Anoop Natwar Mehta knows a thing or two about perseverance.
A first-generation Indian immigrant, Mehta, the 2022-2023 chair of the board of directors of the AICPA, had to adapt to a new culture and language as a teenager. He worked his way up the ranks from intern to CFO to president of science, engineering, and information technology analytics company Science Systems and Applications Inc. (SSAI) in Lanham, Md., spending more than 41 years with the company before taking on a role as chief strategist at aerospace firm Analytical Mechanics Associates (AMA) in the Hampton Roads, Va., area.
Along the way, he learned what a rewarding career accounting can be — and he plans to spend his tenure as chair helping young people understand all it has to offer.
As chair, Mehta looks forward to giving back to society and the profession by speaking to students in high schools, community colleges, and universities about the wealth of opportunities that can arise with an accounting degree. "I'll do whatever I can to help the next generation," he said.
During his tenure as chair, Mehta will focus on three key areas: helping others grow to reach their potential; diversifying the pipeline of incoming accountants; and preserving trust in the profession.
He views accountants as having the ability to guide businesses and clients through turbulent times. "As I reflect on these last few years and anticipate the coming disruptions we face," he said in his inaugural speech, "I see our profession steadily and enthusiastically taking the helm to guide people to a brighter future."
Accounting expands possibilities
Mehta doesn't want students to feel unnecessary pressure to follow one path for the rest of their lives, and he wants them to know that accounting is a profession that embraces the fact that a person's interests and abilities change as they grow.
He views the profession as one where individuals can take a "lattice approach" to their careers. That term refers to vertical, horizontal, and diagonal movement in professional development. The accounting profession, Mehta said, allows a person to focus on a specific area of accounting, build upon it, and then expand to another area of interest.
He wants to showcase the many paths to a successful accounting career, including AICPA & CIMA Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners, during which apprentices receive career development and mentoring support while pursuing the CGMA designation.
Accounting expands possibilities, he said, because an accountant is a trusted adviser, and the CPA license evokes respect. He wants to convey to students that "if you're a trusted adviser who upholds integrity and ethics, clients will seek your counsel and you will be successful," he said.
During his tenure, Mehta will also focus on CPA Evolution, a joint initiative of the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy that will lead to a new CPA licensure model in 2024. Mehta cautions, "If we think that the CPA will maintain its relevancy without changing, then we will watch a profession lose its relevance. CPA Evolution will help us make this profession appealing to future CPAs from all walks of life."
Mehta is committed to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession, and he believes that different people, cultures, and perspectives enhance the ability to solve complex challenges.
"We must showcase diversity in the profession so that everyone can see a place for themselves" within it, Mehta said. His hope is that in five to 10 years, the profession is collectively seen as diverse and inclusive. "To attract top talent at our firms and businesses, we need to reflect the world," he said.
During his tenure at SSAI, he and colleague Mauricio Peredo, Ph.D., sought to help diverse employees grow in the organization (see the sidebar, "An Encouraging Role Model," at the end of this article). Now a chief scientist at AMA, Peredo spoke fondly of his time working with Mehta at SSAI.
"Anoop doesn't seek to be the loudest in the room, and he treats all colleagues as humans, not as employees," he recalled. Mehta, he said, wanted discussions to include people of different backgrounds and disciplines because a range of voices and different perspectives can lead to stronger solutions.
Together, Mehta and Peredo, then COO of SSAI, spearheaded efforts to diversify the company's leadership team and workforce through mentoring and internal promotions, as well as staff recruitment. Between 2016-2019, women in leadership roles increased from 11% to 31%, and leadership roles occupied by people from a minority population increased from 14% to 26%. Mehta is particularly proud of moving this needle within three years' time.
Mehta aims to take these lessons learned and encourage organizations to establish and measure DEI initiatives and to provide more flexibility to staff, especially to women, who he noted have been more likely to leave the workforce during the Great Resignation.
"Driving diversity is a journey," he noted, describing it as "not a one-year platform, but a constant commitment."
"Culturally diverse collaboration is critical," he continued, "and technology allows us to unify people around the world."
Persevering to achieve the dream
As a child in the state of Telangana, in south-central India, Mehta observed the dedication and perseverance of his family. His late father, Natwar G. Mehta, was a chartered accountant who worked for a firm and occupied a place of respect in society. Mehta noticed repeatedly during his childhood how people treated his father with esteem, and he would laugh with delight when his dad would say, "Ah! I did his tax return" in response to seeing a famous person on TV.
Mehta's mother, Suman Mehta, also exemplified strength to the children as she pursued her passion, completing her degree and becoming a teacher while taking care of the family and home.
As Mehta's father progressed in his career, the family moved from India to Tanzania in East Africa and then to the United States. Growing up in three countries on three continents instilled in Mehta the importance of embracing diversity and the power that different perspectives offer when people collectively work toward a solution.
Immigrating to Maryland in the early 1970s presented Mehta some challenges during his adolescent years, and he noticed that "there weren't many people who looked like me." Being viewed as "other" was not easy, he said. But Mehta found a way to turn this challenge into an opportunity: He broke down social barriers while volunteering at his school and in his community.
His high school years offered new opportunities, and one teacher in particular, Mr. Miller, made Mehta feel excited about his academic journey and feel connected to his peers. Miller opened the door for a new opportunity by allowing Mehta and a few classmates to remain under his tutelage for independent accounting studies. While this may have been a small gesture on Miller's part, his mentorship and vote of confidence inspired young Mehta and made a lasting impact. This is one reason that Mehta feels that all of us in the profession need to inspire the younger generation and support their journey into the profession and throughout their career.
