MIA THOMAS, CPA
Chastang, Ferrell, Sims & Eiserman, LLC
One of my mottoes in life is “Make a Difference.” Volunteering in the community and being active professionally are important to me. I’m on the task force for financial literacy in Florida; we started a program with the Orlando Chamber of Commerce to help communicate the federal Family Tax Credit for low-income families. Low-income families often just don’t think about filing tax returns. I’m also the Florida Institute of CPAs high school coordinator chair and teach Junior Achievement.
Our profession has evolved so much. I try to look at the big picture, at the wealth-management side. I tell young people it’s not just about recording history; it’s about planning for the future. I feel like I help people with their businesses, take care of the financial side so they can concentrate on what they do best.
When I was 13, I job-shadowed a CPA and from that moment I wanted to be one. Now I have students job-shadow me.
I first started talking to children about financial literacy about 10 years ago. With the younger children the goal is to get them intrigued with math, so I talked about tangible things. One time I brought in green ledger paper and we did hypothetical situations. They loved working on the columns. Now I’m involved with high school students. I made a presentation on Sarbanes-Oxley; I worked with a teacher on the AICPA simulation, where we studied the financial statements of Nike and Reebok. Teachers only touch the surface. Having an actual professional in the classroom gives students a much better idea of what CPAs do.
About 85% of the members of our firm graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. One common thing among the partners is our community outreach. That helps us market ourselves. So my advice to young CPAs is to get involved in your community. Volunteer for things. Serve on boards.
I went on a trade mission with Enterprise Florida that accompanied Jeb Bush, and met with legislators in Tallahassee through the board of governors of our chamber of commerce. I’m not very political, but I feel strongly that we need to be aware of what our legislators are doing, to keep up with pending legislation and how it might affect our profession and our clients.
I started an official mentor program, where every member of the firm has a senior person who mentors his or her personal and professional development. Every conversation is confidential. It’s important to be able to talk in a casual way with someone you feel is actually looking out for you. We go out to lunch every six weeks or so and talk about long-term goals, where you want to be a few years down the road. I’m often asked about maternity leave; I have a teenager, a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I was a partner when the two little ones were born. People from the firm dropped off paperwork for me to work on at the hospital. I’m not a workaholic; I love to work, and my family understands that.
The work/life balance is the biggest issue facing CPAs. Our firm is very family-friendly; all the senior partners are in their 40s. We work 35 hours a week in the fall, 45 during tax season. We know we’re working nine-hour days now, but come September we’ll work only seven, and we can go play golf while it’s still light out.
Hobbies? I’m a senior partner in a CPA firm, and I have three kids. But I do love golf.