2021 Virtual Convention Recap: Rebuilding, Rebounding and Rebranding After the Pandemic

by Kathleen Hoffelder, NJCPA Senior Content Editor – June 24, 2021
2021 Virtual Convention Recap: Rebuilding, Rebounding and Rebranding After the Pandemic

The NJCPA 2021 Virtual Convention brought together more than 40 speakers, 400 attendees and 22 sponsors over four days. Discussions centered on what initial hurdles business owners, CFOs and controllers, accounting firm managing partners and other accounting executives had to surmount due to the pandemic, what new efficiencies they put in place and where they have landed since. CPAs provided examples of how they led the charge in keeping their clients afloat, managing supply chains, dealing with budget challenges and being flexible with staff. The sessions also focused on the transformations that are occurring in accounting, new hiring trends that are surfacing and what accountants need to know from a technology and professional development perspective to be truly successful five, 10 or 15 years from now.

NJCPA Immediate Past President Alan D. Sobel, CPA, CGMA, managing member of the firm at SobelCo, LLC, was on hand with incoming President Harry P. Wills III, CPA, CGMA, partner at Bowman & Company LLP, along with NJCPA CEO and Executive Director Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA, CGMA, and Chief Operating Officer Theresa Hinton to kick off the Convention with a professional issues update, while Don Meyer, CAE, chief marketing officer at the NJCPA, was the Convention host.  

Speakers informed attendees about the need to be forward thinking in their careers, with clients and customers and at their organizations. Keynote speaker Luke Williams, executive director at the W.R. Berkley Innovation Lab and clinical associate professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at NYU, spoke about the need for change due to technological advancements. “When fast is faster, being slower to change makes you really slow,” he explained.

Realizing that the accounting profession offers many opportunities if people are open to change, Williams said, “Finance is one of those industries with low dynamic capability, but it can always be improved.” Accountants need to alter their way of thinking about their careers, he explained, such as thinking about ROL (return on learning) versus ROI (return on investment). He recommends putting new ideas against current ideas to stimulate dialogue, asking attendees “how quickly can you reorganize around a new idea?”

Leading by Example

CPAs and other accounting professionals learned first-hand what qualities were needed to lead successfully during the pandemic and going forward. Keynote speaker Marc Staut, shareholder and chief innovation and information officer at Boomer Consulting, reiterated the importance of listening to dissenting opinions. He told attendees that problems will exist in an organization if there’s too narrow a leadership group at the top of an organization and there’s no innovation committee. With such a committee, he noted, innovation has a chance to be born. He reminded participants that “innovation is about anticipating what clients and staff want three, five or 10 years out, not just reacting.”

Garnering staff input is precisely what assisted Unionwear in the height of the pandemic, according to Mitch Cahn, president of Unionwear and a panelist at the Convention. After the event supplier and hat producer had most of its orders cancelled abruptly in 2020, Cahn said that his company got to work immediately in calling hospitals to see how they could switch to make personal protective equipment (PPE). “I wanted to involve everybody since things that I think are great ideas are not always great ideas. My staff will tell me I have a history of hiring people who are not ‘yes’ people to me. They will tell me when my ideas are bad. That’s the only way to operate a business,” said Cahn. After Zoom calls every day and hearing from his purchasing, engineering, inventory and sales departments, they worked out a plan.

Before the pandemic, when Unionwear had 17 presidential clients, an Olympic team to supply and it had increased its staff to about 175 — its largest amount ever — Cahn explained that their biggest problem was finding enough sellers. “It was a disadvantage at the time. But, in retrospect, it was an advantage that we got hit really quickly, really early with the cancellations of the events,” explained Cahn. When the pandemic shut down businesses, he noted, “We were in full-on survival mode. This could wipe us out. I could not keep a staff of 175 around all summer without any work. It will put us out of business.” He said they had to immediately react to what was going on in the world — and they did.

The Way Forward

Another keynote speaker, Barry C. Melancon, CPA, CGMA, president and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), noted the many ways accountants have pivoted to deliver value during uncertainty — from offering business relief and remote auditing to digital transformation. “Innovation, the ability to cut through the perplexity and find the way forward in a relatively simple way is needed in the accounting profession,” he said.

Amanda Wilkie, PMP, consultant at Boomer Consulting and a keynote speaker at the Convention, addressed the need to “accelerate and build capacity at your firm.” It’s best to have both effective processes that will improve efficiency and “optimized technology” working together to truly be successful. One without the other, she explains, will not provide the best kind of growth.

James C. Bourke, Jr., CPA, CITP, CFF, CGMA, partner and managing director of advisory services and global technology and advisory leader at Withum and a keynote speaker at the Convention, stressed the use of technological advancements to grow accounting practices. “CPAs cannot advise clients if they are not practicing it themselves,” he added, noting the need to identify those technologies that are driving growth in new service offerings. Successful firms, he said, are able to add value for, and derive additional revenue from, existing clients.

Mark your calendar for the 2022 NJCPA Annual Convention taking place June 14 to 17 at the Borgata in Atlantic City.