Bonus | CMA 50th Anniversary: Continuing to Attract the Best and the Brightest

November 17, 2022 | 36 Minutes

In this special podcast celebrating 50 years of the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) program, Margaret Michaels, IMA’s Brand Content and Storytelling Manager will be talking with two CMAs, one who earned his CMA in 1975 soon after the CMA program had just begun, and another who earned her CMA quite recently in April 2022.

Connect with our Speakers:
John Macaulay: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johncmacaulay/ 
Colleen Lucero: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colleen-lucero/

Full Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00]       < Intro >
 
Margaret:       So in this special podcast, Celebrating 50 Years of the CMA, or the Certified Management Accountant program. Margaret Michaels, myself, IMA's Brand Content and Storytelling Manager, will be talking with two CMAs. One who earned his CMA in 1975, soon after the CMA program had just begun. And another who earned her CMA quite recently, in April of 2022. 
 
John Macaulay is a former IMA chair, who was among the first CMA program completers. He held a number of distinguished roles in the industry. Including serving as CFO of the telecom company, Royal Street Communications. 
 
Colleen Lucero is a Manager of Client Analytics at Graebel, a relocation services company. Colleen earned her CMA in April of 2022. I am so pleased we could chat, today, with both John and Colleen about their CMA experiences and career journeys. 
 
[00:01:15]       < Music >
 
Margaret:       So, John, I'll start with you. I noticed in your bio that you did not study accounting as undergraduate major. Rather you pursued a biology and chemistry degree. What made you decide to shift into accounting, and how did you hear about the CMA program?
 
John:              Thank you, Margaret. It's good to be here today and chat with everyone. That's a rather complicated story, but I will try to shorten it up as best I can. I graduated from college in 1965, with a degree in biology and chemistry. I was studying pre-med. 
 
I had pretty much decided, by the end of my junior year, that I probably didn't want to spend another six years in school. And, so, I decided I wasn't going to medical school. 
 
1965 was the middle of Vietnam. And, so, I signed up for Navy Officer Candidate School and I went and became a Navy officer. A guided-missile officer on a couple of different destroyers. And it was a great experience and exposure, for me, to not only international travel and different cultures, but also to leadership and the military. 
 
When I got out of the military, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and get an MBA. I hadn't settled on accounting at that point, clearly, but I knew I was headed in the direction of business. I had worked at a bank, in Cambridge, and I actually became the head of personnel. I was there for only a year and a half, actually, and after about six months, I became the head of personnel, we had 650 employees and 12 branches. 
 
So it was a rather challenging decision to go back to graduate school. But I was accepted by Northwestern, the Kellogg School, and we moved from Boston, by that time I was married, from Boston to Chicago, and spent two years at Kellogg getting an MBA. And there I specialized in accounting and finance, Accounting, and Information Systems. 
 
The second year, I became the assistant to the chair of the Accounting and Information Systems Department. And did some tutoring and wrote a couple of cases for him.
 
From there, I went to work for General Mills in Minneapolis, and this was 1972, I started working in May. And in about September, my boss, two levels up, whose name was Jerry Ford, came around and said, "John, would you be interested in taking the CMA?"
 
Well, I had actually refused, at Kellogg, to take the CPA exam, and I'd interviewed with some of the big, I guess it was the Big Six at that point, it may have been Big Eight still. And I told them I was willing to go into consulting, but I didn't want to be an auditor. 
 
I had no interest in the CPA. And, so, they didn't accept me, but I had plenty of opportunities. And, so, I said to Jerry, "Sure I would. I'd absolutely love it." But I said I wanted a certification and I didn't want to be a CPA. I wanted to be a management accountant in business.
 
So Jerry said, "Well, this organization, called NAA, is going to have this exam." And Susan's grandfather was actually a member of NAA and had been the president of the Boston Chapter many years ago. And I said, "Well, that's perfect." 
 
And, so, we began to try to get ready for this exam, which we knew nothing about. And we held one or two, "Study sessions" in our headquarters, in Minneapolis. But we didn't have any real success because it was just a reading list. Some of the books I'd had in graduate school. 
 
