NJCPA Convention a Success

by Kathleen Hoffelder, NJCPA Senior Content Editor – June 21, 2024
NJCPA Convention a Success

The 2024 NJCPA Convention & Expo, themed “Your Story. Your Success,” informed, entertained and connected more than 600 attendees with storytelling at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City on June 11-14.

Keynote Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA.CITP, CGMA, CIA, CISA, CEO of KET Solutions and former chair of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), was on hand to remind CPAs and other accounting professionals to be resilient in striving for goals. Using her childhood story from inner-city Maryland, she touted the need to have a “plan of resilience” to move forward beyond the numbers involved in one’s daily functions and “think about our purpose.”

In such busy times, she told attendees to “put ourselves first” and that not everything is an emergency. Questions she asked attendees to think about were, “What is it you want to be next?” and “What’s our governance plan?”

Keynote speaker Sandra Bodin-Lerner, MA, owner of Be Compelling! LLC, explained that, as businesspeople, “we frequently speak in very vague terms, challenging to get communication across.”  Instead, CPAs and accounting professionals would be better able to tell their story and understand their clients and customers by utilizing “effective listening” or understanding the speaker’s emotions and what they wanted someone to take away from the conversation.

Good listening is a key part of storytelling and a valuable skill, she added, and it can be taught. “Being heard is crucial to our self-worth. Everyone wants to be understood. It’s important to matter at work,” she explained.  

Keynote Matthew Luhn, former Disney/Pixar animator, writer and director, showed attendees the power of storytelling in their everyday lives. The best stories, he noted, emit emotions in us to connect with a brand. Customers, like viewers, want to feel something and relate personally to the message, he said.

Matthew Mojica, CPA, financial reporting specialist at Prudential Financial and moderator of a panel session hosted by the NJCPA Emerging Leaders Interest Group, discussed his career story and the many directions a CPA can take in finding success. As Mojica explained, “it’s OK to say you don’t know something,” as you move along your career pathway.

Kaitlin N. Vinch, CPA, MST, a senior tax analyst at Johnson & Johnson and panelist, described her career choices as a journey. She noted that “public accounting sets you up for what you are looking for.” Vinch added, “With that in mind, you are learning and adapting at such a speed. You are bringing up those behind you and trying to learn from those ahead of you.”

Rachel Suntag, CPA, an audit and assurance manager at Deloitte, reminded attendees — who were mostly first starting out in their careers — about some of the pitfalls in not considering “the need for balance” in one’s life. For those eyeing the partner track in accounting firms, she said, “You don’t need to decide in a year or two; you have time to decide.”

Seeking Out Knowledge

In telling his story of becoming a CPA and educator, panelist Philip Sookram, CPA, MAcc, assistant professor of accounting at Saint Peter’s University and director of the M.S. in Accountancy Graduate Program, reiterated the need to “continue to be intellectually curious.” That way there is continuous learning taking place and no missed opportunities. He also suggested “be comfortable in the uncomfortable,” specifically regarding public speaking.  

Jerry Maginnis, CPA, author, independent director and chair of the Audit Committee for the Cohen & Steers Mutual Fund Complex and former KPMG audit partner, also noted the need for CPAs to have “intellectual curiosity.” He said, “the pace of change in the profession is accelerating.”

He advised using the CPA license requirement for continuing professional education (CPE) as an area to pick up more skills, not simply plow through them. “Your technical skills are the currency that will finance your career,” he added.

To Keynote John Higgins, CPA.CITP, founder and CEO of Higgins Advisory, LLC, part of the upskilling that CPAs need should include understanding how artificial intelligence (AI) can make one’s job easier. Though AI has a lot of potential, he said it also has risks. He suggested CPAs implement a plan to do the following:

  • Build an AI strategy team.
  • Establish and monitor an AI usage strategy.
  • Develop an AI knowledge base.
  • Develop a workflow automation team.

Convention speakers also cited building up one’s “people skills” as important for a successful career journey. Thomas W. Metelski, CPA, ACC, CPC, ELI-MP, owner of Jump Coaching Connections, Inc., noted that enhanced people skills (EPS) are so important to leadership that they are “almost like a commodity.” He questioned, “How do you differentiate yourself?”