While Mehta began college confident that he would go into the accounting profession, his journey to become a CPA took significant time and dedication. He didn't pass the CPA Exam on the first or second try, and he began to doubt his career trajectory.
On his 30th birthday, his wife, Bina A. Mehta, asked if he was satisfied with the current state of his career. This question served as a catalyst to reignite his determination, and he decided to try the exam one more time.
He attributes his tenacity to the emotional strength and discipline he gained through martial arts, along with support from his family. And the confidence boost he gained in achieving a black belt was just the lift he needed to sit again for the exam. In 1991, he passed.
"You are never too old to pursue your dreams, and those three little letters — CPA — after your name open doors," Mehta said.
Preserving trust in the profession
Trust is the cornerstone of accounting, and accountants must engender trust in their character and daily work.
One way accountants are increasingly being called upon to provide assurance is in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) arena.
Mehta is passionate about the environment, and focusing on ESG efforts excites him. At SSAI, and now at AMA, he enjoys working with engineers, researchers, programmers, and scientists. He feels privileged to work with actual rocket scientists, and his passion about protecting our planet has grown after observing weather patterns and seeing images of Earth from space.
He views the accounting profession as occupying a critical role in promoting ESG initiatives because accountants know the importance of including financial and nonfinancial data when reporting on business operations.
Mehta encourages fellow accountants to hold corporations accountable to their stakeholders and incorporate clear standards and measurements so investors can confidently understand the reports they read. Accountants "protect trust in the corporate responsibility space," he said, and are "driving a new normal in corporate responsibility."
Another way accountants engender trust is by advising on risk-based approaches for effective quality management systems. The Dynamic Audit Solution, a joint project of the AICPA, major firms, and technology providers, is aimed at creating an innovative cloud platform that would allow finance professionals to transform the financial statement audit. "The new Dynamic Audit Solution enables us to use the power of technology to transform the financial statement audit," Mehta said.
The AICPA also developed the SOC for Supply Chain framework as a way of helping organizations provide more transparency around their supply chains. "We drive confidence in supply chains by helping manufacturers identify, assess, and address supply chain risks," Mehta said. "This framework helps us perform attestation engagements on these efforts."
Businesses are more secure because CPAs and CGMA designation holders can incorporate technology for risk mitigation, cybersecurity, and effective internal controls.
Stepping forward together
Mehta believes that accounting and finance professionals have a role to play in helping others grow personally and in their careers, in diversifying the accounting field, and in preserving trust in the profession. He invites accounting and finance practitioners to step forward with him, stating, "It is our responsibility to represent the opportunities the profession has given us and to provide these same opportunities to others."
Mehta steps into the role of chair with enthusiasm and views challenges as opportunities. And as everyone who has had the pleasure of volunteering with, being coached by, or working with him knows: Anoop Natwar Mehta does not waste opportunities.
Anoop Natwar Mehta, CPA, CGMA
Term as AICPA chair began: May 17, 2022.
Title: Chair, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA); chief strategist, Analytical Mechanics Associates (AMA).
Location: Clarksville, Md.
Education: Bachelor of Science, Accounting, University of Maryland.
Family: Wife, Bina A. Mehta; daughter Anisha and son-in-law Nakul Vasudeva; daughter Nikita and son-in-law Robert; grandchildren, Riyan and Anika; mom, Suman N. Mehta; father, the late Natwar G. Mehta; brother, Ajay N. Mehta; sister, Jaimini Erskine.
Fun fact: I have a seventh-degree black belt.
Best advice you were given: From my father: Live within your means.
Hobbies: Martial arts, golf, and cooking.
Favorite musicians: Mukesh, Billy Joel, Eagles.
An encouraging role model
Anoop Natwar Mehta, the 2022–2023 AICPA chair, has a lot of practice inspiring others
As his friend and colleague Mauricio Peredo, Ph.D., chief scientist at Analytical Mechanics Associates in the Hampton Roads, Va., area, reflected, “He was always extremely supportive of me. I started as deputy program manager; I’m now chief scientist at a leading aerospace firm. I achieved all of this with his encouragement and support. Not just in words, but in action.”
Rakesh G. Shah, CPA, owner of Desai & Shah, PC, CPAs, in Germantown, Pa., has also known Mehta for 25 years. In the recent past, when Shah held an online seminar for 400 clients, Mehta gave the closing remarks, offering encouragement and guidance for 20 minutes. And in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Mehta asked Shah to join him at a food bank so they could chat while organizing and distributing food to community members.
“Anoop shares knowledge and gives time, even though he will be given nothing in return,” Shah said. “He’s my accounting role model — my accounting guru.” (Mehta, in turn, extends gratitude to Shah’s partner, the late Raman R. Desai, for the support and encouragement he provided Mehta when he first began his career.)
Heidi Schweingruber, Ph.D., director for the Board on Science Education at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in the Washington, D.C., area, knows Mehta as a friend, teacher, and a leader in philanthropic work designed to pique children’s interest in STEM. Like Rakesh Shah, she is very familiar with Mehta’s encouragement.
Schweingruber met Mehta at a taekwondo studio 16 years ago when she signed her son up for karate classes. Her then 5-year-old felt apprehensive about the class, so she signed herself up, too — undeterred by the fact that she was pregnant. As a volunteer instructor, Mehta thoughtfully taught the mother-son duo.
“Anoop teaches in a very supportive manner. Even when offering corrections, he would say, ‘You can do this,’ ” Schweingruber chuckled as she remembered. “In fact, when I was struggling to achieve my black belt, he noticed my fatigue and said to me, ‘You can do this ... and this is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.’ ”
“Anoop wants people to challenge themselves, and he never hesitates to give encouragement along the way,” she said.
About the author
Ashlin Minogue is a senior content writer at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA. To comment on this article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.