BONUS | Jeff Thomson - IMA and the Future of Management Accounting

September 19, 2019 | 17 Minutes

Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE, President and CEO of IMA, discusses the future of accounting and explains everything the Institute of Management Accountants is doing to support its members and the profession. In the episode, Jeff also talks about the CMA credential and what it stands for in the industry while emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning and continuing education. Jeff has been President and CEO of IMA since 2008 and has led the execution of a strategy resulting in IMA becoming one of the fastest growing and most influential accounting associations in the world. Prior to joining IMA, Jeff worked at AT&T for more than two decades where he served in various financial, strategic, and operational roles, including CFO and business partner. Listen to be counted in for all things affecting accounting and finance, as told by IMA's thought leader, Jeff Thomson!


Music: (00:00)

Adam Larson: (00:04) Hello everyone. I'm Adam Larson.

Mitch Roshong: (00:06) I'm Mitch Roshong.

Adam Larson: (00:07) And we are excited to welcome you all to a special episode of "Count Me In". Starting today, we'll be releasing periodic episodes that highlight staff members and key stakeholders of the Institute of Management Accountants. This IMA mini-series within 'Count Me In" will help our listeners better understand who we are and what IMA's vision is, along with the value of the CMA credential. For today's conversation, to kick off our talks, Mitch and I sit down with IMA's president and CEO Jeff Thomson.

Mitch Roshong: (00:34) Jeff is considered an expert on risk management and internal controls and is a global thought leader in management accounting. He assumed the role of president and CEO of IMA in 2008 and has since led the execution of a strategy that has resulted in IMA becoming one of the fastest growing and most influential accounting associations in the world. Jeff works tirelessly to help advance the profession and his leadership is positively recognized across the organization.

Adam Larson: (01:00) In this conversation we asked Jeff various questions about IMA, the CMA, and the future of the profession. His passion and professionalism is evident in his responses and truly reveals the overall guidance and direction of the organization. Now let's hear from IMA, president and CEO, Jeff Thompson.

Music: (01:22)

Jeff Thomson: (01:25) Basically, IMA grew and we've been growing exponentially for 10 years. Primarily because we went from being inwardly focused to outwardly focused, meaning an intense, unwavering, relentless focus on member value on the CMA program, on volunteers as opposed to being inwardly focused on internal management in, in terms of you know, various issues. Of course we need to be focused internally and build a strong, solid inspired team. But, you know, the more you talk to yourselves, the less you're talking to the market and what are your needs and wants? How can I, how can I enrich organizations, how can I enrich your career? How can I enrich the public interest? So I would say more than anything else, it was that intense focus. And then I would say a a genuine sustained focus on core values and culture. I truly believe, although I don't have hard evidence that that helped lead not only to our growth but our strategic turnaround 10 or so years ago.

Mitch Roshong: (02:43) With that change in focus, how do you anticipate sustaining that growth and where do you envision IMA in the next three to five years?

Jeff Thomson: (02:50) So sustaining growth and managing the growth that you achieved is one of the hardest things in business. Sometimes it's even harder to manage and sustain your growth than it is to achieve the growth in the first place because sometimes you lose sight of what got you to your growth. The fact that you did it one member at a time, one partner at a time, one academic influencer at a time, one volunteer at a time. And as long as we take that approach to delivering value to staying current with technology and innovation having a solid strategy, fierce conversations embracing a culture of challenge and having a great team that first and foremost lives its core values and its culture. I believe will continue to do well. You know, the business environment, whether it's our members or IMA itself is very challenging. There is competitive risk. There's technology risk, as we've globalized, there's geopolitical risk. But I have a, a lot of confidence that if we continue to have an everyday sense of urgency that we'll continue to deliver for our members and even up our game because quite frankly, they should expect nothing less of us.

Mitch Roshong: (04:18) What are some of the key competencies that management accountants need in today's industry that you are making sure we here at IMA are focused on continuously supporting for our members?

Jeff Thomson: (04:27) Great question, Mitch. And although I'm very proud and honored to be CEO of this great, great organization my roots are in finance and accounting and I'm proud of that. You know, I was a SBU CFO at AT&T. I started out as a finance manager and analytics. And so I've seen how our jobs and our careers have evolved over time. Um you know, some of it is the CFO team is expected to do more with less meaning, more responsibility. In addition to closing the books and filing statutory reports, we now want you to get more involved in financing decisions and merger and acquisition activity. Funding, forecasting, strategy, technology, operations. Um you know, Doreen Remmen, our CFO is, as you well know handles all of those things as the chief financial officer. So on one hand, that's a great, great opportunity to be influential within your organization and outside your organization. But we have to be there to deliver the competencies to build that talent. And certainly the area of technology and analytics, more and more management accountants whether they're in financial planning and analysis or other sorts of decision support activities. You know, they're expected to offer insight and foresight beyond the numbers, but you need to be grounded in the fundamentals of data analytics, data visualization, storytelling, strategic management. And you know, IMA is up to the challenge and we're delivering some great products, but we have to deliver even more to build that competency, to meet that great challenge and that great opportunity.

Adam Larson: (06:23) In addition to the great opportunities created through continuing education, what other benefits design may offer its members?