So, anyway, we went, it was a two-and-a-half-day exam at the University of Minnesota. And I listened to part of the previous podcast and Denny Beresford talked about the ice storm in Pittsburgh. Well, the second day we had a blizzard in Minneapolis, we actually lost the power. It was in the library at the University of Minnesota. 
 
We actually lost the power, but there were plenty of windows. So we had a lot of light, and we just continued writing the exam, so it wasn't really an issue. I was fortunate, I did pass all five parts of the first exam. 
 
So I say I got it in 1972, but IMA decided I didn't have, "Enough management experience" at that point, and, so, they wouldn't give me the certificate. So I actually got my certificate later in the second batch of certificates. 
 
But that's fine, I didn't have a problem because I actually wrote them a letter and said, "Well, I think I have the experience and this and that." And next thing I knew they wanted me to be on an exam review committee. And, so, that's actually how I got involved with leadership in IMA, which I'll talk about a little bit later.
 
Margaret:       That's a great story. It seems everyone, in the first class of CMA takers, had unfavorable weather conditions. To add to the challenge in taking the test for the first time. 
 
And Colleen, like John, your undergraduate degree is not in accounting, but in Spanish Language and Literature. So what prompted you to embark on an accounting career, and how did you hear about the CMA program?
 
Colleen:          Yes, so I got my undergrad in Spanish and I thought I was going to do interpreting and translating. So after I graduated from my undergrad, I started down that road and then realized that it ended up not being quite the fit that I was hoping it was going to be. But I was getting other certifications for interpreting and translating for large conferences, and even in the courts, and some medical stuff. 
 
And while I'm doing all this, on the side I got this, what I thought was a transitory side job with a small business. And I ended up realizing, "Oh, my goodness, I actually love what I'm doing for this small business." With a small business, you put on all kinds of different hats. 
 
So I was supposed to be just the office manager. But I ended up working with their CPA and doing payroll, and invoicing, and working with their books. And helping them make little decisions here and there, and working with their clients. And I started realizing, "Oh, my goodness, accounting is really just the language of business." 
 
And I've always loved languages, and cultures, and the arts, and I never saw myself as an accountant. I was like, "Black and white forms and tax filing." And that's what I had in my head. And it's funny my mom had actually encouraged me, early on, to go after accounting and I was like, "That's crazy. No way, I just cannot fathom it."
 
I took an intro to accounting class and I did well in my undergrad, but it just wasn't my thing. And it wasn't until I worked with that small business, that things came to life for me. And once that happened, I realized, "I think this is actually what I would love to do." And, so, I ended up going back to school to get my Master's in Accounting.
 
But I was really frustrated because when I started working on my Master's in Accounting, the real big push was for tax and audit, all the time. And I'm like, "But this is not what I really want to do and this is not what I was doing." And I actually worked at the university full-time while I was getting my degree. 
 
So, meanwhile, I was actually doing management accounting for the departments and the divisions that I worked with, doing financial planning and analysis. And I was working on their senior staff team and working with their strategic planning piece of things, and their operations, and finance decisions.
 
And, so, I'm like, "I know that this is not all that there is." Even though there was this big push. So I was frustrated feeling like there was this middle ground, somewhere, that I just couldn't find.
 
And then I took my cost accounting class and my professor promoted the CMA and had someone come in and do a presentation for us. And I was like, "Oh, my goodness, finally, this is what I knew I was seeing. But just hadn't had someone say like, "This is an opportunity here."
 
So that's when I decided I really wanted to get my CMA designation. And at that point, by the time I graduated with my Master's in Accounting, I had had about eight years of experience. So I ended up getting my experience piece done first and then taking the exam afterwards. 
 
Which I felt was really great because the CMA exam ended up just filling in some gaps. Where I felt, almost, like my accounting degree was really strong. But it left some gaps with some of the management side, that I was really working with on a daily basis. So I felt like it just fused things together. 
 
