By Stephanie Skordas, Sr. Associate Director, Communications
“Our profession is a profession of opportunity, where anyone can succeed,” Kimberly Ellison-Taylor said. “Even a little girl from the inner city of Baltimore.”
Ellison-Taylor, global accounting strategy director for Oracle America, gave the 2017 Hylton Lecture to more than 300 students, faculty, and staff in Broyhill Auditorium on October 16. She spoke at length about her impoverished Baltimore neighborhood and the career day that changed her life in elementary school.
“When I was a little girl in third grade, someone spoke about careers. They told us that accounting was the engine of business, and they said accountants manage the money. I said, ‘If I manage the money, I’ll be the boss,’” she told the crowd. “From then on I was laser-focused on moving the ball forward. I didn’t know there were few women or minorities in the field, but people had high expectations, and I rose to exceed them.”
Now the 104th chairman of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) Board of Directors, Ellison-Taylor said she was excited to be at Wake Forest, talking with graduate and undergraduate accounting students. “Congratulations on your high CPA pass rates, and on the caliber of your program. I have every expectation that I’m looking at future managing partners, senior vice presidents, and chief financial officers. I’m looking at deans and future presidents of schools; I’m looking at CEOs and the inventors of innovations we haven’t even thought of today.”
Calling the students in the audience her future bosses, Ellison-Taylor said she wanted to discuss two subjects close to her heart: next generation leadership and technology.
“I always understood I wanted to lift as I climbed,” she said. “Being a CPA is my competitive advantage. It’s microphone-dropping wherever I go. The credential is so well-regarded, the brand of CPA is rock solid.”
Likening it to a “superpower,” Ellison-Taylor urged the audience to get involved in their state society of CPAs. She suggested that the involvement was crucial to her professional advancement, allowing her to meet CEOs, CFOs, and other mentors along the way who helped her succeed in the field.
“I think we focus a lot on the technical skills, which are very important when you start your career, but you’ve also got to grow the practice. You can’t do it through text messages. You have to go out, shake hands, kiss babies, stand there and talk to people, and that’s a skill set your society can help you develop,” she said.
“In the age of machines, these are things that are a competitive advantage,” Ellison-Taylor said. “This is why you’re better than a machine, why you are better than Siri.”
Technology is driving transformation in the market. Ellison-Taylor noted that robotics is predicted to eliminate up to 40% of basic accounting work by 2020. She also shared figures showing 28.4 billion smart devices connected worldwide – twice the number from 2014. The research estimates 50 billion smart devices connected to the internet by 2020. A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report suggests current technology could automate 49 percent of work activities, which translates to 1.1 billion workers worldwide.
“Technology impacts every industry and every geography,” she maintained.
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“One of the things that is top of mind as I go into the profession is how will the landscape of the accounting profession change with innovation and technology, and I felt like she addressed that point very well,” said Antonio Kornegay (MSA ’17).
“We are embarking on a huge change paradigm in the profession. When we talk about innovation in accounting, we have some major decisions to make, some major changes to make,” Ellison-Taylor said. “We want to be sure our profession is inclusive enough that everyone sees themselves at the table. There’s room for all of us.”
Looking ahead to the future of accounting, the AICPA board chair had some specific advice for students considering their careers. “Public practice, business, and industry, government, education, consulting … there are many segments of our profession,” she acknowledged. “I’d recommend starting in public practice. We have the privilege of protecting the public interest, and the skill sets I learned there, I can take with me anywhere.”
During a question and answer session, a student asked Ellison-Taylor for the one piece of advice she’d leave them to consider. “I would say change the plan if you need to, but never the goal. Life has curves,” she said. “Sometimes you have to recalibrate the plan.”
“I liked how she encouraged us not to let the bumps in the road get us discouraged,” said Jess Saggus (MSA ’18). “The path might change a little, and you might have to take a season to go off your course a bit, but then to come back and go at it wholeheartedly.”
“I found the talk very inspiring, given that she came from a depressed area and is a minority in multiple ways, and she’s now at the top of the profession – she’s succeeded vastly in the profession,” Kornegay added. “I thought her talk was a gift.”