‘What of this should I bring back to my people?’: Highlights from ENGAGE

Hosted by Neil Amato

AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 22 emcee Jill Schlesinger, a CBS News business analyst, reviews some of the top moments from the event last week in Las Vegas. Schlesinger had conversations with keynote speakers and CPA profession leaders and has memories and knowledge to share from several of those conversations.

Journal of Accountancy content mentioned in this episode:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • A review of the sessions in which Schlesinger was the interviewer.
  • A memorable line from Krzyzewski about how he approached recruiting.
  • What struck Schlesinger about a conversation with Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA/CITP, CGMA.
  • The main theme of questions from the audience to David "Inspector Gadget" Cieslak, CPA/CITP, CGMA.
  • One aspect of in-person event attendance that resonated with Schlesinger.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Hello and welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is Neil Amato. AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 22 wrapped up last week, and so this week on the show, we're recapping some of the highlights from the event. I will speak with CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger and also touch on some news topics covered recently in the JofA. All that after this from our sponsor.

Amato: Welcome back to the podcast. Joined, as I said, by Jill Schlesinger. Jill, you've just gotten back from AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE. I'll just ask you right off, what were your first impressions?

Jill Schlesinger: I just thought it was wonderful to be at such a joyous event. It felt like not only just consistent with the overall theme, which was adapt and thrive, but also just like it was happy. People really feel so much better, the economy notwithstanding, just seeing your colleagues and hanging out with interesting people. It was really pretty amazing.

For me the highlights were the two big keynote interviews that I conducted, one with Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, and the other with Carla Harris, the managing director and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley. I think those were two really motivating, interesting sessions.

So many people came up to me and had great things to say. Then, of course, also I just loved the fact that we were able to do our own mini studio, the live studio at ENGAGE, which was really great. I was able to speak with Kimberly Ellison-Taylor and Dave Cieslak.

It was just really a fun, off-the-cuff kind of a chance to interview folks who are really interesting and have a lot to say.

Amato: Those are some really good names. Carla Harris was a recent guest on our podcast. Kimberly Ellison-Taylor has been on a few times. I have aimed to have David Cieslak on. Yes, maybe someday we'll get Coach K to come on the podcast, but he is obviously in demand.

I will ask, I'll start actually with that conversation. We did cover [Krzyzewski's] session with you remotely. What is it about his presence or anything he said that maybe stood out to you?

Schlesinger: Well, I thought what was intriguing to me was the way he described his ideas around leadership and what it meant to be a leader and the idea that you have to build a team that has a value system, integrity, respect, courage, trust, selflessness, loyalty, duty.

A lot of this did really come out of his service in the Army. He did go to West Point. I thought that was really interesting to hear him talk about that. He's been known to say leadership is not being a dictator. He said that his form of dictatorship was really to just build the concept of this team, that we were all in it together and then also, of course, holding people accountable.

He thinks that holding people accountable is essential. One of my favorite things that he did talk about was the way he recruits. If you think about, like, how we all have to recruit. We all have different pressures. He said, "When I look at recruiting, I look at three things. Talent" — and he says, "Really that's the easiest thing, because it's very easy to understand that the people who I'm recruiting have technical skills." Then he said respect for academics. The way that he talked about that is maybe, the analogy for us in the business world is to make sure that you have somebody who has balance. You're not just a player, you're not just an accountant, and you're not just a consultant. You've got something else in your life. He said, the third thing was character and the in-depth study of how a recruit listens to the coach, how they have empathy. He says, "I recruit for character. I don't recruit characters." And I love that so much.

Amato: That's a great one. Carla Harris is someone you have known before you had the opportunity to have that discussion with her. When I had her on, we talked about things such as powerful presence and performance currency. I take it maybe those topics came up as well in your conversation with her?

Schlesinger: Yes, they did. I also think what was so cool is that, listen, Carla has this amazing career. She talked about some of the things that happened to her, and when we did the Q&A after, we drew upon the eight pearls that she provided, which is the pearls of leadership: authenticity, building trust, defining what success looks like, creating other leaders, diversity, innovation, inclusivity, and courage.

We're building on that. What I found to be quite interesting about her is to hear how she has struggled just to do things like letting go of some of the tasks and how she really needed to figure out that so much of leadership is built upon trust and that trust was way more important than she really understood.

I also love the idea that she said that courage for her means that you have to be willing to call a thing a thing. You have to be willing to say to somebody, "Yeah, you know what? This is bad news, and this is what the bad news is." I find that to be really interesting truly because I think that's something that gives you almost like a super power if you realize that.

Amato: Had you ever met Kimberly Ellison-Taylor before you talked to her at ENGAGE?

Schlesinger: Yes, I have. I've met her last year also at ENGAGE. I love her, and I got to tease her for basically taking my place for the women's event in the fall. But one of the interesting things that Kimberly and I were able to chat about was a lot about some of the diversity initiatives.

It's funny because I talked about that both with Coach K and with Carla. Kimberly, Coach K, and Carla both reiterated just how important the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion connects to leadership. If you think about equity, that you really have to become an influential leader.

