Business Bookshelf

Here are two good reads on hot issues—a professor’s look at diversity in the accounting field and a criminal-turned-investigator’s examination of fraud.

A White-Collar Profession:
African American Certified
Public Accountants Since 1921
By Theresa A. Hammond
146 pages; hardcover; $39.95
The University of North Carolina Press,
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2002

Theresa A. Hammond, PhD, the author of this history, is an associate professor of accounting and Ernst & Young Research Fellow in Diversity Studies at the Wallace E. Carroll School of Management at Boston College. She has been at the forefront of initiatives for diversification within the CPA profession, and she writes often about the status of African American accountants. Her articles have appeared in a number of professional journals (among them a September 1999 Journal of Accountancy story, “Still Seeking the Ideal,” which she co-wrote). In addition Hammond served on the AICPA minority initiatives committee from 1995 to 1998.

A White-Collar Profession relates the efforts of African Americans to become CPAs when doing so was very difficult for nonwhites; Hammond interviewed 32 of the first 100 to succeed. Their stories have a sense of immediacy that makes this book both engrossing and inspiring. This is not an “issue” book, however; it is a straightforward telling of the experiences of these pioneers that reminds us that social progress is a work in process. More has to be done to ensure that all citizens who want to become CPAs have the opportunity.

The first laws creating CPAs were passed in 1896 in New York: it took until 1921—25 years—for the first African American to become licensed. He was John W. Cromwell Jr. of Washington, D.C., a mathematics teacher who ultimately obtained a CPA license in New Hampshire. Although he had graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth and was a teacher, he could not get a job with a CPA firm in the D.C. area. The nearby states of Virginia and Maryland required work experience with a CPA firm to obtain a license, but New Hampshire’s newly enacted law did not, which permitted him to sit for the examination.

Also told is the story of Theodora E. Rutherford, a 1923 summa cum laude graduate of Howard University at age 19, who went on to become the first African American to obtain a master’s degree in accounting from Columbia University. Despite her education, she was unable to obtain a job with an accounting firm in New York. Although she never worked for a CPA firm, she finally was able to become certified when West Virginia (where she taught) changed its law to permit graduate education to substitute for the experience requirement. In 1960 she became the 58th African American CPA; it had taken her almost 40 years to jump the twin hurdles of being black and a woman in a profession that was overwhelmingly white and male.

The first African American female CPA was Mary T. Washington of Chicago. In 1943, after working for the Fuller Brush Co., she started her own CPA firm with Fuller as a client. The firm is still in existence today as Washington, Pittman and McKeever. In 1960 Lester McKeever, managing partner of the firm, became the 61st African American CPA. He has had a long history of public service, including a stint as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and was named 1991 Chicagoan of the Year.

Since our profession is about numbers, it’s of statistical interest to note that of the first 14 African American CPAs, half were from Chicago. Of the first 100, 26 came from Illinois and 15 from New York. In 1965 all new licensees were from Illinois and New York. From Cromwell’s entry into the profession in 1921 until 1959, only another 56 African American CPAs entered the profession. With the advent of the 1960s’ Great Society programs and civil rights laws, another 43 were licensed in a six-year-period.

The 100th, certified in 1965, was Bert N. Mitchell of New York—founder, chairman and CEO of Mitchell & Titus. Mitchell has served as president of the New York state society of CPAs and chairman of the New York state board of accountancy and has held other distinguished positions in the profession. (Now compare that with the fact that I, too, received my license in 1965 and my New York State CPA number is upwards of 20,000.) Today, despite recent efforts to recruit good candidates and widely diversified business, fewer than 1% of all CPAs in the United States are African Americans.

A White-Collar Profession tells other interesting stories of pioneers and the black colleges and universities they attended. Many schools did not offer accounting courses or could not obtain accreditation. Even after graduation otherwise qualified candidates had to deal with job market discrimination. Because of such difficulties, they drifted away from the accounting profession into government and academic jobs.

Hammond’s book is must reading for history buffs in the profession as well as for those who may need a little extra incentive to achieve their own goals. Every ethnic group’s story about overcoming adversity is important, but the true goal of diversity is that all CPAs should be considered first and foremost CPAs—trained professionals who offer conscientious guidance to American business.

The Art of the Steal: How to
Protect Yourself and Your Business
from Fraud, America’s #1 Crime
By Frank W. Abagnale
225 pages; paperback; $14
Broadway Books, New York, 2001

In this book, Frank W. Abagnale (recently portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie based on his first book, Catch Me If You Can ) reports on an astonishing range of methods that thieves employ to steal everything from money to credit cards to personal identities.

As a teenager Abagnale was able to successfully impersonate an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer with the use of forged or phony documents. After he was captured, he assisted the FBI in detecting fraud. During the past 25-plus years, he has become one of the world’s best-known authorities on matters involving forgery and secure documentation. He lectures at the FBI academy and is a consultant for companies that print and design checks and other documents.

Rather than draw on his own experiences in The Art of the Steal, the author details the frauds and con routines of others. It’s both appalling and enlightening to learn what approaches criminals use and how they implement them. Abagnale discusses forgery, different types of con games and falsification of documents among other areas. The book is loaded with examples and explanations of the various crimes.

Readers may recognize some of the more common frauds we read about in the news, but as soon as you think you’ve heard it all, Abagnale pulls another scam out of his vast knowledge of crime. It’s scary to learn how easy it is for someone to obtain our personal information or to steal our identities, and the book is a serious warning to all unsuspecting, trusting souls.

The author makes the point that one of the difficulties in preventing fraud is the problem of trying to predict who will steal from you. “It’s been my experience, on both sides of the law, that there is no profile of who’s a con artist or a forger,” says Abagnale. He’s seen men who were 80 years old and teenage girls commit the same types of fraud. They may have different reasons, but “most of the time it’s the people you least expect who steal from you.”

American businesses could do much more to prevent fraud, Abagnale says. For example, he points out that they will use a check design until a fraud has occurred rather than trying to prevent one by using designs that can’t be manipulated by criminals. He also says our culture, using schools and businesses—not just religious institutions—should offer ethics training. According to the author, the major fraud in the United States is check forgery and the biggest threats in the future will be cybercrime and personal identity theft.

Easy to read and engrossing, The Art of the Steal shares unsettling information that can help people and businesses protect themselves.

Stanley Person, CPA, of Person and Co., believes in reading for education and relaxation. His e-mail address is .


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