By Deanna C. White
This fall, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) awarded Leslie Murphy, CPA, its highest honor: the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Service.
The award is presented annually to a CPA who has made major contributions to the CPA profession - a fact confirmed by Karen G. Eddy, chair of the Awards Committee and former AICPA chair, who lauded Murphy's significant impact on the profession throughout her distinguished career.
Murphy served on the AICPA Board of Directors from to 2001 to 2004 and as chair from 2005 to 2006. She was deeply involved at the policy level within the AICPA as the profession responded to a changing environment during those six years.
"Leslie has helped shape the profession for the better by sharing her knowledge, skills, and abilities through her varied professional activities," said Eddy, who presented the award.
But for Murphy, the award does more than simply offer much-appreciated accolades from friends and colleagues. It's a confirmation that the legacy of mentorship instilled in her in her first years as a fledgling CPA at Southfield, Michigan-based Plante Moran, has come full circle.
"When I joined Plante Moran in 1973, I was the first twenty-two-year-old female hired by the firm. Some of the people there took a chance on me and became my mentors - not just my mentors, but my sponsors," Murphy said. "They exposed me to leadership opportunities. They cleared obstacles for me. They set me on the path to leadership. They showed me everyone can make a difference in someone's life."
It's a model Murphy has tried to emulate, and a lesson she has tried to pass along, at each station of career success - from her position as group managing partner of client services at Plante Moran to her leadership as chair of the AICPA's board to her countless efforts serving nonprofits in her local community.
"One issue I have always been intensely and passionately interested in is the future staffing of this profession and the urgency to develop people to fill future leadership roles. My platform as chair was about flexibility, my messages were 'one size fits one,' diversity, and staffing," Murphy said.
"The business community is far more diverse than we are, and I am worried that we are not reflective of the clients we serve," Murphy said. "We need to break the cycle and take a chance on mentoring people who are different from us to build diverse leadership in the profession. People did that for me, and I will forever do it for them."
Murphy said she always felt her greatest strength as a volunteer was her passion for board work, but she didn't really understand the full scope of influence a board holds until she joined the AICPA's board.
"As a board, we are the standard bearers of the profession we serve. We have to be able to address very broad needs and incredibly complex issues from many perspectives," Murphy said.
Her influence has extended to charitable efforts as well, and she's proud of the fact that she lives in a community where one of the first questions people routinely ask their neighbors is "What nonprofit organizations do you work for?"
She credits her lifelong dedication to those organizations with her firsthand experience receiving help in a time of need. "It goes back to the way I was raised. My family was intensely independent, even in tough times, but during my childhood I watched my father paying off the debt of a small business bankruptcy. I remember how people helped us. I remember what it meant to us," Murphy said.
The same way, Murphy says, she can look back and see how the "sponsorship" offered by her colleagues at Plante Moran - her mentorship by those who were willing to take a chance helping a young woman whose career arc may have looked quite dissimilar to theirs - made all the difference in casting her as a leader in the CPA profession.
"I am who I am because of the opportunities they exposed me to," Murphy said. "We need to embrace the fact that everyone can make a difference in someone's life."