So I went from this creative arts person, which I feel like I loved all the creative arts, never thought I'd be this numbers person. But I'm like, "This is all storytelling, and dealing with people, and helping craft their direction and stories." So that's how I heard about the CMA within my cost accounting class. And I'm super excited to be working with it and having just finished it.
 
Margaret:       That's great. And I love how you said, "Accounting is the language of business." And, so, as a language person it makes perfect sense for you to pursue a career in management accounting. And you're not alone in understanding that these management accounting functions are happening all the time, but what are the words to describe it? What is the profession? And it's like discovering a well-hidden secret, and we hear that a lot.
 
But it's great that you found your passion and that it's aligned with your language skills and your creativity. And shifting to another topic technology is increasingly, I think, a language in and of itself, too, now in accounting and finance. And at IMA we offer so many continuing education courses on technology because of that very fact. 
 
And, so, John, you worked in finance for over two decades. So I know you have seen the evolution of technology up close. How did the CMA help you navigate changes in technology? And can you think of one technology that you considered revolutionary, in terms of how finance and accounting functions were performed?
 
John:              Yes, and you're being very generous when you say two decades, it's at least four and maybe five, but that's all right. Anyway, in any case, yes, technology continually changes and as an accountant or a business person, period, you have to stay up to date, obviously, on the changes as they occur. 
 
One of the things that really interested me in graduate school, particularly, was information flow and how information flowed. And it was very interesting that in the Kellogg School, at that time, they had a combination of accounting and information systems in the same department, and a lot of it was simply information flow. 
 
But of course in the early, "Early days" information technology was the purview of the accounting department and the controller's department because it mostly was all numbers related. It's since expanded to the whole organization, obviously.
 
But going back to just, strictly, the information flows. I was very interested in how information flowed in an organization and also the particular information that was focused on in an organization. And how that affected the actions that the organization took, and the plans that the organization made. 
 
And sometimes these were numbers, but they were also words, in many cases, a while ago. And until technology really got developed and the numbers, and the analytics around the numbers developed it was primarily just information flows. 
 
So the biggest example I could think of technology flows, and this goes way back. Most of the people listening to this may not have a clue what I'm talking about. But back in graduate school some other fellows and I created, as one of our projects, a program that generated an income statement and a balance sheet for a company.
 
And in programming the device we had for inputs was punch cards. So we had a thousand plus punch cards in this deck. It was a large deck we carried around with us, and heaven forbid that we ever dropped it. Because even though they had numbers, trying to get them back together was a mess. So we thank goodness it never happened. 
 
But that was the storage or the input device, for sure, back then. And that has evolved so much over the years. I mean, the storage today is amazing and you can get instant recall out of the storage and, similarly, with inputs. The inputs have become so flexible, and you can input almost anything into a computer and do some an analysis or work with it. 
 
So that's how I've seen technology really evolve over the period I've been working.
 
Margaret:       I've definitely seen movies with big computers and punch cards. So I do know what you're talking about, like NASA had to use it. But it is amazing how technology has gotten smaller, more compact and efficient, and you don't need a room full of computers and millions of punch cards. 
 
I think people forget that that is the beginning of the technology that we're using today. It's those fundamentals that went into building everything that we use. So that's amazing that you've got to see this whole evolution. 
 
And Colleen, like John, your role is one that depends upon acumen and technology, and a deep understanding of data. How did the CMA help prepare you for the challenges and opportunities associated with technology in your role?
 
Colleen:          Yes, so I had been working with the technology side of things during my work experience primarily. So I feel like I got a lot of the base understanding just from having to walk through it and get the experience of working through the programs or softwares. And trying to figure out how to extract data and pull it from our database, and figure out how to put it together the way we needed to. 
 
 
To try to make a decision and pull new pieces in and see how that would affect things. And I feel like I got a lot of that through my work experience, but there were still some gaps missing. Because I felt like I learned it on the fly all the time, and I wasn't like I took a class in my master's degree that helped me connect those dots, necessarily. 
 
