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Boz Bostrom

Tackling the talent pipeline

| April/May 2024 Footnote

With a personality and voice as big as his passion for accounting, Boz Bostrom, CPA, is aiming to bring his skills as an educator to lead the MNCPA as its next chair. The professor of accounting and finance at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University is here to tackle key issues facing the profession today. We sat down with Boz to talk about his career, his life and what he is looking forward to in his role as board chair.

What is your background as a CPA?

I became a CPA in 1997, working nine years in Big Four accounting firms. I was at Arthur Andersen when the firm collapsed, though I never worked on the Enron account. I made the move to academia in 2004 and have now been a professor for 20 years. However, I have also stayed active as a CPA. I did some individual tax preparation for a number of years and also spent 17 years as an international tax and finance consultant with Pentair. Since 2021, I have focused more on my speaking and writing businesses.

What led you to becoming the MNCPA board chair?

To put it simply: I was nominated! Bob Cedergren called me one day and asked if I would be the chair after him. Initially, I was shocked and had a serious case of imposter syndrome! But Bob said he and the nominating committee liked my enthusiasm, my leadership abilities, my connections and network, along with my knowledge around pipeline issues. The pipeline has become an increasingly important topic in the profession. In particular, Bob mentioned my ability to help the MNCPA explore additional pathways to CPA licensure.

What excites you most about the role of chair?

The work we are doing with respect to additional pathways to licensure is absolutely the most exciting part of the role. There has been a lot of talk about this issue over the years, but I am excited to see what can be done through my position and experience as an educator who can speak to specific issues, such as the extra credit-hour requirements for licensure.

Another thing I am excited about is working with the highly talented staff at the MNCPA. I have partnered as a speaker with many different societies and always thought the MNCPA was topnotch. We also have an incredible group of board members who are thoughtful, dedicated, sharp and are simply good human beings.

I’ll also be part of the AICPA’s council, not only during my board chair term, but for the next three years. That will also give me the opportunity to stay involved in networking and sharing ideas, as well as driving change.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the accounting profession today?

The shortage of CPAs is certainly one of the biggest, along with trying to determine why this shortage is occurring. The broadening pathways to licensure initiative is one way to address this issue, but another aspect of this issue is the image problem the profession has. There needs to be a better understanding of what a CPA is and what an accountant does. Another issue is that our work is becoming increasingly complex as tax laws continue to change, along with new regulations and standards appearing on the horizon. People are trying to navigate these complexities while having a smaller team to work with.

Another big challenge is that CPAs are increasingly doing different things. Back when I was cutting my teeth in the Big Four, I prepared tax returns — similar to how someone at a smaller firm would do. But now, personnel at the big firms will be heavily using AI and sophisticated software tools, as well as using talent in foreign locations, such as India. On the other hand, you will have CPAs in small towns whose work hasn’t changed as much over the years — they are continuing to serve the public by doing tax returns for individuals and smaller businesses and audits of local governments. A challenge will be in trying to train professionals who can serve a public that is becoming increasingly diverse in their needs.

What are your favorite topics to teach, either at the college level or for CPE?

As a professor at a small college, I teach all sorts of courses — from introductory financial and managerial accounting, private equity, introduction to taxation, advanced business taxation, leadership, financial modeling, and business writing. I say the course I was made to teach was the introductory financial accounting course.

I can generate excitement about the profession for high-performing students, while also providing encouragement for students who are struggling with the transition to college.

On the continuing education level, I’ve made my mark in ethics and they are always fun courses to teach, with new cases to draw from or new viewpoints to consider. I also enjoy teaching about leadership and building a winning culture, as that is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Leadership is so critical to the success of any organization and, as the years pass, I increasingly find myself asked to take on leadership roles.

Where do you see the profession in five years?

It takes time to drive change. Even though we are doing a lot of work to address the shortage of CPAs, I think we will continue to see a significant shortage in five years. We need to continue to make strides in this area, because high school graduate numbers are going to peak with the class of 2025 and then will start to decline — they are projected to be 10% lower by 2037! Likewise, the AICPA has noted that 70% of CPAs will retire within 10 years. Thus, I see the profession using more individuals who are perhaps accounting or finance professionals — but who are not CPAs — simply out of need. Based on that, I think salaries will be higher and outpace salaries in many other fields, because the need will be higher than ever.

I’m doing all I can to get students who understand the language of debits and credits to consider getting a major in accounting and continuing onto the path to becoming a CPA.

What sparks the most joy in your life?

Watching others have success, especially if I was able to have some part in their success. If my wife or kids have success, that’s something that means a lot to me, and this is also true of my students. Sometimes their success is in athletics, like the accounting-major kicker of the football team, Conor Murphy. He was a freshman student in my intro accounting class when he made a game-winning kick in the driving snow with one second left on the clock to win the conference championship. That was really cool, especially because the day before he had earned a free ACCOUNTING shirt for achieving the highest score on one of my exams!

But even better than that is when I can help a student who is struggling and seemingly wanting to give up. I can help motivate them, supporting them to see it through to the end of the semester, the end of their college career or to help them get a job. When I unexpectedly get a heartfelt thank you from them, it’s pretty hard to beat, and often very emotional for me.

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

The bulk of my time is spent supporting my college students with all their events — sports, arts, clubs, lectures, all of it. I try to be visible and show my support for them. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time making fun meals with my family. All of us enjoy taking on some role in the kitchen. I also enjoy traveling and listening to live music with my wife, going on adventures and doing creative activities with my daughter, and doing karate and making pizza with my son.

What accounting-related topic would be the theme of your next novel?

I am working on the Johnny Fitch series, which is about a CPA who uses both his brain and his brawn to defeat the bad guys. I joke that you’re probably not supposed to have a favorite ethical violation, but I do and it’s insider trading. That was the theme of my first novel. For my next novel, I’m still tightening things up, but I’ve always enjoyed exploring and researching things related to bribery and embezzlement while weaving in an international aspect. I will also always try to sneak some sports in! I’d probably have the Johnny Fitch trilogy wrapped up by now if I could spend less time writing about my students on LinkedIn!