If you have a team that has diversity of opinion and diversity of look and diversity of education and all that really does come into play, and I think that that's a very interesting way to proceed at this moment in time, that we all have to lean into the idea that we are not as strong alone as we are with a diverse group of people.

I think Kimberly really does inhabit that thought process.

Amato: Anything from your conversation with David Cieslak that you'd like to highlight?

Schlesinger: I think that Dave is super smart, and we had a really good time because we're able to talk about some of the things that get him jazzed. If you're getting the tech guy jazzed, that definitely speaks to me. What I think was really helpful for me was a conversation about what's going on with this idea of Web 3.0 and the metaverse and what we need to speak about, what we need to think about.

The most questions that we got from the audience for Dave were issues around security and issues about how do you know when to upgrade and how do you know when to toss the old system out and get something new. There was a real emphasis on how Dave thinks that, "Listen, you got to make this investment in technology, and you shouldn't be waiting until the bitter end to adopt."

We talked a little bit about crypto and what that might mean in the future for many people. I really do think that he opened my eyes to some extent about some of the things around innovation and how you build a team that can be innovative. When you really need to actually have the goods to do that and what are the goods to do that? I think the goods to do that are probably your technological solutions in many respects.

Amato: Yeah. He definitely has a brand; Inspector Gadget is at least his session title, if not his actual unofficial title at the conference. Any other final takeaways you have from your time at ENGAGE?

Schlesinger: Well, I think that for me, being around really smart people for a period of time is really interesting. I think the idea of taking a deep breath and getting out of your routine and if that means physically removing yourself is really important. Now one of the things that Dave mentioned when we were talking really did ring true to me as we were going through the days.

It's really nice to have the space, the emotional space, the time and the energy to disconnect from whatever you were doing. That can actually create some pathways to thinking about things differently. I think that that might be something that really came away from this whole event for me, which is, when I'm in a session, when I'm talking to someone like Coach K, when I'm talking to part of the Town Hall when I was talking with the brass of AICPA.

You're so focused, and you're so on top of your game because you don't have all those other distractions. I think that's something that we may give short shrift to, but it just resonated with me throughout the days of ENGAGE that you're just talking to somebody. Doesn't mean that you're not going to go out and take a break and check your email.

But how you can be so focused on people or how you can really gain a lot of knowledge just by listening to some of the folks that you don't get to see all the time. You maybe talk to them via Zoom, but that you have a different level of engagement and focus when you can really be in someone's physical presence. I thought that was really cool.

Amato: Yeah. You certainly, you don't just learn from the keynote speakers, you learn from all the people that you're around. You interact with, either you meet new or you reengage with those people that you haven't seen in a while. Yeah, it's a good point.

Schlesinger: Yeah. I think that and it's really cool to find out about what's going on in the profession. There was a guy who is from Fidelity who was talking about some of the issues. His name is Scott Orr, and that was for the financial planners in the house, the PFP track.

His name is Scott Orr from Fidelity. He was doing a big-time presentation. Here's all the slides. It was fun for me at the end to say, "OK, look, I may not be as smart as this guy, but I know what you guys are all thinking which is what of this information do I care about for my clients?"

I feel like sometimes for me remembering that was my old role as a certified financial planner as a money manager that you can have all the data in the world. You can have all the numbers in the world, but what does the story you're telling your clients because they need to know that story.

What do they need to prepare for? I'm talking to you on a day where we just found out that inflation has reached a new 40-year high, and your clients they know about that. They know that that's the case. What do they need to know about that? What is it that they need to be prepared for?

It was fascinating to really talk to the room and say, "Hey, tell me, what is it that you're telling your clients?" I think sharing that information is really, really valuable. That you go through this whole process with your cohort and you go through, and you watch an awesome speaker like Carla or Coach K, and you say, what of this should I bring back to my people? What is it?

Amato: CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger. Thank you very much.

Schlesinger: My pleasure.

Amato: I mentioned Carla Harris and her appearance on the Journal of Accountancy podcast, along with our article on Mike Krzyzewski's keynote session at ENGAGE. We will link to both of those items in the show notes for this episode.

In other news, the JofA's Bryan Strickland has coverage of a survey by global consulting firm Protiviti about rising Sarbanes-Oxley compliance costs. The number of companies spending $2 million or more on SOX compliance is on the rise, and there is room to grow related to using technology tools to automate some aspects of that compliance, according to the survey report.

That article will be posted in the show notes, along with one from last week that still bears mention this week: The IRS issued an update to the standard mileage rate, the third such midyear increase in the past 14 years. The adjustment is in recognition of recent increases in fuel costs. Normally, the adjustment is made annually. So, effective July 1, the standard rate for business travel will be 62.5 cents per mile, up from 58.5 cents per mile.

Also, Paul Bonner has coverage of the Senate Finance Committee hearing from small business owners on the burdens and costs imposed on those businesses in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court Wayfair decision related to sales tax. We'll post a link to that article as well in the show notes, or you can find all of that news on journalofaccountancy.com.

That's our episode for Thursday, June 16. Thanks for listening to the JofA podcast.