There was some technology and information systems classes that I took. But it wasn't necessarily on business decision making and some of the areas that I was really working in. 
 
So it wasn't connecting the dots. It was isolated pieces that I was learning and I needed something to help pull everything together. Which I had been doing in my work experience, instinctually. But the CMA, I felt like helped bring a lot more confidence to that and tie it together. 
 
I'm like, "Oh, I knew I was seeing it that way." And it made me feel a little more confident on the things I was doing right. And then helped highlight some of my weaker spots and strengthen those areas too.
 
Margaret:       Absolutely, and we hear that a lot too, to learn the technology in isolation it can be really difficult to understand how it should be applied. And one thing we always say, too, and Jeff has echoed this in some of his remarks, "The technology is only as good as the people behind it." If the people behind it don't know how to draw the connections, or do the analysis, apply the critical thinking skills, the technology is worthless. So I think both you and John have made that point very well. 
 
And, so, speaking of how technology has changed accounting and finance. A fun fact about the CMA exam, is that in 1972, when John sat for it, it was administered by paper and pencil. And, John, what do you see as the advantages of electronic test-taking today, as compared to how you had to take the exam?
 
John:              Yes, I haven't taken many real exams electronically, but I have filled out surveys and a variety of things. But the real key, I think, is a couple of things; flexibility, and that is the ability to be able to take it almost anywhere in the world. 
 
We have test centers all over the world right now, and that's a great benefit to test takers. They can take it at a variety of times. We don't have to have a proctor come in because they're at a test center, in most cases. And then the ease of grading, of course, electronic grading is so much quicker than somebody trying to do it by hand, with hundreds of papers. 
 
So those are two benefits of it, I'm sure there are others. Obviously we can change questions easily. We can make the exam random, very easy, in a lot of varieties. I was on the Board of Regents for six or eight years, so I have worked with the exam extensively in that regard. 
 
The other big benefit we've actually had is during Covid, obviously, this electronic testing made it much more possible than, if you think back, if it had to be in-person paper and pencil exam, at test centers, where we had to have proctors, it would've just shut the whole thing down. 
As it was in most cases, IMA was able to continue giving the exam in a variety of these test locations. In areas where individuals could get to the test centers and that benefited the individuals greatly, and, obviously, also benefited IMA. So changing it to an electronic format was a great decision and a good benefit for everyone.
 
Margaret:       I agree. And, Colleen, having studied and prepared for the CMA which is a rigorous process in and of itself. Can you tell us a little bit about your strategy for preparing for the exam?
 
Colleen:          Yes, I'd say I did a few things that I think were really key for me. One, I set a really structured schedule and just stuck with it. I have a little one who is now almost three, but at the time she was just a little under one when I started studying. 
 
So the schedule was really crazy, working full-time with a little one. And I had just finished my master's degree and, so, I had a lot of things that I was juggling. And I knew that if I didn't set a strict schedule, I wasn't going to be able to really finish. And it's a really big endeavor, so I was like, "I got to keep to it."
 
So my plan was, I'm very much a morning person. So I got up really early in the morning before she woke up and studied for a good couple of hours before my day even went going, got started. And I just stuck to that and tried to review throughout the day with flashcards. And I also hired a tutor because, for me, I love study groups and I couldn't really find a study group to work with. 
 
So I ended up hiring a tutor to work with and that helped me feel a little more connected, and stay motivated throughout the process. Just because it was about three solid months that I just hit it really hard. So it felt like a sprint but in a marathon form. So I knew I was going to need someone to help keep me motivated. So having that extra connection was really helpful. 
 
And I also chose to tackle the first exam first, since it was more accounting oriented and that was my strong suit. And the second exam was more finance oriented, so I knew I was going to need a little bit more work with that. So I wanted to tackle what I thought was going to be a little bit more... I could tackle it a little bit more easily or more quickly, I felt like. 
 
So, yes, those were some of my strategies. I just stuck to a schedule, I tried to get other people involved and when I couldn't get a whole study group going, I got a tutor, and I got my family involved. 
 
