When Kimberly Ellison-Taylor was 8 years old, she didn't know much about what it meant to be a CPA. But she knew that there was just one TV set in the house where she grew up with two sisters, so she often didn't get to decide what to watch. She imagined that when she grew up, she would have lots of TVs in her house. She figured she would need to have some money to accomplish that.
When she was in third grade, a CPA came to a career day at her elementary school and explained that CPAs are responsible for managing money. At that point, she decided on her future profession. She was going to be a CPA.
"In my mind, if you managed the money, you were the boss," she said.
A career of success and distinction was launched with that simple idea by a young girl in a blue-collar neighborhood in the Sandtown-Winchester community in West Baltimore. Ellison-Taylor is a CPA and is the chairman of the AICPA board of directors during a time of great excitement and opportunity in the profession.
Ellison-Taylor, global accounting strategy director for Oracle America, rose through the ranks of the profession with an intense focus on the technology that is transforming the business world. She travels throughout the world for work and is as comfortable working from her room at the Marriott or the local Panera Bread as she is in the office or the board room.
Helping people is a driving force for Ellison-Taylor at work and in her personal life, as demonstrated by her efforts to help the less fortunate in her community. For 26 years she has been a member of a community service sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, which she now serves as a chapter president. The organization serves seniors and veterans, and supports events for the March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, and other charities. As chapter president, Ellison-Taylor has adopted Georgetown East Elementary School in Annapolis, Md. Through this role and others, she also serves as a mentor to young people in her community and to people who need her advice in the workplace. Her goal is to help enable awareness of the many opportunities that exist in the accounting world, as someone did for her.
"There are people who take an interest in me, who have helped me," she said. "And so I think it's my responsibility to pay that back and help other people. ... I think I have a responsibility to pull others along, and so every opportunity I have to do that, I really try."
Ellison-Taylor, the first African-American chairman of the AICPA board of directors, is taking the role at a pivotal time for the profession. It is changing as Baby Boomers retire, Generation Xers move into more leadership positions, Millennials increase their influence, and technology and globalization create new opportunities for CPAs and holders of the CGMA designation. The AICPA is staying on top of these trends with tools for succession and mentoring; initiatives to capitalize on opportunities in cybersecurity, data analytics, and sustainability assurance; and the creation of a new international association of accountants with The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
These are busy days in the accounting profession, as the AICPA is engaged in several important initiatives to keep CPAs and CGMA designation holders well positioned in an evolving business world. The new international association is designed to help strengthen the profession's advocacy voice, expand employability for members, and connect the accounting profession and professionals around the world. Efforts to drive higher performance on audits continue through the Enhancing Audit Quality initiative and changes to peer review. The next CPA Exam, which launches in the spring, is geared toward continuing to make sure newly licensed CPAs have the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform their duties. And the AICPA is moving forward in its quest to attract and retain the best people in the profession through outreach to students, new mentoring platforms, and the second iteration of the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program in December.
Amid all these initiatives, the ultimate focus for Ellison-Taylor is to help people. She wants the brightest young people to understand the value of becoming a CPA and to join the accounting profession. She is passionate about helping Millennials develop the skills they need to continue to succeed in the profession, and she encourages firms and companies to find ways to listen to the needs of these younger workers. As a member of Generation X and the first post-Baby Boomer generation chairman, Ellison-Taylor delights in bringing Boomers and Millennials together to solve problems. She has a public accounting firm background and works in management accounting, and is familiar with the experiences professionals enjoy in both of those disciplines.
Ellison-Taylor believes focusing on people is the path to progress. She said that leaders of the profession know that CPAs and CGMA designation holders will continue to face a backdrop of complexity resulting from the business climate, regulatory shifts, and the political landscape. She believes that preparing people and cultivating future generations to respond to these challenges is the key to success and continuing relevance for the profession.
"We can't document how to respond to every specific issue because we don't know what they will all be," Ellison-Taylor said. "But we can help you thrive in a shifting environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. How? Because we will have helped you anticipate and prepare for the changing landscape."
VALUE OF HARD WORK
Ellison-Taylor learned her work ethic from her father, William Ellison, who ran a manufacturing line at Bethlehem Steel that operated 24 hours a day. He would work double shifts to cover for colleagues who called in sick. He even worked on Christmas and New Year's Eve. After the tip of the fourth finger on his right hand was cut off in an accident on the job, he went back to work as soon as he had the OK from the doctor. Through his example, he taught his three daughters the value of hard work and taking responsibility. Ellison-Taylor is a middle child with two sisters, Andrea and Ericka.
Ellison-Taylor's mother, the late Gennie Ellison, made sure the girls associated with friends who were doing the right things, and stayed away from trouble. She did not allow the girls to be outside late into the evening or sit on the steps outside their front door. The girls were afraid of what their mother would do if they did not behave. They didn't want to disappoint her.
"My mother promised us that she would come to school and embarrass us," Ellison-Taylor said. "And I'll tell you what, that was enough to keep us all on the straight and narrow."
