BONUS | CMA 50th Anniversary: Attracting the Best and the Brightest

In this special episode of Count Me In we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the CMA, the benchmark certification for management accountants around the world. Margaret Michaels is joined by Denny Beresford, a member of the very first class of CMAs in 1972, as well as Tori Heavey, who aced the exams in 2020, to discuss the enduring value of the CMA program.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Adam:

Join us in this bonus episode of Count Me In, where IMA brand storyteller, Margaret Michaels sits down with two noteworthy CMAs to discuss the 50th anniversary of IMA's globally respected certification for accounting and finance professionals
Margaret:

In this special Count Me In podcast, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Certified Management Accountant or CMA program, I will be speaking with two CMA exam takers, Denny Beresford, who earned his CMA in 1972 and made IMA history by becoming one of IMA's first CMAs, and Tori Heavey, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who won the CMA student award for the highest score on the exam in the June/July, 2020 testing window. Tori also recently won the Elijah Sales Award for her CPA score. Denny has spent a lifetime working in accounting and finance. He currently serves as a member of IMA's Financial Reporting Committee and as the executive in residence at the JM Toll School of Accounting, Terry College of Business at University of Georgia. Tori is a recent graduate of the Master's in Accountancy program at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and is currently working as a tax associate for KPMG.
Margaret:

Thank you Denny and Tori for joining me today. As we talk about your experience taking the CMA exam. Denny, you have the distinction of being among the first people to sit for the CMA exam in 1972. At that time, the CMA exam was administered with paper and pencil and the field of management accounting was not widely known. What do you remember about taking the CMA exam? How did you learn about management accounting? Was it through school or work experience and what are some of your study methods and tips?
Denny:

I had been a member of IMA, it was actually the National Association of Accountants or in earlier years since 1962, shortly after I graduated from college. And in fact, I'd been active in my local chapter back in Los Angeles, rising from a helper on some of the committees to become president of the chapter shortly before I transferred from Ernst & Ernst's office in Los Angeles to the national office in Cleveland in 1971. So I was very familiar with what was going on at, at the organization and the fact that the CMA exam was being developed over a couple of years before that. And I guess I was generally familiar with the management accounting profession, having again been participating in IMA for a number of years being involved particularly at the local chapter level and then also at the national level.
Denny:

And also having been an auditor and interacting, of course with many of my clients for that period of time. And when the exam was was first offered, I decided that it would be a good thing, first of all, to support the organization for by taking it. And I thought it would be something that would help build my self confidence, you might say, in dealing with, with clients. Since I was a public accountant, I knew that I had to be able to speak intelligently to controllers and chief financial officers and others who were involved in the management accounting profession. And so I thought that being able to pass an exacting exam like the CMA would again, give me both self confidence and also a positive credential that would show that I was on similar footing to them.
Denny:

What I remember about taking the first exam, I was in Cleveland in the National Office of Ernst & Ernst, and at that point, and I don't remember how many different settings there were, but the closest location that I could, where I could take the exam was Pittsburgh. So I had to I go there, drive over to Pittsburgh, which isn't too far from Cleveland. I had to stay overnight. And the morning of the exam, there was an ice storm in Pittsburgh. And another fellow and I were both gonna take the exam together and we had to drive from the hotel to the, I don't remember exactly the place it was being held, but it was a half hour or so away, and we could barely make it there because of the streets were all icy and it was just a terrible weather situation.
Denny:

But and it was in a cavernous location, some sort of a very large convention location, something like that. And it was large and very cold. And again I had no idea how to prepare for the exam because back then there hadn't been any previous exams, had nothing to to go on in terms of looking at what questions had been asked in the past. And for the first exam, what the organization had done was give a list of books that you could consider studying to prepare you for the exam. I thought that was kind of a good idea, but not a very good use of my time. I knew that a couple of the parts of the exam, particularly Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and some other parts were pretty much in my wheelhouse and I could do well on those.
Denny:

The other parts I wasn't so sure about, but I felt that trying to study them by going back and reading textbooks or the like, would not be a very good use of my time. So my strategy, if you will, was to try to do well on one or two of the parts, and then of the other parts that if I didn't do so well the next time when I had to take them over, I'd at least know what to study for. And as it turned out, I passed the whole exam the first time and had one of the 10 highest scores. So that strategy worked out pretty well and it didn't have to go back and study, but that's as much as I remember about preparing for the exam, why I took it and exactly what happened when I was there.
Margaret:

That's great. That's a great story about the ice storm. You really persevered taking the CMA exam a very rigorous enterprise indeed. Tori, now that you've heard Denny's experience, how do you think the way you've taken the exam is different from Denny and what did you do to prepare for the exam?
Tori:

Yeah, my experience was a little different. I did not have an ice storm to deal with, but I've kind of grown up through the shift to digital. I rarely ever used computers for school until I came to college, really. Freshman year, most of my exams were still on paper and pencil. And gradually more and more classes switched to exams on the computer. And this transition really helped me prepare to take the CMA exam electronically, specifically for the essay portion. It helped that I'd improved my typing skills tremendously over the time or the few years I'd started using computers more and got more used to typing papers online or even just using different software. I used the Wiley CMA exam question bank to prepare and study for both parts of the CMA exam. And it was totally computer based. All of my prep except for my own notes that I still write on paper and pencil.
Tori:

But seeing the exam simulated during my studying in this way definitely helped a lot. It familiarized me with the test software and it made actual exam day a lot less daunting just to have kind of more familiarity in being used to the situation that I would be in. Cause sometimes it can be so nerve wracking on the exam day to go into a testing center. Right now we use Prometric centers, which I'm not sure if y'all are familiar with those, but you have to schedule an exam slot online, a few, usually a few weeks or months in advance. And then the day of you show up and you are assigned a computer that has like the blockers all around so that everyone is, it's almost like small cubicles around a little desk that has a computer at it. So it's definitely different, but I think it sounds like it's still pretty similar, but a lot more computer based and electronic. So I guess that's our biggest difference.
Margaret:

Right. And maybe Tori, can you talk a little bit about your motivation? Denny had talked about wanting to have more credibility in front of people that were management accountants. What was your motivation for taking the CMA exam?
Tori:

Yeah, so I found out about the CMA exam during an IMA presentation at my Beta Alpha Psy meeting during undergrad. It was actually my junior year of college. And at the time I was taking our cost accounting class which I was really enjoying. And later on I talked to the speakers, they introduced the CMA exam scholarship, and my cost professor, Ms. Winegardner ended up nominating me for that. I think professors can nominate up to 10 students each year. And that's how I got the Wiley exam test bank study prep. And it also covered my exam fees for both parts. So I was able to take, it's a very cost effective way for anyone interested. And I guess really my motivation stem from how much current professionals who were coming in to speak to us and teachers and professors, how much they were willing to invest in me and seeing them support me motivated me to put in the study hours and to not only pass, but you know, to really give it my 110% effort and do well if it's something kind of taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to me and seeing if these people that I respected and admired who were doing so well in the accounting profession, if it's something that they respect and is something kind of seen as when you see someone as a CMA that they know their stuff, you know, kind of. And that's something that I wanted to do.
Tori:

And like I said, just really see opportunities and take advantage of 'em.
Margaret:

I like what you said about when you're a CMA it means that you know your stuff and that other people know your stuff as well. So I guess, Denny, my question is, once you passed the exams and once you became a CMA, did your career accelerate? Did you find that you had new opportunities? How did the CMA help you in your career?
Denny:

Well, let me first of all go back. Let me double back on something that that Tori was saying. I think it's terrific that she was able to take the exam and become a CMA while she is still in school. I guess she doesn't necessarily get the certificate until she has the work experience. But most colleges, most leading universities, I'm at the University of Georgia, she graduated from one of our close competitors at the University of Tennessee. They tend to emphasize, and I would say even overemphasize public accounting in the curriculum. And it's almost you have to study for the CPA exam as kind of the very narrow focus for most of the students. And the reality is that that a very small percentage of the graduates will stay in public accounting, where the CPA is really a necessary part of the work situation.
Denny:

And most of them will end up in some aspect of industry, of corporate position. I'm not suggesting that that's what Tori's goal is or where she will end up, who knows. But, but preparing yourself for that possibility more while you're in university, I think is something that students should pay more attention to. So that, that was my point there in terms of what it did for me, again, I think it achieved my goal of giving me more confidence in my, in my ability to deal with individuals. I have to say that I was already pretty successful in my, in my career. I became a partner at Ernst & Ernst, it's now Ernst & Young at almost the same time that I passed the CMA examination became a partner in the fall of 1972.
Denny:

