Janet Wong, CPA

Board director and audit committee chairman of Enviva Partners

Janet Wong, CPA
Janet Wong, CPA, the board director and audit committee chairman of Enviva Partners, is a retired KPMG partner and has spent over 20 years in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. She also volunteers for the American Heart Association and Ascend. (Photo by Dave Einsel/AP Images)

'A direct line of communication with key financial leadership'

Serve and sharpen your skills: I retired from public accounting because I wanted to serve on public company boards and couldn't do that as a partner at a Big Four firm. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act provides that an audit committee must include a financial expert, which is usually the committee's chair. To be effective, I must have a direct line of communication with key financial leadership both within and outside the company. These people include the CFO, chief accounting officer, and head of internal controls, as well as the external auditor. Communicating directly with the management team facilitates my understanding of whether they have effective controls in place to flag issues and are setting the right tone at the top.

Or share your skills with not-for-profits: CPAs can bring great value to any organization's board because of their leadership and project management skills, as well as their networks. A CPA can provide financial expertise to assist the organization in its donor funds management and in meeting its donors' due-diligence requirements. Also, your network is more valuable to a not-for-profit than you might realize. It connects the organization with sources of funds and in-kind contributions and brings more visibility to its mission and activities.

Silicon Valley isn't unique: For instance, adjacent San Francisco, where I am an advisory board member for startup BIG Controls, is becoming a new Silicon Valley where Millennials go, hoping to work at a small company and make changes quickly. But replicating these areas' flourishing innovation cultures takes commitment, creativity, and money. An innovative culture has two mandatory elements—entrepreneurship and a desire to take risks to shake up the status quo. Some cities, such as Austin, Texas; New York; and Boston, are creating cultures of entrepreneurship by attracting experienced risk takers. Some state and local governments are also providing capital seed and other incentives to attract companies.

Other cities stake their claims: Because Silicon Valley has been so successful, it easily draws those with ideas and talent. That success can lead to problems, however, such as exorbitant housing costs, and less pricey cities may look more appealing to young risk takers. For instance, in Austin, which has seen a rise in innovation culture in the last five years, several Silicon Valley-headquartered companies have increased their presence, including Apple, Google, and Oracle. In these ways, other areas of the country will gradually become pockets of innovation.

—As told to Amy Krasnyanskaya, J.D., a freelance writer in Cary, N.C.

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