Looking Back on NYSSCPA Young CPA Conference

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By Liz Gold

At twenty-four, Drew Donovan, CPA, had his first experience as a participant at a Young CPA Conference held last month in upstate New York.

Sponsored by the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA) Foundation for Accounting Education and hosted by the Utica Chapter, the event welcomed about eighty-five people.

Though he had been to his chapter's Young CPA events before, this was his first conference and a worthwhile experience. A senior accountant at Syracuse-based Testone, Marshall & Discenza (Testone), Donovan attended the event with more than ten others from his firm.

"Gail Kinsella [NYSSCPA president] is a partner within our firm and I think she passed the information on to one of the managers and he ended up passing it along to a bunch of seniors and a few staff accountants", Donovan said regarding how he found out about the opportunity. "The venue was great, the speakers were great. There weren't boring topics. They brought in people to talk about leadership, banking, going paperless, time management, which are all valuable tools in the long run for the young accountant."

Donovan received his CPA designation in September and was offered an internship during 2009 at Syracuse University with Grimaldi & Nelkin CPAs (G&N). G&N merged with Testone in January 2011, and Donovan is closing on three years working as an accountant.

The goal of the conference is to help young CPAs and accountants become more educated and informed about the nontechnical aspects of the daily job. The event offered two concurrent sessions both days, covering personal integrity and ethics and public speaking for one, and CPA Exam review and forensic accounting for the other.

Donovan was excited about the forensic accounting session.

"It ended up being really cool, offering an in-depth look at things I didn't realize before", he said, adding his direct supervisor at Testone is a Certified Fraud Examiner and that his firm does take on forensic accounting engagements. "It's definitely something I want to pursue, especially after seeing that. You become more of an investigator and start thinking outside the box."

There were also workshops on business writing, volunteerism, the paperless office, what a banker expects from a CPA, and how to get organized to be the best. Donovan found the latter workshop especially helpful. Facilitated by Philip Whitman, president of Whitman Business Advisors, Donovan took back a handful of different ways to be more efficient. Number one? To create a to-do list that outlines his workday, because when work is coming at you from all sides, it can be challenging to keep things in order.

"You can always minimize time that you're spending if you just have an agenda", Donovan said. "There are jobs that come back where you get review notes that you have to clear and they want the jobs out the door, but those are going to come and go, so you just have to better manage your time all around."

The constant juggle is a challenge for Donovan as well as for many CPAs. 

"It's tough when you're waiting for information from a client and then you go out to another client and start another job, but while you're there, [the first client] sends you the information. You really have to stay on top of your stuff", he said.

One of the highlights for Donovan was a session on leadership given by Ernie Almonte, the chief visionary officer at Almonte Group.

"He was just a tremendous speaker, very engaging", Donovan said about Almonte, who also gave conference participants ideas for reading materials and books. "His recommendations were really good. He knows how to inspire people. Everybody liked Ernie's speech. He was like the Dos Equis guy, 'The Most Interesting Man in the World'."

What was even better was that Almonte joined the conference participants at lunch the next day to share stories and to field questions.

And of course there was networking. After the first full day, a dinner was held at the golf course clubhouse, and since Donovan knew more than a handful of folks from his firm, he figured they would all sit together. Not the case.

"They ended up sorting the people who said they were coming to the dinner and they put us at different tables", he said. "That forced us to network and it was really good. Just speaking with people, how they like the field, what they like doing, are they pursuing any other designations, how to get involved with young CPA events, and just getting their perspective on what they like about their firm and what they don't like was great."

Aside from staying organized, Donovan said his biggest challenge as a young CPA is striking that balance between taking on too much and taking advantage of the opportunities different work engagements bring.

"You don't want to burn out too quickly, but at the same time, you try to absorb as much as you can. If somebody asks me if I can work on something I always say yes, and then I get a little too burdened. It's a learning experience."

One thing Donovan said he wished there were more of at the conference was information on other niches, such as business valuations. But he appreciated that the sessions were focused on growing as a professional and less about accounting.

Donovan hopes to become a partner at his firm one day. He plans to stay in Syracuse and is in accounting for the long haul.

"I played basketball in high school and ended up keeping statistics", he said of his foray into number crunching. "I always loved mental math - quick calculations. "I ended up going to Syracuse University and working for the basketball team doing statistics and realized that I definitely wanted to be in something business related and saw accounting to be a good major. It's worked out so far."

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About the author:

Liz Gold owns Rhino Girl Media, offering writing and editing services to companies of all sizes. A published journalist for sixteen years, Liz writes about business and culture. She can be reached at [email protected].

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