Reflecting on an icon

Dec. 18, 2017  |  Faye Hayhurst, CPA

On Dec. 6, the CPA profession lost an icon -- Howard Guthmann, formerly of the Wilkerson Guthmann CPA firm in Arden Hills. Howard was 95, and had worked his entire professional life (which spanned an incredible 73 years) at one firm. I was privileged to work for, and with, him for more than 13 years of that time.

I was a new CPA, not long out of college, when I was hired by Howard’s firm. He was already past age 60 and had a long list of accomplishments, awards, honors and clients. During my first week of employment, we honored Howard’s 40th anniversary of joining the firm. Howard gave a short speech at the celebratory luncheon. What stood out to me, what I still remember all these years later, was his directive to all of us: “The most important client we have is the one you’re working on right now.”

Those words helped shaped my own professional career. What they said to me is that you treat everyone who has entrusted you with their business as the most important client when you are doing work for them. A client may need to be terminated for a variety of reasons, but they should never receive substandard effort. Being a professional is about doing your best, giving your best, being your best -- always. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on the smallest pro bono engagement or your largest, most-prized client: they should all experience being valuable to you, their CPA.

During my years knowing Howard, he wasn’t the easiest boss to work for. He was invariably able to point out faulty thinking or conclusions. He was known to grill staff people on why they did something. He challenged lazy writing and had no tolerance for foolish mistakes.

But those things that made him not easy to work for were also what made him a great leader, teacher and shaper of young minds. You had to bring your “A game” to work for Howard. Isn’t that a high tribute in and of itself?

At Howard’s memorial service, I heard that the saying that so impressed me at the long-ago luncheon was something he applied to every part of his life. Whether it was work, community service, spending time with family or any other activity, Howard’s life code was to have everyone he interacted with feel that they had his complete attention. In today’s distracted environment, that is becoming a lost art.

I have been blessed to work with many colleagues I’ve admired throughout my career, and I’m thankful for them all. But Howard Guthmann, who was larger than life to me at the outset of my career, set the bar high and lived up to it.

Now that’s something we can all aspire to.

What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what. Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstances but choice. Choose to live a life that matters.  – Michael Josephson

Topics: Member profiles

Faye Hayhurst, CPA

Faye Hayhurst is the MNCPA director of finance and administration. She is committed to using numbers to tell relevant stories, although she also employs words, charts and occasionally clothing to communicate a message. While some have questioned her about the pressures of being the CPA for the MNCPA, Faye considers presenting financial information to fellow CPAs a dream job. Outside of storytelling with numbers, Faye enjoys directing her church's handbell choir, visiting national parks and other scenic places, and checking out the chocolate products at Trader Joe's. Faye can be reached at 952-885-5540 or

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