I made flashcards specifically so that they could quiz me and drill me. If they wanted to spend time with me, I'm like, "Quiz me. Start drilling me on concepts and things. But, yes, those are some of the things that I used to help keep me motivated, keep me moving, and actually get through the exams.
 
Margaret:       I like that. It's, kind of, it takes a village approach to passing the CMA. But you're right, having all of those people around you, supporting you, and keeping you sharp is a great idea.
 
Colleen:          I feel like they also felt like they went through the exam too. So everybody was relieved once we had all finished. Because we all had to get together to help Colleen finish this. 
So that was also really fun too, and it was really great. They've always been such a good support. So I needed that in order to keep motivated as well, they were a big element of that.
 
Margaret:       Right, and now your toddler knows cost accounting principles now. So one of the things, and maybe our listeners are unfamiliar with the fact that to maintain the CMA certification. Every CMA needs to undergo some continuing education courses every year to stay fresh, current, and relevant. So, John, I'm curious, what was the most valuable, continuing education course you took at IMA?
 
John:              As you just indicated, Margaret, because you have to stay current, you take a lot of continuing education. And I think the ethics courses were the ones that I found most interesting because they seem to be the most challenging. 
 
In terms of some of the questions that got asked, some of the things that you didn't always think about on a daily basis. Obviously, as new topics came into the field, it was always interesting to take a course in that. Because then you could get the latest information on a new topic. 
 
Also, I found the conferences to be very valuable because you got a variety of subjects over a two or three-day period. That would be of interest to you and you could focus on a specific track, and get a focus in that area, which was always interesting.
 
The other part of what isn't exactly continuing education, but that I feel is key benefit of IMA is the leadership it can give you at the various organization levels. And within IMA, as I indicated earlier, I'd gotten involved with the CMA exam as an exam review. 
 
I was looking at questions early on, and that led to involvement with actually the international organization. And then I relocated to Dallas and when we relocated here, I decided I needed to get more involved with the chapter. 
 
So I got involved with the chapter and became the chapter president. Then I went on to the Texas Council and became the Council president, and I was on the board. But I'd been on the board earlier too. But in any case I, ultimately, became chair of the organization, and all of those different levels were learning levels of different things.
 
And I often tell younger folks that, "Get involved with your local chapters, it's a no risk deal." If you are assigned to set up a dinner meeting and you mess it up. Well, you learn something and you won't mess up the next one. 
 
And it's a good way, and it didn't cost you anything. If you did that in business it might cost you something in your status in that business, in your promotion ability, and so forth. But in IMA it doesn't really hurt you and, so, it's strictly a volunteer thing. 
 
So take advantage of those opportunities, it can be an important learning and growth experiences for people.
 
Margaret:       Yes, absolutely. And for younger people, too, they get that leadership experience before they might be able to get it at the workplace. So that's another really strong benefit of chapters and councils. 
 
And, Colleen, I'm not sure if you've taken continuing education at IMA or if you've attended a conference? But can you speak a little bit about, maybe, a topic of interest, that you learned more about through IMA?
 
Colleen:          Yes, and I have taken some CBE classes, and I did the women's conference, was it a couple of years ago at this point? It was all virtual, and I was supposed to go to the one in New York City when they were going to have that. But that was around the time Covid happened and ended up not working out. And I was really happy when I got to participate in the following year and they did it virtually, that was really cool. 
 
I feel like there's a lot, I agree with John, I really enjoyed the variety of topics being offered at the conference and being able to glean a lot from a lot of different areas in a short amount of time. That was really helpful, I really valued that experience. 
 
And I also think one of the CP classes that I've taken, that have stood out to me, has been a couple on data analytics with storytelling in particular. Because I feel like that's just really critical to a lot of the work that I've done. 
 
It's a continual march of financial data and operations data. And what does this mean, and what do we do from here, and how do we make our next step, so to speak. And, so, that storytelling aspect is really important. So I think those are the ones that have jumped out to me the most, at the moment.
 