Jeff Thomson: (06:30) Sure. Well, it starts with the CMA program. We're very, very proud of the CMA program. It's grown tremendously over the years outside and inside the U S because it resonates with CFOs and their teams who are aspiring to be stronger in the areas of insight and foresight to make sense of the numbers, to make sense of a complex competitive and market environment. So it starts with the CMA program. We're very, very proud of that. We've announced that for January, 2020 the exam will stay current with technology and analytics and reflect that in its revised exam in January. Um we're also very proud of our relatively new credential called Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis for what you need to have a CMA first. That's very, very important because as you grow on the finance and accounting team, you're going to get more and more involved in strategy and competitive analysis. So we have this wonderful specialized credential that we're also proud of and we hope our members enjoy and reap the benefits. And then last but not least we've developed a competency framework that is broad and yet deep. It covers strategy, it covers reporting and controls, technology and analytics, business operations and supply chain, athletics and leadership. We have a tool that supports that broader framework called Career Driver(R) that allows an individual to self-assess their skills against an objective standard and then sees educational opportunities to help address gaps or seize opportunities in their own professional development.

Adam Larson: (08:22) Going back to the CMA, can you tell us a little bit of the history and the importance behind the tagline, "You've got to earn it."

Jeff Thomson: (08:28) Well, the, "You've got to earn it." tagline is one that we're very, very proud of and you know, three years ago around 2016 we decided that we need to listen even better to what our members around the world are saying. They're saying the CMA is the world's best kept secret. Yeah. We've got a nice ecosystem, a ground game we call it, of students and members and chapters and councils around the world that are, you know, creating a viral awareness. Word of mouth wearness of this great certification, but we need more. And so in 2016 or so, we developed our first ever integrated ad campaign. We hired a, a an ad agency. We did a ad in Hollywood on the CMA program. Uh we had TV, radio, print in Forbes, and of course social media. And we came up with the tagline, "You've got to earn it." for two reasons. One is because it puts a sense of accountability and empowerment in the individual. You've got to earn it. You've got to sit for the exam. You've got to be inspired to take yourself to the next level. And by the way, inspire peers as ambassadors for the CMA program. The other reason was for competitive purposes. You know, we began to see in the marketplace a trend toward grandfathering whereby a new certification is introduced. You get the certification for free by paying a fee. You know, maybe for a year after introduction of the new certification. The CMA program every single CMA around the world, including myself, had to sit for a relevant, robust, rigorous exam. Um except for one person. And it wasn't me. It was the founder of the CMA program, Dr. James Bullock, I think they said, Hey, you know what, Jim, you created the exam. We're not gonna make you take your own exam. So we had concerns about that quite frankly. When we saw a tendency toward this grandfathering, is that about the numbers or is it about the profession and genuinely building talent? So "You've got to earn" it says we're not going to we're not going to go the way of gimmicks, giveaways or grandfathering. "You've Got to earn it."

Mitch Roshong: (11:09) Once you earn your CMA or even as a member of IMA potentially interested in pursuing your CMA, we release a lot of content about the opportunity to serve as a true business partner in the organization. From your perspective, who is a true business partner, particularly in today's digital age?

Jeff Thomson: (11:26) Right? Yeah. Great question. And you know, I like to, I don't like to talk too much about myself, but storytelling I'm told is the thing to do these days, including on podcasts. But you know, when I became CFO of a, a strategic business unit at a great, great company AT&T back in the 90s I was actually introduced and presented the position as you're now the strategic business partner for the business sales organization, an $18 billion operation. And I was very proud and honored. I did ask what it meant. I didn't quite know what that meant. And I, with a tear in my eye, I said, can I put CFO on my business card? And because I, I, everybody knows what CFO is. But back then and even today, you know, what is a business partner? And a, a business partner is really two things. Um from a CFO perspective. One is you are the steward for the corporation. You are a fiduciary of the corporation. You protect assets, you safeguard assets. You are a value steward. First and foremost. You have allegiance to that related. However, you're a business partner where you sit across the table from clients, you could call them internal clients. You have given take, you have a culture of challenge. You understand their business. They understand the need to have a sound financial discipline and, and portfolio. You have given take, you come to great outcomes and conclusions as it relates to new products and funding and business cases, new markets. You know, what are some of the risks, what are some of the opportunities what are, what are the forecasts look like? What is the funding look like? So that's what a business partner is all about. It's not one sided. It's not you stay in your silo, but it's not that you become part of your internal client silo. You, you have to have a lot of savvy. You have a lot of adaptability and quite frankly, you have to have a lot of insight and foresight. And in a digital age, the pressure gets ratcheted up because in a digital age, whether it's artificial intelligence or robotics process automation or perhaps blockchain more and more of these technologies are replacing the more routine repetitive tasks, whether they're in audit or transaction processing, which means that if we're going to have greater influence as business partners, we've got to raise our game and upscale in strategy management and advanced data science and analytics.

Adam Larson: (14:27) So what does IMA doing as far as continuous learning opportunities and its efforts to prepare the industry professionals to become strategic business partners?

Jeff Thomson: (14:35) So IMA actually has a long, long history of research and thought leadership in business partnering. It actually dates back to the early 1980s. We've got a long, long stream of compelling research. On one hand it's interesting to see what's changed, but it's also interesting to see what has stayed the same in this area. You know, one of the things that has not changed as much as we'd like is curriculum reform. So in 1986, that AAA (American Accounting Association) launched the what's called the Bedford report. The Bedford report simply said, there's a gap between what accounting educators teach and what professional accounts in business actually do. One could argue that that gap has actually widened as the accountability and responsibilities of the CFO team has widened. So we need to continue to to address that. You know, in the meantime, in addition to this steady stream of business partner research I mentioned earlier in the podcast, our new competency framework, which is very broad and comprehensive new learning products are coming out each and every day as it relates to data analytics, data visualization storytelling, data governance strategic management, and more. So stay tuned. Just as technology is moving at a very, very fast paced, IMA not only intends to keep up, but to stay ahead. Again, we owe it to you as our members, our cherished members around the world.

Announcer: (16:23) 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