Looking Forward: A Talk With Leslie Murphy

BY NANCY R. BALDIGA

Leslie Murphy, managing partner of client service for Plante & Moran, will become the AICPA chair at the Institute’s October annual meeting. The JofA will publish her acceptance speech in a future issue.

eslie Murphy has had a distinguished career. As a member of the senior leadership team at Plante & Moran, she has been a manager in the areas of assurance, tax, management consulting, technology consulting and corporate restructuring. She also cofounded the firm’s PTA Committee, which is responsible for work/life initiatives. During her years of service with the AICPA, she has served on the board of directors and as chairman of the finance committee. In addition she has worked extensively with the Michigan Association of CPAs, United Way, the Michigan Women’s Foundation, Michigan’s Children and Junior Achievement. In anticipation of taking on her latest leadership role, she shared her thoughts with the JofA .

THE PROFESSION TODAY
JofA: The past few years have been a period of self-reflection for the accounting profession as it addressed the criticisms and concerns of the general public, regulators and primary users of financial information. What has the profession accomplished and what are the key things that still need to be done?

Murphy: The profession’s response in the face of some very difficult times has been exceptional. We have improved the independence rules, finalized certain auditing and accounting changes and initiated others in ethics, enforcement and peer review standards affecting private companies. We have addressed audit quality and supported it by launching the Employee Benefits Audit Quality Center, the Government Audit Quality Center and the Center for Public Company Audit Firms. We have further developed strong working relationships with regulators, including the PCAOB, as well as with legislators and government agencies. Today, we are working in a far more coordinated manner than ever before with a wide range of groups affecting our profession. We created a state-of-the-art CPA examination that screens candidates much more effectively for the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in our ever more complex world. In line with our long-term commitment to serving the public, we launched an unprecedented CPA-driven nationwide financial literacy initiative that is truly sweeping the country.

THE CHAIR’S ROLE
JofA: What are the primary goals for you and your leadership team in the coming year? What do you see as your biggest challenge and your greatest opportunity?

Murphy: I am fortunate to have served on the AICPA board for the past three years when our current initiatives were debated and formalized. I plan to sustain the positive momentum we have achieved through innovation and a willingness to change and step up to challenges and complex issues. We have a great profession, and I am determined to do my part to ensure the AICPA continues to serve and support our diverse membership. At the same time, we must continually strive to help CPAs serve the public and live up to our high professional standards. We also need to celebrate the opportunities that our profession provides so that it becomes even more attractive and enjoyable as a career. Our biggest challenge will be to set priorities for initiatives and projects based on limited resources.

JofA: What objectives have you identified?

Murphy: We have a very aggressive agenda already in progress. We are developing significantly enhanced resources for all of our very diverse members, including those in business and industry, to assist them with the ever more challenging demands of the profession. We also expect to continue exploring private company accounting principles, evaluating potential changes from public company GAAP and also continue our very successful outreach to educate the public on financial literacy topics as more Americans struggle with managing their financial commitments in this rapidly changing world. Finally, we need to address the increasing shortage of qualified staff in our profession. Regulatory demands and recent business failures have created unprecedented demand for staff with financial skills, particularly in the area of internal controls. Shifting demographics will further strain our already scarce resources and require much more flexibility and creativity to effectively compete for qualified talent.

BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY MEMBERS
JofA: A significant number of Institute members are accounting professionals working in business and industry. What role can they play in improving the reputation and effectiveness of the profession?

Murphy: CPAs working in business and industry often serve as the conscience of their organizations, steering companies to higher levels of business ethics. Accountability and integrity, two hallmarks of our profession, are much-needed attributes that CPAs bring to the corporate world. As controllers, CFOs, strategic advisers and business leaders, they can help bring quality and rationality to American business. From internal controls to enhanced audit committees, they are actively engaged in virtually every area of corporate America. They are likewise active in the Institute and have made significant contributions to the initiatives underway. We will look for broader and more effective ways to serve these members and expand the value proposition that comes with membership and volunteerism.

WOMEN IN THE PROFESSION
JofA: Many people in the profession have been following the controversy over Harvard University President Lawrence Summers’ comments about women in science. What lessons and insights can CPAs provide on this issue?

Murphy: Much has changed in our profession over the past several decades. Most significant is the abandonment of the assumption that women are not willing to make the commitment necessary to be successful. Women now represent more than half of the graduates in accounting and increasingly are moving into the partner position and assuming leadership roles within firms. The professional service environment provides significant opportunity for flexibility, which is fundamental for striking an appropriate balance between personal and work commitments. Also, at its core, accounting is a service profession and the way women are socialized in our society prepares us well for service to our clients and our employers. Other professions should follow the lead of public accounting and look to capitalize on attributes that may contribute to the success of women, rather than hypothesizing about what may be holding them back.

ACHIEVEMENT
JofA: What do you consider to be your most important professional and personal accomplishments?

Murphy: My most important professional accomplishments relate to the contributions I believe I have made to Plante & Moran as a member of the senior management team, including the role I have played in the advancement of women and the continued development of our unique culture. The role I will assume as chairman of the AICPA board is an incredible honor and a capstone to my career. My greatest personal achievement, without question, is the loving relationships I have built and sustained with my husband, children and grandchildren, given my extremely demanding professional life.

JofA: What’s the one question you think you’ll be asked most often in the coming year, and how will you answer it?

Murphy: It will be, “Why did I choose to take on this challenge and serve the profession in this manner?” My response will be that I believe the rewards far exceed the effort and I am most fortunate that my firm has supported this significant contribution to the profession. I encourage each of our members to get involved and take advantage of all we can learn from one another, while we collectively contribute to the advancement of the profession. As an added benefit, volunteering provides the opportunity to work with extraordinary individuals who are likely to become lasting friends and professional colleagues.

NANCY R. BALDIGA, CPA, is an associate professor and chair of the department of economics at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass., and a former member of the AICPA Work/Life and Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee .

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