Making a positive impact

Tommye E. Barie focuses on relevance, rigor, and reach as AICPA chair.
BY KEN TYSIAC

 Tommye E. Barie, CPA
Tommye E. Barie, CPA (Photo by Chip Litherland/AP Images)

As Tommye E. Barie, CPA, begins her year as AICPA chair, the profession is undergoing tremendous change.

Complexity, technology, globalization, and rapid evolution of standards continue to alter the way business is done and what CPAs need to know to help their clients’ businesses succeed, while protecting the public interest.

The AICPA has embarked on a number of high-impact initiatives aimed at improving the quality of audits of private entities, expanding diversity and inclusion at all levels of the profession, and revolutionizing learning and professional development.

“We have to constantly change so that our services remain valuable,” Barie said. “My belief is that we’ve got to stay true to our core, but at the same time evolve into what the marketplace needs from us. The clients and the marketplace determine what is of value to them. So we need to push our boundaries.”

Born and raised in small-town America, the 102nd chair of the AICPA is someone whose work springs from her desire to make a positive impact. That drive propels her work as a partner serving not-for-profit and government clients at Mauldin & Jenkins LLC, a top-100 firm based in Atlanta with offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. And it surfaces in other ways, from Barie’s work mentoring young CPAs to simple gestures, such as when she makes time at the grocery store to buy cookies for the guards who control traffic at the front gate at the high-rise complex where her condominium overlooks Sarasota Bay in Florida.

“I want to make a positive difference in not only my life, but others’ lives, on a daily basis,” Barie said. “So at the end of the day, an awesome day to me is having done that.”

Barie’s parents, James and Maureen Elam, encouraged her from a young age to value commitments and push her personal boundaries. She grew up in West Liberty, Ky. (population 3,435 in the 2010 U.S. census), where her father was an accountant and the general manager of a rural electric cooperative, and her parents owned the Freezer Fresh—an ice cream and hamburger stand. Maureen Elam also owned the jewelry store in town.

West Liberty is the kind of place where neighbors look out for one another, and the support of family, friends, and neighbors made Barie think she could accomplish anything she put her mind to. When she was just a seventh-grader, she was encouraged to try out for the varsity basketball team at Morgan County High School, which needed someone tall to play center. She knew that if she struggled there, somebody would be there to pick her up and encourage her. Armed with that confidence, she immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup.

EARLY ADVOCATE

Her parents’ ability to juggle multiple business interests showed her that she could do anything she wanted. At a time when many women were still struggling to find career opportunities for themselves, Maureen Elam operated two family businesses.

That entrepreneurial spirit took hold in the Elams’ children. During a long spell of cold weather when Barie was about 12 years old, she grew weary of building snowmen, sledding, and throwing snowballs. She asked her mother to give her a job.

Her mother showed her the accounting ledgers for the jewelry store and the restaurant. Barie learned how to list cash receipts and disbursements, and spread them across various categories. She saw how the figures balanced when they were added, and she was fascinated. She knew she wanted to pursue accounting further.

Barie said her parents taught her that with hard work, determination, and skill, she could do anything she wanted. And her upbringing showed her how to treat people right.

“Tommye is a tremendous ambassador for the accounting profession,” said AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA. “Her values, experience, and passion make her a tireless advocate for our more than 400,000 members. Tommye’s vision for the profession will continue moving us toward a future where our core services provide a strong base from which to address expanding marketplace needs.”

RELEVANCE, RIGOR, AND REACH

The belief and courage her parents instilled are key ingredients for Barie as she starts her year as AICPA chair. She believes that the profession needs to focus on relevance, rigor, and reach to strengthen its core and shape its future.

Maintaining relevance, Barie said, will take effort, skill, and the courage to make changes where necessary. This is evident in the evolution of professional development, as described by the AICPA Future of Learning Task Force, toward a competency-based approach and away from measuring learning by the number of hours of continuing education.

The task force’s recommendations envision professionals using technology-aided methods to enable personalized learning that will be more relevant to a CPA’s given specialty. The vision for the future is a shift away from classroom-based group study toward personalized, specialized learning that can be delivered and consumed in small doses.

“It’s a little bit of a shift from what we’re accustomed to,” Barie said. “… We’ve got to experiment and innovate, and figure out different ways of getting that just-in-time training we need.”

At the same time, the AICPA is working to bolster the commitment to rigor that has made accounting a highly trusted profession. The new Enhancing Audit Quality initiative (visit aicpa.org/EAQpaper) is designed to align and integrate the AICPA’s audit-related resources to improve the quality of private-entity audits. New strategies are being developed to strengthen the peer-review process and provide more timely feedback on audits so that any concerns can be addressed before an audit opinion is given.

“We’ve got to make sure that we continue to strive for the highest level of quality,” Barie said. “The regulators are expecting that from us. The public demands it. And quite frankly, as a profession, we expect it and demand it of ourselves.”

The AICPA and the profession also continue to develop ways to expand their reach as they serve a wide variety of constituents. The National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion is working on multiple initiatives to help the profession more closely reflect the clients and businesses it serves.

