Spotlight on: Susan Waters

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Susan Waters, CAE
Executive Director
California Society of CPAs

Susan Waters Tackles the Tough Issues as the new CALCPA Executive Director

Susan Waters has dealt with doctors, lawyers and the insurance industry during her 27-year professional career. Now she'll tackle the accounting profession as executive director of the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CALCPA).

As the new executive director of one of the nation's largest state CPA societies, she has an enviable opportunity to truly enact change within California's accounting profession, while continuing to serve and assist members through a traditional membership association. A tall order … and yet, she has confidence in her abilities as an advocate for change.

"I see the CPA profession as much more nimble and able to respond to changing environments more readily than medicine or the law," she says. "Those professions are bound by tradition and by institutions that prevent them from adapting to change very rapidly."

Waters was named to her new post this summer after spending the past seven years with the Massachusetts Bar Association in Boston and 13 years at the San Francisco Medical Society. During that time, she helped organize a foundation for professional liability insurance delivery, directed the administration of programs related to an international health crisis and even survived an earthquake. Waters now has returned to the Bay Area well-equipped to handle any challenge confronting the CPA profession—and she is excited, motivated and well-versed in the art of not only taking the helm, but striving to meet the diverse needs of her constituencies.

"It's all about the environment," she says. "As a membership organization, we are grappling with changes in the environment in which our members practice, but we aren't going to begin to be effective unless we can impact how our members work and how they serve their clients. One of my primary goals is for the California Society to prepare our members to do just that—help them deliver services to their customers, clients and employers."

Initially, Waters will focus on the proposed global XYZ designation and the cpa2biz project, two efforts of the AICPA that have national and international significance for CPAs and state CPA societies. Waters gives the AICPA credit for surfacing the debate on issues like these, calling issues like the XYZ designation a terrific platform for discussion and debate on what the future holds and how to prepare for it.

"Members in California are very interested in the designation," says Waters. "Right now, it's somewhat chaotic because the future is a difficult thing to create and a scary thing to accomplish. Most everyone is saying that they don't know what XYZ means, but we cannot determine whether it is good for the profession unless we starting talking about it."

So far, Waters says the catch-phrase "trusted business advisor" of the CPA profession has the most impact on the way issues are viewed and discussed, and is glad to be in a position to be able to help reinforce the values of integrity and ethics for which the CPA profession is known.

Waters says another primary goal is to place serious emphasis on how to broaden the reach of the association, make it more accessible to anyone who is a CPA and to try and get the association to look a little more like the people of California.

Already, she and her board are working with other organizations, such as the National Association of Black Accountants, by forming a Task Force on Diversity.

"We'll approach this several ways," she says. "Our first effort is to support programs to promote the accounting profession among high school and young college students by focusing on inner-city neighborhoods and reaching out to disadvantaged and minority groups."

But more than that, Waters says that in order to meet demographics head-on, the Society also needs to understand the membership much better than they do currently. "We understand our leadership, but beyond that group, we are a vast organization; we need to understand everyone's needs to really begin addressing what members want."

Waters welcomes questions and comments. Write her at [email protected].

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