The Last Word: Teresa Mason and Sandra L. Collins


Collins, Mason & Co. LLP
Oakland, Calif.

My mother, Sandra Collins, and I make up a mother-daughter CPA firm. It’s been a lot of fun working together. We each bring something different to the table.

As I was growing up, accounting was the last thing I wanted to do. But after high school, I worked for a small engineering firm and started to realize what it was to be a CPA and the difference it could make for small business clients to have good advice from someone they trusted.

I went into the profession because I realized it’s all about people. That’s really what sparked my curiosity and makes me excited to come to work every day. And by the time I had joined my mom’s firm, we were not only mother and daughter but good friends.

As chair of the California Society of CPAs, I’ve had a chance to visit almost all of our chapters here in California. The area that I practice in is mainly taxation and small business accounting. Being chair has given me an opportunity to learn more about what other professionals are doing in areas like litigation support, computer technology consulting and international accounting.

Last year, I was appointed to the AICPA Women’s Initiative Executive Committee. I don’t approach it as a gender issue; it’s more of a business-sustainability issue. Depending on which survey you look at, only about 17% of the partners in CPA firms are women. But we represent 60% of the graduates coming out of college. So we’ve got to find a way to bring the women into the partner role and keep them engaged in the profession.

This is a wonderful career for women to be involved in because you do have a lot of choices. Rather than saying, “OK, you want to take a couple of years off; let us know when you’re ready to come back to work,” a lot of firms now are staying involved with people taking a break. So when people are ready to come back to the office, they’re still in touch with what’s going on.

At first, it was somewhat difficult to separate the parent-child relationship from the working relationship. But we’ve pretty much done that, because we’ve now been working together for over 10 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We know each other so well we can almost anticipate what the other one will say in a client or prospective client meeting. Our work ethics are very similar, too, which makes for a very consistent message to other team members.

I was the only female student in any of my accounting classes at what is now Humboldt State University. Then I became the first woman hired by a certain Big Four firm in its San Francisco office. I was in auditing for three years before I transferred into the tax department, where I really wanted to be. Clients seemed much more willing to accept advice on taxes from a female than they were on auditing and accounting.

I recall a partner at review time saying, “Well, we don’t really know how long you’re going to be here, because you’re female.” And at that time I did have a child at home. I looked at him and said, “Do you know how many people started at this firm the same time I did?” I think it was 12, and I said, “Do you know how many of those people are still with the firm?” I said, “Two, and one of them is me.” I was the only woman in that class. And he said, “I guess I can’t use that argument anymore, can I?”

Even so, I really cherish my days there, as I made lifelong friends all over the Bay Area. I see them frequently and have working relationships with several who have made my career more fulfilling and enjoyable. The training I received was invaluable as I moved on in life, and that firm has continued to improve its women’s initiatives to the point that it, along with most firms nowadays, welcomes women into the profession.


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