The recently established Center for Plain English Accounting is providing local and regional firms with accounting and auditing technical support. The AICPA’s Financial Reporting Framework for Small- and Medium-Sized Entities continues to give Main Street businesses simplified options for their financial reporting.

And with the advent of the CGMA exam in 2015, the AICPA and its partner—the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants—continue to expand an effort that is providing support, best practices, and thought leadership to accountants across the world.

“We are in a global economy, … so we have to have that reach, and that ability to operate in such an environment,” Barie said.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

When Barie mentors young people in the profession, she encourages them to expand their personal reach, too. When they come out of school, she said, they typically don’t know if they want to pursue a career in tax, auditing, forensic accounting, or something else in a profession that is becoming increasingly specialized and affords a wide variety of opportunities. Barie advises them to gain a working knowledge of every area of practice that they possibly can. She encourages them to get involved in the community and develop leadership skills that will help them throughout their careers.

“It’s important to me to share whatever knowledge I have with them,” Barie said. “… I try to empower them to take the next step forward and not be afraid and to know they are surrounded by a supportive community.”

That no-fear approach has taken Barie all over the country and overseas in professional pursuits. Although she never doubted herself, she also never dreamed, when she was making ledger entries for her parents as a young girl, how far accounting would take her.

Former AICPA Chairman Richard Caturano, CPA, CGMA, said Barie’s qualities make her a model for CPAs. Caturano said Barie is thoughtful about taking on projects, sees them through to success, and has a sunny personality.

“She is a great example for the profession in terms of someone who is dedicated, trustworthy, reliable, and has the highest degree of integrity,” Caturano said.

Being around the water helps Barie recharge. On weekend mornings, she enjoys walking across the John Ringling Causeway, a bridge that spans Sarasota Bay, to grab a cup of coffee, relax, and make a phone call to her parents in Kentucky. “I love walking that bridge,” she said. "Walking across that bridge and seeing the beautiful water has a calming effect and makes a bad day seem nonexistent."

While paddleboarding with a friend on a Saturday morning this summer, she thought that even though she has traveled extensively, she couldn’t imagine another place she’d rather be than there in Sarasota Bay, within sight of her home. “There’s nothing like coming back here, getting in the water, and peacefully paddleboarding,” Barie said.

Likewise, there isn’t anything she’d rather be doing than her job as a CPA because it gives her an opportunity to make a positive impact every day, as well as know that on some days she has also been able to make a difference. The audit services she provides not-for-profit clients help them continue their missions without fear of financial trouble. In governmental audits, she works on behalf of the community to make sure tax dollars and other fees are used in a proper manner. She finds the work extremely satisfying. Her career allows her to live the values she learned growing up—integrity, humility, and commitment—while striving to enhance her relevance, rigor, and reach.

One of Barie’s favorite sports is kiteboarding, which taps skills and focus that are likewise central to the profession. “As a kiteboarder, I know what it means to focus on the core. You can’t control the wind, but you can ride it—if your core is strong enough to maintain balance and harmony with the wind and water. To me, this is a good analogy for what we continually face in our profession. External forces change the landscape seemingly overnight, and we must remain ready and able to ride that constantly changing wind.”
 
Ken Tysiac is a JofA editorial director. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at ktysiac@aicpa.org or 919-402-2112.

Photo by Chip Litherland/AP Images

Honest Dialogue Can Empower Women, Says AICPA’s Fourth Female Chair

While Tommye E. Barie was preparing for a speech reflecting on her past, she marveled at what a strong role model her mother, Maureen Elam, has been.

Elam owned and operated the Freezer Fresh, a hamburger and ice cream stand, with her husband, James, and also owned and ran a jewelry store in West Liberty, Ky. Now her daughter is the fourth female chair of the AICPA, following in the footsteps of Olivia Kirtley (1998–99), Kathy Eddy (2000–01), and Leslie Murphy (2005–06).

Although women have made great strides in the profession, Barie would like to see them make more progress toward leadership positions. The most recent AICPA survey on demographic trends in the accounting profession showed that women make up 44% of the professional staff at CPA firms, but just 19% of the partners.

Barie said more open and honest dialogue about career aspirations and the pathways that are available could help women achieve the career advancement they seek.

“We need to do what we can to do away with the unintended bias,” she said. “The profession is working to try to level the playing field. And I think it is essential that we continue to build on the progress that has been made.”

Tommye E. Barie, CPA

Title: Partner, Mauldin & Jenkins LLC

City: Sarasota, Fla.

Education: BBA in accounting, Stetson University

Date of birth: Feb. 7, 1961

Family: Parents, James W. and Maureen Elam; sister and brother-in-law, Pam and Jack Stanford; brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Chris Elam; niece and her niece’s husband, Morgan and Harry Sargeant; nephew, Josh Elam; grand-niece, PJ Sargeant

Fun fact: Barie got her name because before she was born, her 8-year-old brother, Jim, wanted a younger brother named “Tom.” Jim also grew up to be a CPA and is a tax practitioner in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Must-have device: iPad

Good read: True Spirit, by Jessica Watson

Favorite movie: The Blind Side

Hobbies: Golf, paddleboarding, kiteboarding, walking, Pilates, skiing

Caf or decaf: halfcaf (half of each)

Favorite food: Any type of seafood

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