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Call for Change

Honoring Max’s Legacy / Diversity in the CPA Profession

Yesterday, I was honored to be the first recipient of the AICPA’s Maximo Mukalebai Award. The award was established to “recognize a deserving CPA under the age of 40, for his/her passion and contributions towards building the CPA pipeline, serving as an advocate of the accounting profession, and performing outstanding community service.”  It was quite moving (I actually cried) to actually have Patience, Max’s widow, present the award to me.  It was also heart-wrenching to see how touched she and their two daughters were with how much the AICPA was doing to honor Max’s name.

When I found out that I had received the award, I was quite touched, and honored, and sad at the same time.  Touched that Patience was going to be there herself to present me with the award and to bring the spirit of Max to the conference.  Honored that my contributions were being recognized and applauded by my peers.  And sad, because it reminded me of how great a loss Max was to our profession.

Personally, he and I shared a passion for volunteerism and giving back, which was the start of a bonding point for us when we met at the first Leadership Academy in July 2009.  In October of that same year, our bond was solidified when we realized how much the AICPA lacked diversity while attending the AICPA Governing Council Meeting in New Orleans.  After the first day of meetings, Max and I met in the lobby of the hotel and discussed our concern with the lack of racial, age, and practice diversity in the representation of the Council.  We talked about what we could do to change this.  We didn’t have any answers, but we vowed to work on this together: Max in the East, me in the Pacific/West.  We were compatriots with a cause.  We didn’t know how we were going to do it yet, but we were going to enact change.

Last year, when I received the call to let me know what Max had passed, I was saddened and in shock.  He was healthy and the accident that killed him was truly tragic, unexpected, and unpreventable.  He was the same age as me, he had a young family, and he was so involved in his community and our profession.  And then it hit me–our profession–my compatriot in changing our profession was gone.  There was only me…

This meant that I had to work even harder to ensure that change would happen.  This meant that I now had to work twice as hard to help open doors for other young CPAs, and help to get them into positions where they could help to influence change in the profession.  I know that there are many veteran CPAs and AICPA leaders who “get it”, but there is a difference between someone from the majority “advocating” for a change, versus Max and I, who actually represented the change itself.

There has definitely been some progress.  Whereas earlierI was always the youngest and often the only non-white CPA on committees, there are now sometimes others around my age or younger on the committees.  Yet at a AICPA Thought Leadership Committee Chairs meeting in February of 2012, I was dismayed to look around the table and find that of the chairs present, there were only two of us representing a diversity element.  A white woman veteran CPA (which sometimes I think doesn’t really count in the diversity realm) and myself, the only younger and ethnic minority CPA.  There were other women and ethnic minorities in the room, but they were either AICPA staff or meeting facilitators, and were not one of the chairs.  When the topic of changing demographics came up, the discussion was the same as you always hear: yes there is change needed, yes we need to do something; but that’s where the conversation stopped.  No one was really sure what the solution was, and when I tried to share my thoughts on why I left public accounting and why some minorities and younger CPAs may also be doing so, a tangent was picked up and the discussion transitioned into one of maybe we don’t need to change anything in the profession because the changes needed would be unrealistic for the profession to make.  Then we moved on to the next topic.  I considered trying to move the topic back, but looking around the room, I was outnumbered and I could tell that there wasn’t really a desire to explore the topic more.

Then at the Council meeting this past May, Vice Chair Richard Caturano announced his intention to start a commission for the AICPA that would investigate the issue of diversity more and look deeper at what needs to be done.  I am very curious to see what this commission comes up with, and to see if it leads to some meaningful change when Rich becomes Chair in the coming volunteer year.

As part of my acceptance speech for the award, I charged everyone at the EDGE Conference lunch with helping to increase diversity in the profession.  Perhaps the young CPAs can develop a grass roots effort to complement Rich’s top-down approach.  As a result of that speech, three people actually came up before the end of the conference and told me that they want to get involved with the diversity effort.

