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Interview with a Partner

In light of completing my second year as an audit intern at Bethesda Md.-based Calibre CPA Group, I found myself wanting to know more about my supervisor’s personal professional journey, leadership experiences, and success as well as more about the firm in general.  Mary Margaret Prange, a new partner of the firm, was willing to meet with me and share her story in a short interview.  Here are some of the questions and answers I found most valuable.

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

What was the most important thing you learned in college?

One of the most important things I learned wasn’t through a business or accounting class, but through my own personal growth and development throughout college. I learned how to be comfortable making decisions on my own and the importance of building relationships, whether with classmates, teachers or friends.

What’s the best advice you would give to an underclassman in college?

  • Learn as much as you can.
  • Build a good group of friends who will encourage and support you throughout your college experiences.
  • Get involved. Try new things on campus, such as intramurals or clubs.  Find something that has a path to leadership opportunities.  It will have a positive impact on your resume – it’s a good indicator for potential employers if you can manage growth activities while maintaining a good GPA.

…Upperclassmen?

  • Work on your professional relationships, especially with your professors. They are a great resource for advice and will help you figure out what you want to do.
  • Learn the material. Accounting is almost like a skilled trade, in that you must know, understand, and apply it.

How do you balance both work and family/social life?

I try to be as efficient as possible with my work.  In addition, I am still learning the valuable skill of when to say “no,” which can be difficult to do.  I also try to teach and coach in way where my team members should continue to improve on the task, which in turn may reduce time for them and me in the future.

What would surprise people the most about you?

I’m actually quite shy.  I can give a presentation in front of hundreds of people and network easily – and do it quite frequently – but I am still very much an extroverted-introvert. I prefer smaller groups and one-on-one conversations over larger crowds most of the time.

What was the last book you read?

I’m now reading a book titled “Leading from the Front,” which was written by two retired female captains of the Marines, which is the branch of service with the fewest number of women.  The book is about the leadership skills they learned in the Marines and how those skills are transferable to the business world.  One of the main concepts from the book is that you can lead from any station in life – you don’t have to be a business owner, director, or manager.  It’s an excellent book and has given me some great ideas on how to improve my leadership skills.

LEADERSHIP

Where do you see the industry going in the next couple of years?

Based on all the classes and research I’m doing, it seems like artificial intelligence (AI) is going to have a significant impact on our world as accountants.  Because a good portion of the work will be completed by AI, it may reduce the number of lower level personnel while increasing the need for additional middle management accountants.  So, the question we are beginning to analyze is this: how are we going to meet middle management staffing needs when we don’t have the staff?

Looking at that question from a non-technical viewpoint, I think we need to learn how to effectively provide what the current generation of college graduates would like to see in their work environment and how that translates into public accounting and the way businesses work.  Can it evolve?  Can we make it easier to balance work and life?  How do we make it more palatable for our staff and potential employees?

What best prepared you for this position?

Experience.  People always ask why it takes so long to become a partner in public accounting and that’s why.  Even now, I continue to see and learn methods to deal with new issues and situations with our clients.  I still frequently consult with other partners and ask: what would you say to this CEO?  What would you do in this situation?  Because some partners have more experience in different areas than I do.  And even if I don’t end up taking their advice, I’m still able to look at the situation through a different lens and may be able to use this guidance at some other point in my career.  Knowledge is power… and experience is transformative.

How do you get a group of people working towards a common goal?  How do you get them to see the big picture?

While money (getting paid) is a motivator, I believe an explanation, coaching, and understanding of the ‘big picture’ go a long way in truly motivating a team.  That’s when you start to see a transformation – in the atmosphere of a project or audit when things begin to click.  That’s when people become okay with staying later, if necessary, to finish something because you’ve empowered them to see how their work translates into the bigger picture.  In a way, we try to hold our employees accountable for what they’re doing by letting them be a part of that big picture, so they can see their impact on the process and result.

Knowing what you know now, what would you go back and tell your younger self?

I used to freak out in college about what would happen after I graduated?  Being older/wiser now, I would probably tell myself to let things go – they will work out the way they are supposed to in the end, regardless if they seem disappointing or disheartening at the time.

What is one of the biggest mistakes in your professional career and what did you learn from it?

I’d say that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was not asking for help. I can’t think of any particular circumstance, but I often try to do too much on my own instead of involving other people.  Being an only child, I’ve always considered myself a self-starter.  I was very independent as a child and wanted to please people by doing a project right, without anyone’s help.

You touched on this a bit earlier, but what do you look for when hiring a person?

I would rather hire a student with a 3.3 GPA who worked full-time during college, was on a sports team or involved in a club with leadership experience, than a student with a 4.0 GPA.  Because, to me, that’s going to translate into better work since this student had to work efficiently to get their studies done in order to participate in those activities.

In the end, those people who are going to get the work done on time so they can go off and do whatever it is that makes them a whole person and return the next day happy, recharged, and ready to work hard again.  It’s those qualities I look for – it makes the work-life cycle balanced and everyone more productive.

What characteristic(s) do you find most important in a leader?

Openness to listening to what others are saying.  Then effectively and efficiently making a decision that is best for the group rather than bowing to personal interests.

Being a good steward.  Finding the balance between decision-making and making sure everyone’s voice is heard.  Some people have a different outlook, set of circumstances, or point of view, and may be able to share something from a completely different perspective than you.

Leading by example.  I believe you can’t make people who are following you to live by a different set of rules than yours.  You need to “walk the walk and talk the talk.”  I really try to hold myself accountable.  If I say I’m going to do something, something really catastrophic would have to happen for me not to do it.  Even something as small as telling the team I’m going to be in the field on certain day.  And no procrastinating!

CALIBRE CPA GROUP

What were some factors you considered when looking for a firm and how did you end up picking Calibre CPA Group?  What has kept you here?

I knew I wanted to be in public accounting because it would give me the best springboard for doing what I really wanted to do.  I also knew myself well enough, as I mentioned before, that I like working with smaller groups – that’s why I chose to work at a small or medium-sized firm.

Once I decided that, the rest was easy.

For the most part, accounting firms are the same, other than technology, preparation of workpapers, industries, etc.  It’s the people who make a firm stand out.  When I came to Calibre, I felt at home. [This would be a nice pull-quote.]  I just didn’t “click” with other firms I had interviewed with.  It’s not that those other places were bad, they just had different personalities.  Calibre is where I felt the most comfortable and saw a future for myself. [This would be a nice pull-quote.]  It has been the wonderful people who have kept me here.

As the firm continues to grow, how do you maintain that small/mid-sized firm feel?

That’s going to be a challenge!  It’s something we discuss in partner-manager meetings all the time because we want to have consistency across all our offices, while still making sure we stay in touch with our staff and provide resources and growth for them.  Ultimately, we plan to continue on having close relationships with our employees and providing them with the one-on-one career development they need.

 

Written By: Grace McDonald | Audit Intern

 

 

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