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AICPA's New CEO on Being a Successful Leader

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Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, the new CEO of public accounting for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, has more than 30 years of experience being a leader in the industry. Here, she discusses what she values most in her workplace, why mentoring matters and how both male and female accountants can excel as leaders

Apr 1st 2022
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Susan Coffey, CPA, CGMA, has worked for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) for more than 30 years, but she never gets bored. Coffey has held many leadership roles at the Association over the years, and her newest role is perhaps a culmination of her expertise and experience. In January 2021, Coffey was promoted to the new position of CEO of public accounting for the Association. Previously, she was executive vice president of public practice.

“It’s been a great experience because I’ve had so many opportunities to grow and try different things throughout the course of my career,” Coffey said. 

The Association is perhaps the most influential body of professional accountants, as it combines the strengths of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), which represent nearly 700,000 members, students and professionals in public and management accounting. The Association’s mission is to support a dynamic accounting profession that is prepared to meet the demands of a constantly changing world. 

In her new role, Coffey sets strategy for, strengthens and advances the global accountancy profession with a focus on the value of public accounting. Despite the newness of her position and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coffey is making a coordinated effort to connect with as many members as possible across the Association.  

“I miss tremendously that in-person connection, so I’m really looking forward to getting back on the road. It’s not quite the same virtually,” Coffey said. 

For Coffey, making connections with colleagues is of paramount importance to being a successful leader. Both women and men who have aspirations of becoming a leader in the field should seek out advocates who will support them, Coffey said. 

“We all need advocates, and we’re very lucky if we get sponsors. Both men and women can be great advocates and great sponsors. Women don’t have to sponsor women, and vice versa. Advocacy and sponsorship involve a great deal of trust, both gaining and keeping it,” Coffey said.

Coffey also recommended looking for growth opportunities and going outside of one’s comfort zone, as both have served her well along her career. When Coffey graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with a degree in accounting, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do as a career, so she joined PricewaterhouseCoopers’ accounting and auditing practice before eventually landing a job at the Association.

“I knew I wanted to work for one of the largest firms because of the opportunity it would afford me later,” Coffey said.

Indeed, after a few years with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Coffey joined the Association, where she has been ever since. Coffey loved her first job with the Association, especially her teammates, who she said displayed, “amazing passion for the profession.” This, in turn, made her more passionate about her work.

“When you couple that with dedication and conscientiousness and inclusivity, people notice that, and that creates a pathway for leadership for yourself,” Coffey said.

Although Coffey has worked predominantly in a “man’s world,” she said she has witnessed many amazing women emerge as leaders throughout her career and that her experience has been very positive. 

“I want to emphasize the importance of having passion and knowing how to manage people, because leaders are going to notice that, both men and women, and they will advocate for you and help you succeed,” Coffey said. 

Despite the obvious challenges of the pandemic, Coffey said there may be a silver lining, as CPA firms and other businesses are now allowing more flexibility for employees, particularly those who need to balance their careers with raising a family. 

“The thing I am most proud of is I raised two sons who are successful, and the reason I was able to do that is I have flexibility in my job and worked for people who encouraged me to design that flexibility,” Coffey said.

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