenging helped me grow tremendously. Obtaining the CPA license is worth it. I have seen people who have put in the work and gotten close to obtaining it, stop short. Put in the effort to get it and keep it. The industry is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace and the skill set necessary to remain relevant is following suit. To be successful, we need to get comfortable with continuous learning and opting into new ways of doing things. -Brooks
Develop a continuous learning commitment and attitude about your career. Also, know that you must obtain the CPA certification to really gain the knowledge and understanding of accounting that will enable you to truly prosper in the field. Seek additional certifications within and outside the accounting field to add more value as an employee/entrepreneur. It will accelerate and take your career to the next level. -Burse
Always be looking for opportunities to learn and grow! -Davis
Embrace the growing pains. Specifically when working in public accounting, the work starting out may be both long and challenging. This work is the foundation which you’ll find yourself working from for the rest of your career. Ask questions and be open to learning. -Graham
Be your authentic self. Pay attention to details and people's needs. Have work/life balance. -Henry
The sky is the limit! Find what interests you early and gain expertise. -Littles
Understand the importance of developing two types of relationships: 1) Learn how data relates among a variety of accounts, 2) Learn how to develop relationships with people using your common personal and professional interests. -Wade
What can we do to increase diversity in our profession?
I wish I knew! As a profession, this has been a goal for a number of stakeholders and continues to be an area for growth. I think many of the existing approaches such as reaching diverse students early to share the opportunities that exist within the profession is certainly high on the list. In addition, I think there should be more focus on bringing diverse candidates into the field through non-traditional paths, creating partnering opportunities with other majors for a path towards CPA credentialing, developing mentorship and shadowing opportunities for diverse students to create meaningful experiences, and establishing strong support systems to improve chances for success within the industry. There are many ideas but to see measurable improvement in the statistics, it will take firms, corporations, universities and organizations working together in support of the common goal. -Brooks
The business case for diverse companies and teams has already been stated by the AICPA & CPA industry. To move forward, the industry needs to act with intention to address the barriers for diverse populations to be a part of it and feel included. Keeping the accounting & CPA industry pipeline full and adequate to serve the needs of clients in the future is every CPA’s responsibility. The world is changing. As an industry, we need to change or be left behind! -Burse
To summarize the answer to this question I would take from the motto of the National Association of Black Accountants, which is “Lifting As We Climb”. We need our diverse professionals to not only seek advancement on their own, but also look to bring others along with them. Through mentorship, training or just leading by example, we need to be seen and heard. As people are seen and heard, this raises the visibility of the profession. And to see someone who looks like you or has a similar background to you, those are the examples we can rely on to not only grow, but diversify our profession. Seeing is believing and the more we see, the more we can believe. -Graham
Promoting the opportunities available to CPAs. -Davis
Support programs like Accounting Careers Awareness Program which is a high school program for high school students interested in Accounting/ Business/ Finance -Henry
I believe that community programs and post-secondary initiatives or scholarships would help increase diversity. -Littles
Increase awareness of the profession in middle and high schools. Aim at dispelling the myths of the CPA profession. Common myths are: 1) personality types that make a good CPA-it’s not just for introverts, 2) work environment in which you will be assigned – out of the way offices, with little people contact is a thing of the past, 3) gender norms - the field is not all male and 4) most importantly, you do not have to be a mathematical genius. -Wade
How has being a woman affected your career?
There are experiences, challenges, and joys that have affected my career as a woman. I have been a mother since I started public accounting, so I have focused on managing being both an awesome mom (yes, my daughter would agree) and a strong performer. This balance has not always been easy, but I have had a supportive practice to help me make it work. I have found that my lived experience makes me a better mentor and leader as I encourage others to make sure they are pouring into each part of their lives so that they are able to be their best self at work. Although there are still rooms that I may enter as the only or one of very few women, I find for the most part, I am viewed as the professional I am and my expertise is valued. -Brooks
It has often been stated that women are impacted more tremendously by child rearing and household responsibilities which negatively impact their careers. In many cases, hard decisions have to be made to balance career aspirations with life expectations. Those hard decisions often impact one’s career. I made hard decisions to keep my family life at the top of my priorities while also pursuing career aspirations. Those decisions worked for me and my family. Would my career have been different had I not made those hard decisions---most definitely! But, my life was balanced and positively affected by those decisions and that was most important for me. -Burse
Being a woman has affected my career in a job setting that required women to wear skirts and dresses. My previous job was business casual and pants were acceptable. This was very shocking to me. Additionally, I feel at times male clients talk to me in a different tone and sometimes do not take me seriously because I'm a woman. There's also the wage gap and glass ceiling that as a woman I have experienced. -Henry
Have any women affected your career in any way?
The woman who has the most impact on my current career is Dr. Carolyn Callahan. She is a phenomenal leader, researcher and educator. -Wade