Margaret:       Yes, the storytelling with data, I did a test for the pilot and I loved that course more than others because I'm biased, my title is storyteller. And, of course, Colleen, you had that creative side, too. So it's a nice combination when you can merge the creative with the accounting and finance skills.
 
Colleen:          And I always feel like people think of accountants as isolated, in the back office somewhere, doing behind-the-scenes work almost like a human calculator. And I think that was the image that had pushed me off for so long. 
 
Until I realized I'm working with people all the time, and communicating all the time, and having to interpret all the time from actually what I'm seeing in reports, and on the data side, and the financial side of things. And then I'm having to work with the operations team to see what's going on their front. 
 
To see if what I'm seeing makes sense and together, the storytelling is not something that I do alone, it happens as a team. We all have to contribute to really seeing what's going on so we can fashion that story. So working with people all the time and I just love that creative and collaborative process.
 
Margaret:       I agree. So I'm going to shift to the last topic. And I saved it for last because I think it's a really big topic that affects the long term of the profession, and the business world, and the world in general, and that's sustainability. Which is receiving a lot of attention in accounting and finance circles. 
 
Because it's challenging accounting and finance departments to collect and analyze data, that is non-financial. ESG data; Environmental, Social and Governance type of data. And Colleen sitting in a role where data drives everything you do. How well prepared do you feel you are to account for non-financial or ESG data? Did the CMA prepare you for embarking on this emerging area?
 
Colleen:          Yes, I think so. Again, going back to where I feel like I was learning a lot of these skills on the job but on the fly. And I feel like the CMA came and helped fill in the gaps, and strengthened some weak points that I might have had. 
 
And I feel like the non-financial piece of things was one of those weak points. In my accounting classes that was always the focus. And you don't, necessarily, get into the other side and how it affects the finances necessarily. You do maybe a little bit here and there, but it's not so focused on the strategy piece of things. 
 
Especially when they're pushing audit and accounting so strongly. A lot of it is having to do with larger companies, who are dealing with external reporting decisions, those kinds of things. But we're not talking about internal business decisions very often. 
 
And, so, I felt like studying the CMA really helped fill in the gaps for some of that as well. And, so, I do feel like the CMA a prepared me to collect and be able to interpret non-financial data. And understand that it has, I guess, derive meaning from that non-financial data. And try to really figure out how it's being impacted? Where it's coming from? How it's being impacted by other things in the organization and not just see it in isolation.
 
Margaret:       Yes, absolutely. And, John, having seen the positive and negative impacts business can have on society, over long periods of time. What are your thoughts on the emergence of sustainability reporting, and how can enrolling in the CMA program help accounting and finance professionals enter this new and evolving space?
 
John:              This is very interesting, when you talk about the emergence of sustainable reporting. Because it goes back to something I mentioned earlier, which is the information flow. 
 
This is another information flow within the organization. And it's an important information flow, in my mind, because, obviously, business does have a big impact on sustainability, over the long term, of our environment, and just the sustainability of business in general.
 
And, obviously, there are good and bad elements. I think the key here is to try to pick measures that are appropriate for what you're trying to measure, and then be able to accurately measure those things. 
 
I think too many times, as accountants, we try to be very accurate and sometimes we try to be too accurate. But we can't be not accurate enough either. We can't just have a best estimate out there. It might be a place to start but maybe not promote that as being the actual measurement. So I think the key is to get accurate measures and be on top of it. 
 
The other thought I had was one of the things, I think, the CMA program does, and Colleen referred to this, was keep you up to date on what's happening. And not only does IMA offer courses, obviously, in environmental reporting, and sustainable reporting, but the CMA exam also incorporates things about it. 
 
So it causes you to study, and just the idea of studying for the exam is extremely beneficial, I think, for people. And Colleen referred to that as well in her earlier comments. So it's a way to stay up to date on some of the latest trends, in what's happening in accounting.
 
[00:35:23]       < Outro >
 
Announcer:    This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.