At the Accounting Path, we like to bring an accounting career to life by interviewing someone who has had a fascinating career themselves. We asked Kelley Still, Accounting Professor at Drury University, about her accounting career. Here are the top 8 things we learned.
- Accounting doesn’t always call at the start
Kelley laughs as she tells the story of how she was drawn to accounting. She had initially thought that science or medicine would be her calling, but it was a chance introduction through her family that led her accounting. After meeting with her dad’s CPA, she learned that accounting could promise financial success, flexibility, and diversity. Becoming an accountant hadn’t been her lifelong dream, but suddenly it seemed like the only logical choice.
- The first job is critical
“When you take your first job, take the toughest job you can find” says Kelley, as she talks about her early career. Through a combination of good grades, interviewing skills, and the right network, Kelley started her career on the local audit team for a national public accounting firm. Over 5 years in this demanding role, she learned the fundamentals of business and management, growing into the opportunity to lead teams and manage larger projects.
- Be gutsy
After 5 years, Kelley was ready to start a family. She says now that she “wasn’t gutsy enough” to negotiate a flexible schedule with her accounting firm and says she had to leave. Incredibly though, the same person who wasn’t gutsy enough to negotiate had the courage to start her own firm. Setting up in the same building as the local small business administration, she created a sustainable book of business that gave her flexibility, a good income, and control of her life with a growing family.
- Always do good work
Kelley characterizes her next move as a great mistake. She was happily running her own firm, small but profitable, when a client convinced her to work for him. It took her away from the technical challenges she’d loved in public accounting and even a subsequent change to work for a family business didn’t help. Fortunately, memories in public accounting firms are often long. For Kelley, that meant it was simple to call her first employer back one day and negotiate a new position. It put her back in public accounting where she thrived.
- Never stop exploring
Back in public accounting, Kelley now had the opportunity to train younger staff. It was here that she understood that she was a natural teacher and writer. In the winding path of an accounting career, this gave her the push she needed to move into teaching.
Kelley completed her PHD through the University of Oklahoma. Her family moved with her to Norman for the duration and she described it as some of the happiest times in her life. “The course work was so fun – so exciting” she says “There wasn’t much new course work in terms of technical information, but it was all about the economics of accounting information and what actually is important in the real world.”
- Accountants really can do anything
One of the reasons we love accounting is that it provides flexibility and lots of different opportunities. Kelley used her Phd to move teach full time at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. However, that doesn’t mean her life is predictable. She just recently finished serving as the Executive Director of the Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and serves as an expert witness in court cases. As an expert witness, she helps litigating parties understand the fair value for assets and reach agreement in contentious situations – a fascinating side job!
- The lessons of an accounting degree are irreplaceable
In her words: “With accounting you’ll end up being a manager or you may start your own business or you can buy a business and run it. When you do these things, it’ll be too late to learn the fundamentals that accounting teaches. You can’t, when you’re 40, wish you understood better why the bank won’t give you a loan – or what your accounting department is saying.“
- The future of accounting is going to be fascinating
When Kelley graduated from her accounting degree the world was a bit different. The only thing on the computer was bill calculations and junior auditors spent longer working calculators. Now, with computer systems, auditors and accountants rely on the systems to do low level work. This removes some of the entry-level jobs, but creates more interesting jobs for talented people. Accountants spend more time worrying about the real-world implications of their results, rather than just if the results are added up right. It’s a more collaborative, stimulating career path than ever before. As Kelley says, “Today, you can’t just add stuff. There is nowhere in accounting anymore for people that don’t want to talk to other people.”
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