Maximo Mukelabai, CPA

Maximo Mukelabai, CPA, PC, Durham, N.C.

I was born in Zambia, raised in neighboring Zimbabwe, and came to the United States in 1995, just before my 21st birthday.


Given that I did other things before jumping into the CPA environment and getting that designation, I am your “reverse” CPA. Accounting, however, must always have been on my mind, because I have always had a certain fascination with numbers. My first inclination was to go into banking. So, beginning in 1996, I worked in banking for a number of years, ending as a branch manager.


I left banking because a friend and I saw an opportunity. In 1998, people in general had very few choices to get news, other than traditional sources. We co-founded a news service to provide an alternative place where people could get real-time information about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We worked with different newspapers, freelancers, and exclusive writers in the MENA region to acquire news localized to individual countries and sell it to businesses and news outlets, such as Reuters. Our business was going well and growing; we wanted to expand our reach and product line by bringing on more people to write. My role in our company was that of vice chairman of the board and CFO. We were in the process of talking with various investors for expansion when 9/11 happened. With that tragedy, our ability to get the capital needed was impeded. We ended up selling assets and closing our doors.


I studied a year in college in Africa in 1994 then continued earning a number of college credits while working in banking in the U.S. from 1995 to 1997. After closing our news service, I decided to return to school. In January 2002, I enrolled in North Carolina Wesleyan College as a full-time student (while working full time, also) and declared accounting as a major. By January of 2003, I was studying for the CPA exam, which I took in May and was able to pass all four parts in the same sitting. I was licensed in September 2003.


My career as a CPA has been fantastic! At the time I got my license, I was working as a budget analyst for a nonprofit in North Carolina that does reproductive health training in developing countries. My role was managing an annual budget of $17 million for activities in about 30 different countries. I left that company after three years to work for a nonprofit that supports community economic development statewide. I was vice president for financial analysis and later CFO. In 2007, I felt the entrepreneurial spirit again and stepped out on my own. My last employer—the nonprofit where I was CFO—became my firm’s first major client.


Ever since becoming a CPA I have tried to participate as an active professional. Many young professionals think, “I’ll just do my work,” but there needs to be an aspect that you are able to give back to the profession by participating actively.


In my state association I’ve been on several committees, such as the Not-For-Profit and the Minority Action committees. I was chair of the Young CPA Cabinet in 2005–2006. I’ve also been on the Speakers Bureau, which allows me to get the message out to young people about how dynamic our profession is. I’m also active in the AICPA. I was fortunate to be selected for the inaugural Leadership Academy, and I am on the Professional Liability Insurance Program Committee, as well as a member of Council. I am also active in the local community where I sit on the board for two organizations—a community health entity and a conservation entity. I am also active in my church, where I am the finance officer.


I like working with young people. Over the past seven years I have maintained contact with several students. Most of these relationships arose from a visit to their school or a presentation made concerning the value of the CPA credential. One of the longest mentoring relationships I’ve had spans four years with a gentleman who was in college when we met. He has now passed the exam and is working in industry.


We are the sum total of our experiences, and I know this is true for me. I really believe everything I have participated in has helped to bring me to where I am now. This is an incredible place to be.


—As told to Linda Segall,,

a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.

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