Ellison-Taylor grew up in a neighborhood with few college graduates. She had a love of books and a belief as an outstanding student that education was her path to accomplishment. The photo on the cover of this magazine is taken outside the library where she spent many, many hours. Her route to a CPA career prepared her well for a world that was becoming increasingly reliant on technology. After graduating as valedictorian from Carver Vocational Technical High School, she earned a bachelor's degree in information systems management and technical writing from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, an MBA from Loyola University Maryland, a master's degree in information technology from Carnegie Mellon University, and an accounting certificate from the Community College of Baltimore County.
Many of the roles she served at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Motorola, KPMG LLP, Prince George's County, Md., and Oracle have been devoted to technology. For example, while serving as chief information technology officer for the densely populated Washington, D.C., suburb of Prince George's County, she directed strategy and centralized technology activities for about 7,000 end users across 26 departments.
Embracing technology has made it easy for her to connect with young people in the workplace and the community. When she mentors students, she gives them advice that also applies to the business world. She describes her principles for success in terms of the need to "bring your 'A' game" (see the sidebar, "Winning With Your 'A' Game").
Living according to these principles has helped Ellison-Taylor lead successfully and thrive as a CPA in public practice, in government, and now in business and industry.
"Kimberly is a dynamic leader and powerful champion for the accounting profession," said AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA. "With deep and varied experience, she knows how to connect across practice areas and reach across generations. Her energy is infectious, and her foresight and perseverance will keep moving our profession forward on the path of progress."
Ellison-Taylor is the fifth female chairman of the AICPA board and the first from an underrepresented minority group. Her leadership is important as the CPA profession continues to work to develop more representation and leadership among both women and minorities, and she is honored to be seen as a trailblazer. She attributes much of her success to the importance of taking advantage of opportunities.
When she was in high school, she was a senator in student government and a page for state government, and participated in events with groups dedicated to religious development as well as leadership development in general. She actively sought opportunities to grow and lead, and took advantage of them.
As chairman of the AICPA board, Ellison-Taylor wants to lead the profession by emphasizing a focus on the people who are critical to ensuring that CPAs and CGMA designation holders maintain their high profile in the business environment. The demand for accounting professionals is high and is projected to rise, and Ellison-Taylor said it's important to make sure that more people are entering and remaining in the profession than exiting the profession. With members of the Baby Boomer generation at retirement age, that's a challenge that requires careful management of people. Ellison-Taylor said it's important to:
- Create individual development and performance plans based on a person's ambition and consistent with your office culture and strategic plan.
- Signal intentions and provide clarity to your employees. If you think someone may be the next manager, managing partner, controller, or department lead, tell him or her. Also, be sure to provide a road map to reach the next level.
- Provide options about when, how, and where people work, so that they understand that the CPA and the CGMA designation will enhance and reinforce their career aspirations and also will provide unlimited options. Essential and preferred credentials help them through all phases of their professional careers.
- Embrace technology and leverage the differentiation and competitive advantage it brings.
- Request that accountants and CPAs volunteer to speak in elementary, middle, and high schools about the opportunities in the accounting profession and the many career options the CPA provides. If over 400,000 professionals volunteer at least one hour each year, this would enhance the many initiatives undertaken by the AICPA and state CPA societies. The greater awareness and visibility of the profession would be amazing, Ellison-Taylor said.
"All members of our profession—public, business and industry, government, not-for-profit, academia, and consulting—are essential and needed," she said. "Leveraging technology and developing our next generation of leaders are critical. But how will we ensure that we're all at the table? For me, that means maintaining our focus on the public interest, our core values, and anticipating what's next. All while paying it forward."
Winning with your 'A' game
Kimberly Ellison-Taylor's principles for success:
Acknowledge. Show respect for the people who came before you, and benefit from their wisdom.
Aptitude. Commit to lifelong learning so you can develop and improve the skills you need to succeed.
Anticipate. Prepare thoroughly for the opportunities you seek, and act boldly when you pursue them.
Accountability. Take responsibility for your work, and don't expect to be rewarded for substandard results.
Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA
Title: Global accounting strategy director, Oracle America.
City: Bowie, Md.
Education: Accounting certificate from the Community College of Baltimore County; B.A. in information systems management/technical writing from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; MBA from Loyola University Maryland; M.S. in information technology from Carnegie Mellon University.
Experience: Global health and human services executive director—public sector industry solutions, Oracle America; chief information technology officer, Prince George's County, Md.; information risk management manager, KPMG LLP; systems integration program manager, Motorola; integrated financial management technical team lead, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Date of birth: April 22, 1970.
Family: Husband, Darius; sons, Darius II and Dominic.
Fun fact: "I love science fiction movies."
Must-have device: Kindle.
Good read: Leadership books.
Favorite movie: The Matrix series.
Hobbies: Reading, community service.
Favorite food: Seafood.
About the author
Ken Tysiac is a JofA editorial director. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at email@example.com or 919-402-2112.