Betsy George, CPA

Assistant superintendent, business services, with the Ventura Unified School District in California

Betsy George, CPA, is assistant superintendent, business services, with the Ventura Unified School District in California.
Photo by Carlos Delgado/AP Images

'Approach things with that big-picture scope'

A long road to CPA: I enjoyed accounting in high school and decided to attend community college to major in accounting, but I didn't finish my associate degree. I entered the workforce, working as a temp to try to figure out what I'd be good at. I didn't realize I needed a career and stability until my mid- to late 20s. I went back to get my associate degree, then my bachelor's degree — all while working full time. I was so used to going to school at night and working during the day that I went straight to pursuing my MBA. By then I was in my early 30s, and I felt like I'd missed the boat to get my CPA. I had a lot of knowledge, but I thought when people were reviewing résumés to weed people out, not having my CPA would do it. So I did go on to earn my CPA.

Teamwork and professional growth are key: Across the organization, and particularly with our finance staff, I'm proud of the way we work together. Staff members are always willing to help each other out. I'm also proud of the way the finance staff wants to grow. I'm passionate about professional development and learning. If you don't have the knowledge, your job's not very interesting and you don't always know where you fit. The staff here wants to learn, grow, and collaborate. We all try our best.

The importance of data-driven decisions and buy-in: I'm big on having data-driven decisions. Data should guide me on which direction to go. Since I started here, we've enhanced reporting capabilities. We get data into Excel and can slice and dice, pivot, and look at trends. It helps see what we've done in the past and guides us on where to go and where we can gain efficiencies. That's something that needs to be embraced by all, and to do that, you have to include the stakeholders. To have all those people along is vital. You can get the innovation in place, but if people are resistant, it's not going to be effective.

Having input on strategy: To get to this point where I am an operational CFO, it becomes not just about looking at the numbers and financial statements but really understanding operations. When people come to you with questions about your data, you can then give it an operational perspective. Approach things with that big-picture scope — understand the industry, competitors, and your operational environment. Accountants can be so detail-oriented; it can be tough to look at the big picture. Balancing those unique skills allowed me to rise to positions where I'm able to have strategic input.

— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.

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