With Rich’s top-down efforts and if the Young CPA Network can complement that with a grass-roots effort, I think we can start enacting some meaningful change.  From the discussion at the Chairs’ meeting, I can tell this will be a significant effort.  And I want to ensure that this is a balanced change–I don’t want it to go too far and ending up creating a reverse discrimination situation.  It needs to be done in a way that is fair to all.

Thank you again to everyone that gave me the opportunity to serve and who has helped me to get to where I am today.  I am honored to have received the award and hope that I can continue to honor Max’s legacy and enable a change that was so near to his heart.


6 thoughts on “Honoring Max’s Legacy / Diversity in the CPA Profession

  1. I didn’t know Max but I’m proud and happy to know you. I love that you are willing to stand up and make change within the AICPA and the profession as a whole. I am willing raise my voice (its a big one!) and do what it takes to help too. Change is comming! I love that many of the next generation has mobilized thru Social Media and are ready to knock down the walls of the AICPA from both the inside and the outside. Donny keep it up! The funny thing is I don’t even see you as a “Diverse” CPA maybe because you look just like me. 🙂 You are just a Cool CPA doing the Right Thing! If readers don’t believe how things have changed via Social Media, see the like below on how we have mobilized the next generation of CPAs to come Change the World at PSTECH, the boomers won’t know what hit them!



    Posted by Jody Padar | August 12, 2012, 7:24 am
  2. Donny – congrats on the award and organizing a fantastic EDGE conference. The ceremony during lunch was very touching. We met only briefly the other day but I can tell you have a passion for our profession. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help via social media or through the THRIVEal network. Change is super hard, so don’t ever feel like you are alone!

    Posted by Kevin McCoy | August 12, 2012, 4:36 pm
  3. Donny:

    It is not easy to be the one standing up in the room explaining why things need to change, especially when you feel that you are alone. History is filled with many people who felt passionate about the need for change in their communities, organizations and nations and took that initiative and stood up and said something to better those groups. Keep sharing your convictions with the newer generations of CPA’s as they are more flexible and willing to adopt new ways of thinking and perceiving things. Not to say that the previous generations are not willing to change, but for them it’s harder to break certain thought patterns. I’ve been watching this unfold in our own firm as we are growing ‘younger’, seeing the influence that the newer entrants to our profession are rapidly changing old attitudes and mindsets.

    Also keep in mind that while change doesn’t happen overnight…it happens. Keep strong and know that you not only have those in the profession now who are counting on you, but those who will enter the profession and be the superstars of tomorrow. I wish I had been able to attend EDGE this year to hear your charge to the profession.

    Thank you for being a voice for change and being willing to stand up for your convictions. I am so proud to have you as part of our profession.

    Posted by Michael Wall | August 14, 2012, 12:37 am
  4. Interesting read Donny. I think that one key to promoting diversity in the profession will be engaging younger CPAs in the conversation. In general, I think they are more open to conversations on the topic. At the Utah Association of CPA’s Leadership Academy last year, I facilitated a session on this topic. I felt like the young CPAs that participated really “got it.” Keep talking about this. It’s going to take lots of voices and perspectives for us to be able to move the needle here. Inertia is a force to be reckoned with.

    Posted by Dan Griffiths (@GriffithsCPA) | August 14, 2012, 5:14 am
  5. Donny, we only met briefly at EDGE last week but I can tell you love what you do and truly care about moving our profession forward. The conference was great and I thank you for your part in organizing it. Though I didn’t know you or Maximo previously, I was very touched by the award presentation.

    Please, please do not feel alone in your quest, there are others out here. I applaud your effort at change from the inside. Like Jody said, don’t be afraid to ask for help on social media. I think the best way to build diversity is to lead by example, show what CPAs are capable of and it is only natural many, many people will want to join.

    Posted by Kevin McCoy (@kevinmccoycpa) | August 14, 2012, 5:46 am

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