Maxene Bardwell, CPA/CITP

Assistant inspector general for audit for WSSC Water

 Maxene Bardwell, CPA/CITP, is assistant inspector general for audit for WSSC Water, which provides water services for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.
Maxene Bardwell, CPA/CITP, is assistant inspector general for audit for WSSC Water, which provides water services for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.

‘Remember that people are watching …’

Internal audit offers a rewarding path for CPAs: In a nutshell, internal audit literally places you inside an organization as a business consultant. Internal auditors are not finger pointers; we help organizations achieve their objectives. Internal audit helps save costs. It helps streamline processes and makes them more effective. It gives auditors a holistic view of organizational operations from top to bottom. Often, our clients don't see how what they do impacts other operations. Internal auditors have that big-picture view and can help. To me, it's a very rewarding field of accounting because it helps others.

Being an effective leader: In addition to leading by example, a good leader must also be a good follower. As leaders, we don't have all the answers, and we need to seriously consider ideas expressed by others. I think leaders also need to be willing to do the heavy lifting. Never feel you're so far removed that you can't interact with individuals at all levels. Effective leaders should have at least one mentor. Don't take your mentor's advice for granted. Act on the advice given, and you'll benefit from the impact it can have on your career and life. Be empathetic as well. Being concerned about the well-being of your peers and those you lead is important, especially during these trying times. They all have a life outside the office that affects what they do on the job.

Be your authentic self: I think being an African American female executive who wears her hair naturally has been the greatest challenge in my career. I wear my hair in a style called locks. African American women who wear their hair natural in the workplace have often faced discrimination. It doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a businesswoman. I overcame that challenge by choosing to be my authentic self. I believe I am not my hair. I'm the architect of my own brand, and if I'm not accepted, then that's not the place for me.

Advice to young CPAs: Soft skills are essential today for young CPAs. You can be the best numbers cruncher and analyst, but if you can't communicate the results in an effective manner, your hard work goes unnoticed. Interpersonal skills are important as well. You won't likely work in isolation no matter what accounting career path you choose. Learn how to work well with others, network, and build relationships. Patience is also important. You may want to be an executive from day one, but no one usually walks in the door and steps into that role. Be willing to learn the ropes from others who already achieved that level. Finally, remember that people are watching. As CPAs, we're held to a higher standard because we're viewed as trusted advisers. Be careful, for example, about what you post on social media. You never know who's watching or where it might be shared.

  • Favorite movie: Imitation of Life, costarring Juanita Moore and Lana Turner. It reminds me that we  should never be ashamed of our family roots and to give our loved ones (especially our mothers) the attention, care, and love they deserve while they are alive.
  • Favorite technology or app: Waze. I am directionally challenged, and Waze helps me get from point A to point B fairly easily.
  • Favorite item to keep on your desk: A dish of candy, preferably mints.

— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Virginia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at

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