And that's just when I passed the exam. I then later on became one of the senior partners at the firm and left in 1986 to become chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards board, where I was for 10 years, served the maximum of two five year terms. They went on to the University of Georgia and have also served on six large corporate boards where I chaired audit committees. So I won't say that, that the CMA caused all of those things to occur, but it certainly didn't hurt. But my graduation from the University of Southern California didn't hurt my CPA. Passing all four parts of that the first time didn't hurt. Working very hard all of those years didn't hurt. It all was part of the package. And again, it if it was part of my overall, not necessarily work plan, but my career was one of continuing education and continuing to try to build on what I had done previously and learn new things and continue to get better.
Margaret:

And that shifts nicely into our next topic because there's a lot of continuous learning that management accountants have to do to meet the demands of technology and the rapid piece of digitization in the profession. So, Tori, I guess I'm gonna start with you. How did taking the CMA exam prepare you for the technology that you'll use in your job every day or that you probably are using in your job every day now?
Tori:

So I was a tax concentration during my master's accountancy where most people now it's very popular to do information management or at other schools, sometimes it's called information systems. So yes, the CMA exam definitely taught me a lot about data analytics in other transformative technology and supplemented what I wasn't learning as much in class because I was taking more tax classes. I learned really well by reading written words. So learning about automation and software systems during studying actually has helped me understand the software applications that I use now for work. And it's given me just a new perspective to troubleshoot when something isn't working as it should, where before I kind of would shut down and just think, well, the computer's not doing what it's supposed to be doing. I don't know what to do because it's just supposed to work this way and it's not doing what it's supposed to.
Tori:

Where now I kind of think of potential issues in a way that I never would've even kind of considered to think about before. Technology can be kind of like scary or maybe hard to learn at first for me, especially cuz I'm kind of, like I said, I'm very traditional. I'm not as good with learning new things or I'm just not as, I'm not excited about, I'm not the first adapter. I'm kinda a little bit more of a hang back and see how things work out, but it definitely adds value through efficiency and minimizing human errors. And it's really helped us be able to work kind of in our new remote environment. A lot of our work processes would not have been able to be moved to remote if it hadn't been for all the technology that we use now. And I think that I definitely add value to our team. People come to me sometimes about some of our systems that I've picked up really quickly, even in my first year working, just because I have that background, like I was talking about from learning how systems work and each of the different processes and kind of the backside of things when I was studying for my CMA.
Margaret:

That makes perfect sense. And Denny, as you watch technology evolve, how has it changed the job of a management accountant from when you entered the profession to today?
Denny:

It's just night and day. I mean, back just as it was pencil and paper to take the CMA examination, it was mainly pencil and paper to do the work. When I first started in public accounting and was auditing corporations, we then had very rudimentary data processing. We had 10 key adding machines that we were using. Tori mentioned that typing was very important to her, to learning how to type better. That's something that stayed with me. I took a typing class in junior high school and fortunately that's something that stayed with me for years and years. But other than that things are just completely different, we didn't have coffee machines. We certainly didn't have cell phones. It's just, I can't even describe all the differences. It's just today, it's it's a whole new world. We have drones going out and doing inventory accounts. It's almost like science fiction, frankly. If you tried to compare it to what things were like 50 years ago.
Margaret:

Yeah, I bet. It's been remarkable to see the evolution of technology and how it's changed everything about our lives. And Tori, I know that you had said that with technology, you're not necessarily the early adopter, but you, you know, like the increased efficiency that it brings, what excites you about technology?
Tori:

I really like how it brings people from really kind of all across our teams now are so spread out that you're not just working with someone in the same office as you. Although I will caveat that with, it's hard sometimes. It's nice to have our face to face time with your team. It's good to build those relationships, but still technology has enabled us to be working on like the same client, the same work papers. You can check in our data management system or document management system. You can check in one set of work papers and someone else picks it up on our India team when it's so busy during busy season, we have people working 24 hours a day all across, like in different time zones. And I guess that kind of speaks to the efficiency, but then also it's pretty neat that we have teams that are so diverse and spread out. It's pretty cool.
Margaret:

Yeah, the ability to work real time around the clock and globally certainly, you know, makes multinational corporations like run as well as they do. And I guess shifting to continuing education as a requirement for maintaining the CMA. And IMA providing continuing education to all members. Denny, I know that you've served on IMA's financial reporting committee. How has being an IMA member with access to continuing education helped you in your career?
Denny:

Continuing education, as I mentioned before, has always been very important to me. And, in public accounting, the firm provided continuing education as part of the job. I'm sure that's true with Tori as well right now. But they also were willing to, to pay for classes that I could take on my own. And I always consider that to be a fringe benefit and I took a maximum advantage of it. I didn't go for an additional degree. I started a part-time MBA and then decided that was kind of a waste of time because MBA programs were very unsophisticated back then. But I took a lot of individual classes on things that I thought were very germane to my job. For example, some when data processing was just becoming more sophisticated, I started taking some classes there, statistical sampling, any number of of classes that were being offered by IMA, by the CPA societies, by universities. I wouldn't say it was directly related to IMA, although I've certainly attended a lot of seminars, annual meetings and certainly chapter meetings, which were very educational, over the years. But the key is to take advantage of any opportunities that you have and to keep learning and to try to stay at least up to, if not ahead of the curve if you possibly can.
Margaret:

That's very good advice. And Tori, you a relatively new member of IMA, how are you planning to take advantage of IMA's continuing education opportunities and are there any areas in particular that you wanna learn more about?
Tori:

Well, I think kind of like Denny was saying, it's awesome that they provide so many free resources to members for CPE because a lot of people have to seek it out on their own, especially once you move into industry. When I've talked to people, it's kind of one of those things that right now I'm in public accounting and they push a lot of the firm provided resources, but then once you move into industry or to smaller firm, you kind of have to find things on your own. So it's really neat that the IMA website kind of gathers that all for you in one place. I was actually looking around on their website the other day and I plan to attend some of the online courses and they also have some webinar webinars available that I'll probably try to attend if it works my schedule and kind of sign up for, I saw a course on emotional intelligence, which is pretty interesting to me.
Tori:

I was reading about it and it stuck out cuz it's so important to foster relationships, you know, even when we're trying to push through so much work, sometimes we can get so focused in on the work product instead of the people we're around and kind of building our team. And I forget to be intentional with my interactions with people when we get into those high stress, busy season situations. But I'm excited to take this course and kind of hopefully learn how to better empathize and work with other people when we're in that business context instead of just our everyday lives too.
Margaret:

That's great. Yeah, and there has been a lot of, I guess, research about the importance of emotional intelligence, especially among leaders because technology is great, but it's only as good as the people that are behind it. So I guess we can shift to closing remarks. Hitting the 50 year mark speaks to the value of the CMA program. I actually wrote a blog this year about how the CMA program was built to last with skills people can use for a lifetime. And there are not many things in this world with that kind of longevity and staying power. So, Denny, what are your thoughts on the relevancy of the CMA after 50 years of existence?
Denny:

Well, I think it is very relevant and I think the, the the best thing is that the size of the program is much bigger, much better than it has been ever. As I said earlier, I've been involved with IMA for over 60 years now, and the thinking back to when the program started and then being a national director for a couple of years and of national vice president and just being active in general on the financial reporting committee, for example, for I had a couple of dozen years we've talked and talked about growing this program. And I can remember more than one national president of the IMA or chairman of the IMA saying, we expect to have X number of members by such and such a year, maybe back in 1975, we expected to have by 1980, a hundred thousand members.
Denny:

Well, most of those projections never came to fruition. And the program frankly, was limping along for quite a long time. But in the last 5 or 10 years or so, it has really taken off. We have many more members now. It's much more recognized. It's probably a lot more frequent that you would see in a, in an ad for a management accountant that CMA encouraged or required or whatever it might be 50 years ago, no one would even know what a CMA was. So I think that's probably the best sense of relevancy is that the program has grown so much and that it has sort of an upward trajectory and people are finally catching on that this is something that's really important. And I think it's just all up from here.
Margaret:

Well said. And Tori, what do you think the next 50 years holds for the CMA and for your career?
Tori:

So I think that the CMA will continue to enhance the accounting profession, especially as it evolves to fit the changing business world. Like the heavier focus on information technology we've talked about today, offering resources to members, it's gonna allow them to improve their skills and to keep distinguishing themselves from peers. The CMA is definitely something that's respected in the accounting profession. So especially as we see more and more jobs becoming obsolete because of changing technology, people are going to have to adapt and learn a new skill set to make themselves stand out. So those resources that the IMA is offering, you know, learning about artificial intelligence, ethics in a digital age, and especially data security is huge now. It's really gonna help IMA members and people who earn their CMA to keep contributing to our accounting world. As far as my career, I'm not really certain what the next 50 years will hold.
Tori:

That sounds like a long time, but I do know that technology's not gonna go away, whether I will be serving clients in the public accounting or moving into industry or even maybe into the academic field. I guess my plan is just to learn as much as I can, seeking insight from people around me who are further along in their accounting careers and who have experience and insight that they can impart and just continuing to take advantage of any resources at my disposal. I think the key to success is being just receptive and I'm excited about it.
Outro:

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.

 
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