Michael Fehrman, CPA

Head of the Accounting Policy and Advisory Group–Americas at Deutsche Bank

Michael Fehrman, CPA
Photo by Stephanie Diani/AP Images

'You must look between the lines'

Providing the right answers: My job is a great mental challenge, and the work is tremendously interesting. I also get to work with a lot of very smart people. To be successful, I need to be technically competent—to be on top of new pronouncements and application of existing ones. I also need to be scrupulously honest with those who are relying on me for input. When they ask me a question, everybody wants a fast answer, but much more important than that is a correct answer.

Keep an open mind: When implementing new accounting standards, it's important to remain open-minded. For example, when the revenue recognition standard first came out, my reaction was, "Why? People understand revenue. Things work fine. Nothing's broken." I began to try to think about this standard in a different way. I realized if people approach the revenue recognition standard in the right way, maybe that will affect what they're delivering, such as performance obligations they didn't realize or aren't charging for. They may change their pricing to the benefit of their company. So it's important to keep an open mind about what you can learn. To do that, my No. 1 tip is to thoroughly understand the system or the standard before you start the implementation. Even if you have unanswered questions, know enough to know what your questions are.

Working in a global business environment: There are two keys to successfully working with partners in a global business environment. Be open to understanding others' points of view, and clearly communicate your own points of view. The ability to communicate clearly and professionally is as important as technical knowledge in the job that I do. To do that, grab all of the new experiences you possibly can. I've had the good fortune over the past few decades to work for two European banks and one U.S. bank. Put yourself in a situation where you have to communicate. When you exchange ideas with people from a different culture, you find you must look between the lines, really listen to what they're saying, and find the meaning in what they're saying.

Lifelong learning: I think it's important to view your role as a lifelong learning opportunity. My role now isn't that different in mentality from that of the large CPA firms, where if a partner has a question and he feels a first-year staff member is the best person to ask, that's who he asks. He might teach something to that staff member, or he might learn something. I've tried to keep that model in my own career in all my years since leaving public accounting. This is a great thing about my role, and a necessary thing. There's pretty much no one in the world that you can't learn something from. You'll make rapid strides if you keep that in mind.

As told to Lea Hart (lea.hart@gmail.com), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.

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