Jeff White, the MNCPA's new board chair

Embracing all that life offers

| April 2017 Footnote

What led you to your nomination?

It was a complete surprise to me when I was contacted by the nominating committee. Nevertheless, I am extremely honored. I believe that the main things that led to my nomination were both my history of volunteering and active participation. I did my best not only to show up, but to add the most value I could offer. I truly believe we all have something to contribute. If you are not present or do not speak up, your unique perspective will be wasted in your own head.

What most excites you about your role in the coming year as MNCPA board chair?

I have the opportunity to continue working with a great group of professionals in my fellow board members and, along with the MNCPA staff, developing a strategic response to some of the highly important issues currently facing our profession. Also, I look forward to working at the national level with the AICPA. The governing bodies of the MNCPA and AICPA work with each other on many things that affect our profession. I mentioned a few of them in my first column.

What have you learned from previous board chairs about assuming the position? What advice have any of them given you?

During my time on the board, I have worked with five different chairs. Each one had their own unique personality. The advice I was given was to be myself, keep the mission of the organization in mind and that all will be fine. I feel validated to serve in a way that is authentic to who I am as a person and a CPA. I will bring a different perspective based on my personal experiences and insight as a person of color in a profession that is focusing on diversity and inclusion issues.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

My ethnic background is very diverse. My mother is Japanese and my father was African American (he passed away in 1987). My mom was born to first generation Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. My father was born in Alabama at a time and place where racial divides were prominent. I'm very proud of my diverse background. It gives me a unique perspective and makes me appreciate all types of ethnicities, cultures, customs, languages and religious beliefs.

Speaking of perspective, what do you see are the biggest challenges facing the accounting profession today?

Some of the biggest challenges facing the accounting profession today are:

  • Inspiring students to sit for the CPA exam and obtain their license. The pipeline of new CPAs is shrinking. Firms and companies are struggling to hire sufficient staff to serve their clients and/or internal needs.
  • Making sure the CPA credential is -- and will always be -- the gold standard. There are a lot of professional credentials popping up here and there that are trying to compete with the CPA designation. It is important to educate and communicate why the CPA credential is the most trusted, and to maintain the level of respect we have all worked hard to achieve.
  • Understanding how to navigate the constantly changing regulatory and tax landscapes. It has always been a big challenge for our profession to know if and when something has changed. Given the recent changes in Washington, D.C., I believe we will see many more changes over the next few years that will affect our clients, customers and the profession. I will work with the MNCPA to ensure we have access to the most accurate and timely information possible.
  • Increasing the diversity of the individuals entering our profession. I believe our profession needs to reflect the diversity of our nation and client base -- how it looks today, and how it will look in the future. We must figure out ways to not only attract, but to retain and assist the people we want to enter the profession with successfully obtaining the CPA credential. One of the first steps is to realize this issue will have a negative impact on our profession and firms if we do not actively address it. Another step is to educate ourselves on things like the socioeconomic issues and obstacles faced by many minority students today, and our own unconscious biases. It is most important to embrace any diversity initiative at the individual level first. For a diversity initiative to be successful at the organizational level, it must be planted, nurtured and constantly tended to by individuals who are passionate about the goals and processes of effecting change in their organization. It needs to be an intentional effort at both the individual and organizational levels.

What are some of the biggest opportunities for young CPAs today?

There's huge opportunity for a bright, young and energetic CPA. Because they have lived their whole lives surrounded by technology, I believe they have a unique perspective on business and the processes that can be used to move firms and companies forward at the fast pace needed in today's competitive marketplace. New areas such as cybersecurity, analyzing big data, the utilization of drones, and the use of artificial intelligence for automating day-to-day accounting functions are a few areas where a young CPA may want to investigate. Additionally, with the exodus of the baby boomers, many firms and companies are going to need the young CPAs to step up and assume positions of greater responsibility much quicker than in the past.

What do you like to do outside of work and why?

I love the arts: fine, performing and, of course, culinary. I'm a huge fan of impressionistic painting; my favorite museum is the Orsay in Paris. I'm always amazed at how a simple brush stroke, when viewed up close, is just a blob on a canvas. But, when you step back, you see how that one simple stroke has added so much feeling to the overall work; without it, the whole mood of the painting would be different. It reminds me that the smallest things can make the biggest differences.
I enjoy live theater and dance. There's nothing like a live performance. The music, direction, set designs and artistic performance all come together to create a temporary world where, depending on the type of performance, you escape from reality or learn about a current or historical event or issue. The theater for which I was a board member created works that addressed current social issues such as racism, child abuse, school bullying, drug and alcohol addiction, and other important social issues. I believe the arts are extremely important to society. They have a universal language as they invoke some of the most basic human thoughts and feelings. They can teach us about each other and allow us to travel to places where we might not have access.

I also enjoy cooking and baking, which leads to eating. I appreciate everything from very fine dining to street food. Because of my diverse ethnic background, I grew up experiencing many different types of foods and flavors.

I also love to travel. Unfortunately, over the past three years or so, I've been unable to enjoy that favorite pastime of mine. However, I've been putting much effort into figuring out how to get away. First on the list: visiting my mother in Kauai by the end of this month.

What brings you the most joy in life?

The thing that brings me the most joy is being able to spend time traveling with my life partner of 19 years, Javier. He has been so supportive of me. I wouldn't have accomplished as much as I have if he had not been there for me. He's my best friend, and the best partner anyone could ever have.

Additionally, spending time with family and friends brings me great joy. It doesn't matter what we're doing as long as we're all together and enjoying each other's company. We try to entertain at home as much as possible. Our families and friends are very diverse; every gathering is usually multicultural and multilingual. We love to share various foods, traditions and stories.

What else, besides accounting practices, do you enjoy learning about and why?

I love to learn about people, their cultures and languages. I particularly enjoy interacting face to face. I enjoy spending time with individuals and talking about who we are, what we like or don't like, and how we see the world similarly and differently from each other. It not only solidifies our relationships, but it also expands our knowledge and tolerance for people and customs that are different from our own. I especially enjoy talking with and learning from people who have been around longer than me (I'd say seniors, but I qualify for an AARP card myself).

Everyone has a story and everyone's story matters. I believe we can learn a lot from each other's experiences. The world is a very small place, especially if you can relate to another person who might live on the other side of the world.

What do you read, watch or listen to every day?

I usually start my mornings at the gym doing some sort of cardio workout, where I like to watch part of an action movie or foreign film on my iPad. At work, I start the day reading my daily email from the AICPA CPA Letter Daily or Accountant's World website. I used to read a lot of mystery books for pleasure, but I haven't been able to find the time the past few years.

Let's say you have a free afternoon on a Sunday. What are you doing?

Sleeping in past 5:30 a.m.! If it's summer, I'm probably working in my yard gardening or getting ready for friends to come over for a barbecue. If it's not summer, I'm most likely visiting with family or friends. Maybe barbecuing in the bad weather, too.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a CPA?

Without a doubt, my most rewarding experience has been volunteering. Both my MNCPA board work and the work I did on the AICPA Future of Learning Task Force have been very fulfilling. I had the honor of working with the AICPA executive leadership, many state societies, multinational CPA firms and corporations, as well as NASBA. It has been rewarding to see the outcome of that task force's work materialize two to three years after we convened. Changes to the CPE standards, the introduction of nano learning, the use of badges, and the innovations being deployed -- not only in the creation of CPE content, but in the delivery methods as well -- have been exciting to see.

And now, I have the esteemed honor of being the chair of my state society professional organization. Volunteering and contributing to something larger than my own personal needs and world has been the most rewarding experience for me as a CPA.