By Deanna C. White
If you're trying to find theIllinois CPA Society's (ICPAS) new President and CEO Todd Shapiro, chances are you won't catch him in his downtown Chicago office.
That's because Shapiro, who took office in June 1, is busy conducting his own ICPAS whistle-stop tour of sorts – he has already visited forty CPA firms and offices throughout Illinois – on a mission to find out exactly what members want from the ICPAS.
It's a critical question, Shapiro says, in an era when CPAs and the societies that serve them, need to remain fluid, active, and agile to ride the constant wave of change facing their field.
"The accounting profession is in an era of dynamic change. My focus is to be out front, talking with members every day to understand their goals and challenges so we can provide the cutting-edge services they need to excel in today's complex business environment", Shapiro said. "CPAs have a critically important role in our society, and I'm enthusiastic about working with the board of directors and the excellent society staff to position ICPAS as a preeminent provider of education, information, and advocacy for our esteemed profession."
Shapiro said one of his key missions as ICPAS president will be to encourage younger professionals, the "lifeblood of the profession", to become active members of the society.
The ICPAS is already widely known for offering bold and inventive programming, such as its recent "Be Fearless" Young Professionals Leadership Conference, to bring new CPAs into the fold.
But as technology constantly reshapes today's business culture, CPA societies must address how to face the ongoing challenge of proving themselves responsive and relevant to this next generation of perpetually "LinkedIn" CPAs.
In the case of the ICPAS, Shapiro said the answer was all in the asking.
"We know that young people are the future of the profession, so last fall we did a quantitative study of young CPAs to find out what they want from the society", Shapiro said. "They said they wanted three things from us: credibility, connection, and career advancement."
And they wanted them delivered in a blended format – one that combines cutting-edge technology and online education with traditional networking events that allow them to build their soft skills and career opportunities, Shapiro said.
"The world as we knew it isn't what it's going to be in the now and in the future", Shapiro said, ICPAS officials agree with his assessment, saying interest in eight-hour, all-encompassing live courses is declining sharply. Members now look for specific subjects, multiple dates/times for education, multiple platforms for learning, and high-level speakers.
"The majority of what we'll offer in the future will be mainly electronic – social media and online, on-demand education is the future", Shapiro said. "But people still need some level of connection. They still need soft skills to become leaders of the firm, and they need to be able to connect to people in person to do that."
Shapiro said if CPA societies can promote their role as the best possible "conduit" for that connection, both in person and online, they'll always remain relevant to younger members.
"The CPA society still crosses different firms, different practices, and different people", Shapiro said, noting the great diversity in ICPAS membership. "We'll always serve as the connection for that."
To that end, Shapiro says the ICPAS has developed a comprehensive strategy to maintain an active presence on social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and to keep abreast of the continually evolving social media landscape.
The ICPAS also has structured is education platform to take full advantage of the customized learning platforms now offered through online learning.
"I'm a big believer in the fact that education is changing and constantly evolving. Today, everything is done through blended learning", Shapiro said. "That's why we aggressively incorporate online learning vehicles like webcasts and on-demand CPE. We need to meet member's 'I need to know it when I need to know it' learning demand for CPE."
Shapiro cites the ICPAS' knowledgehub, an "innovative, web-based learning management system", as an online learning system that meets these criteria.
"Knowledgehub offers our members a development platform they can customize. It provides courses when and where our members need them and offers a comprehensive, individualized plan for learning", Shapiro said. "All of our members see the need for individualized education."
Shapiro said the ICPAS also plans to expand several new "in-person" initiatives to attract and retain younger membership. Those initiatives include:
- Young Professionals Group. An organization for new CPAs that offers opportunities to connect and develop their soft skills through events such as golf clinics and the "Raise Your Glass" scholarship fundraiser. (There are currently 230 members and counting.)
- Young Leaders Advisory Council. A leadership group comprised of young professionals, appointed by the ICPAS Board of Directors, to help the society develop strategies and create content that fit the professional needs and the lifestyles of young professionals.
- Young Professional Firm Ambassador Program. A group of young professionals who serve as ICPAS ambassadors",embedded" in their own home firms, to spread the word about ICPAS events and encourage a buddy system of participation and active membership.
Shapiro said he hopes these efforts will stimulate active participation for the young CPA community throughout Illinois, which is why he's hitting the road to spread that message.
"We want members who are active in the society from the start of their careers and who do more than simply read about what we do or attend the occasional conference. We want them to participate in events and serve on committees", Shapiro said. "We're the one office in this state that's looking out for this profession, and we need future leadership to enhance and protect the profession."
But mostly, Shapiro said he wants to spread the word that active membership is for the benefit of the young CPAs themselves.
"I truly believe active involvement in the society leads to a better experience as a professional", Shapiro said. "I can't tell you how many CPAs I've talked to who say, 'I've gotten so much more through involvement with the society, through the people I've met and the experiences I've had, than what I expected.' It has helped them have a better experience throughout their careers as CPAs."
Shapiro will also serve as president and CEO of the Illinois CPA Foundation, CPAs for the Public Interest, and as ex officio board member of the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. He has served as CFO of ICPAS since 1998 and as interim CEO since January 2013. Prior to joining the ICPAS, he was the director of finance for Unilever, a multinational consumer package goods company. He has twenty years of financial and managerial experience with Helene Curtis, Quaker Oats, Zenith Electronics, and Continental Bank.