THE SMOKE DETECTOR: The CPA as a Leader and Trusted Business Advisor

By John Minnich posted 03-28-2017 17:40


Now that I am 10 months into my role as chief financial officer at Concordia Educational Association (CEA) dba Concordia Lutheran High School, I want to share the inner workings of a private school and what role a CPA can play as both a leader and trusted business advisor. Liken to my days as a software consultant, overseeing the non-academic operations of a school can dramatically change my schedule each day. I love the variety!

My role continues to evolve into what many colleges and universities refer to as a chief business officer. Not coincidentally, the role of the CFO in all forms of business continues to expand. There is no difference at an educational institution. I work with an operations team comprised of admissions and retention, business, facilities and financial aid. Our dedicated team brings various skill sets to the table which I enjoy. It is truly a collaborate environment in which we can all contribute and benefit from others’ knowledge.

Admissions plays a key role in marketing and really represents the initial Concordia experience for our parents and students. Our business office currently houses accounting, human resources and many other professional services for our faculty and staff, parents and students. Our facilities team manages and takes care of our buildings and grounds including all athletic facilities. Financial aid assists our families by providing ways to pay for education.

I also work closely with our administrative leadership team comprised of our head of school (a.k.a. executive director), assistant head of school, athletic director, chief development officer and principal. I have always had a passion for learning. What a dynamic and diverse group of colleagues to broaden the mind! Helping run a school certainly “takes a village” and requires collaboration. To give a little background, our governance and operational model mirrors higher education, in particular, private nonprofit. Our head of school reports to the CEA board of directors while other members of our administrative leadership team report to the head of school. We also have a separate 501(c)(3), Concordia Educational Foundation, which exists to provide financial assistance for qualified students attending Concordia Lutheran High School and to provide for the general support and expansion of CEA.

So how does the expanded role of the CFO relate to you and how does the perception and value of a CPA impact business leaders? In his blog “What is a Trusted Business Advisor?,” Dennis Hickle challenges us with the following statement: “If we want to be the trusted business advisor that our clients turn to first, we need to be comfortable providing advice on a wider range of topics.”

Though I currently no longer serve clients in public practice, I have an appreciation for his message. My professional journey began by providing traditional public accounting services followed by a transition to software consulting and education. Whether in public or private practice, I encourage you to find ways to broaden your mind, skill sets and service offerings. Our CPA profession and its network has certainly opened a lot of doors for me. For this, I am very thankful.

Within the next six months, I encourage you to read (or hopefully, revisit) our strategic planning document INCPAS 2025. I challenge you to make note of our CPA core values and bold challenges. What are you doing to advance our profession? For me, I am invigorated to learn and am both inspired by and appreciative of the profession that I serve. In the Spring 2017 issue of CPA IN Perspective, my wife Carrie and I will share our story as part of the “Day in the Life” series. Perhaps, it will trigger a spark, conjure up an idea or initiate discussion on how we can all find ways to advance our profession.

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