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Take Your Young CPAs Along for the Ride

When the time comes, you’ll be glad you did.

September 17, 2009
by Alexandra DeFelice

You can see it in their eyes. Those young CPAs who have the ambition and energy to one day make partner and allow you to retire.

As motivated and as diligent as these young CPAs may be, they know that some skills just can’t be learned from their cubicles. Senior management needs to take them along for the ride on client meetings.

When I interviewed young CPAs who had attended the AICPA’s Leadership Academy this summer, many of them told me that partners in their firms are already bringing them to those meetings and the client interaction is playing an important role in their career development by preparing them for those difficult conversations partners need to have and for which they are sometimes not prepared.

It sounds a little scary, but the best way for these emerging stars to learn how to lead is by relinquishing some control and letting them take over sometimes — especially in tough situations, like when the client is behind in his bills or when your firm is trying to sell new services.

This is not to say that junior staff should be heading up discussions with some of the firm’s biggest clients, but even just letting them sit in the room and watch the expert can help set the stage for how they, themselves, will interact with clients when they actually are in charge.

If a client had built a decades-long relationship with his CPA and that CPA — the client’s primary point of contact — retired and turned the account over to another person in the firm that the client barely knew, what’s to stop that client from switching firms?

Taking young staff along for the ride now will allow them to take the wheel with confidence in the future, even down bumpy roads.

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Alexandra DeFelice is a senior editor for the Journal of Accountancy. She can be reached at 212-596-6122. For more on developing staff leadership skills, read “Teach Young CPAs Well” in the upcoming October issue at journalofaccountancy.com.