Gary Bolinger: AccountingWEB’s Outstanding CPA Association Employee of the Year

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Gary Bolinger, CAE, always has had a knack for getting assemblages of people to work together harmoniously – whether it was as a high school band director or leader of a state CPA society. Bolinger’s leadership, dedication, and advocacy of the CPA profession are just a few reasons why he has been named AccountingWEB’s Outstanding CPA Association Employee of the Year for 2009. Bill Grabarek reports.

Bolinger is a 25-year staff member of the Indiana CPA Society, and has been the organization’s president and CEO for 20 years – responsible for “strategic planning, government relations, all governance issues, and making sure we stay in tune with a very, very rapidly changing CPA profession,” he told AccountingWEB.

The aspect of his post with INCPAS Bolinger finds most gratifying is his contact with society members.

“You need that [contact] in today’s environment because it’s one aspect of planning for the future. If you don’t know where your members are it is very difficult to figure out how to get them where they need to be,” he said. “One of my famous quotes about CPAs is, ‘They don’t know what they don’t know.’”

Traveling classroom

Although keeping members current is the most rewarding part of his job, Bolinger added, “It’s also probably the most challenging.” To that end the society established Professional Issues Updates approximately 10 years ago, which are four-hour programs conducted in 17 locations throughout the state every year.

“It’s a very fast-paced overview,” Bolinger said. The sessions cover issues related to such topics as technology, human resources, financial reporting, and legislation. “I tell them it’s a very diverse audience, and if you walk out of here today thinking you need to learn more about one or two things that you didn’t know when you walked in, I have accomplished my goal.”

These Professional Issues Updates and Bolinger’s style of delivering a wide array of pertinent information has struck a chord with INCPAS members.

“Gary communicates these issues, as well as all of the ramifications of these issues, to our Board of Directors, Leadership Cabinet, and to every member of INCPAS in a most effective manner,” said Otto W. "Buzz" Krohn, CPA, CMC, executive partner at Westfield, IN-based O.W. Krohn & Associates, LLP, a CPA and consulting firm. “Our members can catch up with what is going on in our profession, or at least be exposed to the important issues and developments, at these annual workshops.

Mike Turpin, a CPA with Indianapolis-based CPA and management consulting firm Dunbar, Cook & Shepard, PC, agreed.

“He is very pro-active in bringing issues to the attention of the membership, well before they become a critical issue,” Turpin told AccountingWEB. “To spread the word on the ever-changing regulations and laws, Gary has been instrumental in meeting the communication needs of the members.”

Krohn and Turpin clearly are not the only members to find these updates valuable. When the program began a decade ago, a few hundred members statewide attended. Last year, however, nearly 2,000 members, or 30 percent, attended the Professional Issues Updates, according to Bolinger.

“There are a few other state societies doing these, but I don’t think any state society is getting 30 percent of their members to attend – so that’s a fairly significant accomplishment,” Bolinger said.

Technology's role

The Internet and its ability to bring people together and provide an abundance of information undoubtedly has made many lives easier professionally and personally. The Internet’s capabilities to disseminate information, facilitate Web-based training, and encourage networking might give professional societies reason to sincerely reconsider their sense of purpose. Bolinger, however, says not necessarily.

“The human condition will always require face-to-face interaction and I think a lot of the technology is still going to have to be supported by face-to-face contact. We’re going to continue to have meetings. We’re going to continue to facilitate bringing people together. I think technology will help us accomplish those types of goals,” he said.

The society’s role will change slightly, Bolinger said, from an information provider to an information manager of sorts. “With so much information out there, CPAs might look to us on an increasing basis to point them in the right direction for the best information, the most accurate information, the highest quality information.”

Bolinger said INCPAS members are very capable people, and that a goal of the society is finding a way to leverage the knowledge of one segment of members for the benefit of another segment of members.

“Figuring out how to do that is going to be a challenge, but I believe that it’s something we need to look at to the extent that as a part of our strategic planning process this year, we’re going to have a high-level task force looking at the very issue of knowledge management,” Bolinger said. “We have to raise the level of what we do from being an information source to being a knowledge source.”

Attracting the next generation

Another challenge for INCPAS, and CPA societies in general, is articulating the importance of society membership to the newest generation of CPAs.

“If you look at all kinds of studies out there, [they indicate that] the newer generations are not joiners. They will [join] if they believe in the value proposition and if they believe in the mission of the organization,” Bolinger said. “It’s very important to not take their membership for granted. To clearly define, articulate, and communicate our value proposition to the new generations will be a challenge.”

Although attracting younger generations to the society might be a challenge, Bolinger realizes their importance to the society and the CPA profession.

“From time to time there appears to be some level of conflict between more mature generations and the newer generations, but I think we have a very bright future,” Bolinger said. “The young people coming out of college are very talented, bright, dedicated, professional, and hard working. They might approach all of those things in a different way, but that doesn’t mean they’re not professional, hard working, and committed to the CPA profession.”

The former high school band director likely will be able to meet both future and present-day challenges facing INCPAS and the profession.

“The skills from education to association management work well because you have a diverse group of people and you’re trying to get them to work together. You need to communicate effectively. You need to listen effectively,” Bolinger said. “Those skills from the classroom transfer well to association management.”

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