Sandra Abalos, CPA




Managing partner, Abalos & Associates P.C., Phoenix

I have been a cyclist for nine years. I had one of my clients, a plumbing contractor, put a shower in my office building so that I could ride my bike to work. The contractors did a 150-mile bike ride to Parker Dam (on the Colorado River between Arizona and California) for the benefit of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and asked me to do it with them. I said ‘Sure!’ I didn’t know anything about road riding. I had this heavy utility bike. I was horrible. I just kept at it. Every time I trained, it got a little easier. Then it started to become fun and challenging.

Twenty miles into the 150-mile ride, the tandem bike I was riding with a friend crashed. My knee was bleeding all over, but I got it bandaged up and rode the 90 miles on the first day. That night it wouldn’t calm down, so we went to the medic and he said I needed stitches. I wanted the Novocain to last 12 or 24 hours because the medic said it’d be easier to ride with the stitches in. I couldn’t feel my knee the next day. But we rode 60 miles and finished strong.

I have been riding ever since. That’s how I met my husband. I was going through a divorce after a 25-year marriage. It was the most difficult time of my life. All I wanted to do was ride my bike; it was my therapy. I went on the Internet to the MS Society Web page to find a training group. I found Alan Havir, a certified coach with the U.S. Cycling Federation, who volunteered his time to train riders for the MS 150. We’ve been married for a year now. We go riding every chance we get. It’s our passion.

My senior year at Arizona State University, I started working with a gentleman named David Schwarz. He was a sole practitioner, and I was hired on as a part-time secretary and bookkeeper. When I graduated from ASU in May of 1979, there were few women in the profession. In my class, only 2% of the graduating accountants were female. I proceeded to interview with the Big Eight firms and some local firms and I did not get a single job offer—not one.

I told David I wanted to work with him. I sat for the CPA exam and passed in September of 1980. By January 1981, I was a CPA, and the firm became Schwarz & Abalos. That was the beginning of the formal partnership. I had a baby April 29, 1980, and brought her to work, and had a second child March 25, 1982. I brought her to work four days after she was born so I could finish tax season. David was way beyond his years in accepting women, diversity and children in the workplace. He retired in 1988, and the firm name changed to Abalos & Associates P.C.

For a long, long time, Abalos & Associates was an all-female firm. Not by design. It was our work scheduling that attracted what I’d call highly competent and professional female CPAs. I adopted job flexibility early on. That resulted in people being more on board, more focused and working productively. No other firm was offering that in a way where there was no guilt or backlash from other staff. There’s no backlash here.

I never talk to my clients about debits and credits. I teach my clients cowboy math—a down and dirty, simple and straight-shooting way of explaining financial relationships and concepts. I don’t tell them I’m teaching them financial statements or GAAP. Immediately they become more relaxed and open because it’s not going to be hard.

I’ve had the good fortune to win several awards. The award that meant the most to me was the Small Business Administration National Accountant Advocate of the Year in 1996. I consider myself a fighter for small business and have learned that one voice can make a difference. That day I met President Clinton, testified before Congress on independent contractor legislation and received this recognition. It doesn’t get any better than that. 


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