Tom Pender, CPA

BY LOANNA OVERCASH

  

 
 

Director of finance and administration,
N.C. Association of CPAs
Raleigh, N.C.

The Young CPA Gulf Coast trip gave me a renewed sense of faith in humanity. I led a group of 10 volunteers from the North Carolina and Louisiana societies on a small business disaster-recovery project in New Orleans in November 2007. Over four days, we reached 100 small businesses and nonprofits through one-on-one coaching sessions and group presentations. We partnered with Operation HOPE, an international nonprofit with a presence along the Gulf Coast. They provided the infrastructure, and we provided the volunteers.

One team member worked with a woman to file her tax returns for the last three years. He not only completed her straightforward returns, but bought her a new computer. She thought she had won the lottery. Somebody showed her their hope and confidence in her ability to take care of business. Now she is in good standing with the IRS and is free to focus on rebuilding her business.

Accounting has the potential to be a means to a greater good. It is a people-oriented profession. As CPAs, we agreed to serve the public when we sat for the exam. My constant quest is to tie professional skills into community service. It hit me one day that we have practical skills to help people rebuild their lives after a disaster.

About nine months into my first job at Ernst & Young, I volunteered for a church mission trip to Brazil. It was the first time I had been out of the country, and it profoundly affected my worldview. Since that time, I have struggled between earning a decent living and wanting to help folks. I started a nonprofit with a college friend. Outreach Inc. is a rehab builder in Birmingham, Ala., and is still alive and well. But I did return to public accounting. I held a job as an internal auditor with an international company, working in both Minnesota and Wisconsin with occasional trips to Europe. After the company was bought out, I took another job within the company and moved my wife and family to North Carolina. That’s how I found the N.C. Association of CPAs, who I’ve been with for over seven years now.

As NCACPA’s director of finance and administration, I’m responsible for our information technology, peer review and general administration.

The most rewarding part of my job is interacting with members and, in particular, our young CPAs. About five years ago, the board of directors established a Young CPA Cabinet and asked me to be the staff liaison (I still was a young CPA). This was a natural place to take the idea for the Gulf Coast project, but it certainly has the potential to move beyond young CPAs.

It will take months and years to know the impact and success of both the Operation HOPE and CPA Gulf Coast projects. This is just the beginning. Operation HOPE will track people who move through the program. Ultimately, people will move from needing assistance to being able to pay for the help. An outsider might say this is self-serving for the profession, but we are investing in these folks with the hope and confidence that their businesses are going to come back.

The Mississippi Society has already committed to a May project. The Illinois Society has a team scheduled for next summer, and a dozen other states have expressed interest. Plans are in the works for three trips in 2008. I will continue to act as the liaison ( tlpender@ncacpa.org ) for state societies and individuals interested in volunteering through Operation HOPE. My goal is to send multiple teams of volunteers down there from all over—a wave of CPAs. And of course, members of the Louisiana Society, local CPAs of the Gulf Coast area and other volunteer organizations remain vigilant in their efforts and hard work.

The Gulf Coast is going to rebuild itself—the question is how? The heart of the recovery effort is small business, and no one else speaks this language better than CPAs. We can provide owners and managers with the tools they need to recover and help the people of this area do it as smartly as possible. 

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