And the McGladrey Women Who Make It So

by Eric Wright

Were you aware that the accounting firm of McGladrey and Pullen, LLP (dba “McGladrey”) ranks fifth on Accounting Today’s list of Top100 firms in the U.S., with more than 8,000 employees nationwide?  Through its recent reacquisition of RSM McGladrey from H & R Block, RSM International, of which McGladrey is its U.S. member, becomes the sixth largest network of independent accounting and consulting firms worldwide with over 700 offices in 90 countries and more than 32,500 employees.

You may also be unaware that in 2009, McGladrey was named to Working Mother’s “Top 100 Companies” list for the third time. Also that year, McGladrey was named for the second consecutive year as one of the “Best Places to Launch a Career” by BusinessWeek.  Both of these distinctions are not lost on the CPAs who call McGladrey’s Melbourne office their home.

However, McGladrey of Melbourne shares a distinction that sets them apart, not only from others under the McGladrey corporate banner, but most of the industry itself.  And it isn’t just that their CPAs crisscross the state advising and providing accounting services to some of the most recognizable corporations in the region, along with many of the largest county governments and school boards, including those here in Brevard.  Rather, the difference is that their principals are some of the most respected women professionals in the region.

Kathy Thomas-Beck is the Florida Market Managing Partner overseeing McGladrey’s seven offices across the state, and was recognized as Partner of the Year in 2007, a distinction given each year to one of McGladrey’s 8,000 employees.  In addition, Terri Burdine serves as Lead Tax Partner for Central and North Florida; Yvonne Clayborne is the Director, Audit Services; and Jennifer Murtha is Consulting Director, Risk Management.

The Opportunities Are Limitless

Thomas-Beck didn’t stumble into accounting as a profession; she decided in high school accounting was her niche.  But it wasn’t just her aptitude for numbers, as she explains, “Our profession is about interaction, finding ways to make our clients successful.  We’re consultants, dedicated to helping companies and municipalities achieve their strategic plans.  I suppose in the final analysis we endeavor to be every client’s most trusted advisor.”

Burdine was drawn to the field for similar reasons.  “Accounting can provide unlimited possibilities and encompasses a multitude of areas that would afford employment regardless of whether I chose to live in Brevard or in another area of the world,” explained Burdine.  “Accounting is the backbone of any business.

The school superintendents, county managers and corporate CEOs and CFOs they advise certainly understand this fact.  But has rising to the top of their field been a constant battering against the often-cited “glass ceiling?”  Thomas-Beck doesn’t think so.  “Over my career, I’ve never felt discriminated against, though I do notice the higher I go (corporately), the fewer women there are in the room.  But usually that isn’t because of a lack of opportunity, rather it is the result of career and family choices people have made along the way.”

Burdine, who like Thomas-Beck went to work for the firm right out of college even before they merged with McGladrey, reflected on the changes she has seen during her career.  “When I first entered the field of Accounting, most CPAs were men, and meetings and conferences I attended were dominated by men,” she said.  “Today when I meet with small- or large-sized companies, women are in high-level positions and frequently own or run the companies.”  Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of accounting graduates are now women according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Clayborne, during the construction boom, focused on companies in that industry.  She commented on the changes and challenges of being a woman who was advising men in a male dominated field, and admitted that initially there were hurdles to cross.  However, she pointed out, “It wasn’t a challenge unless I made it a challenge.  People can choose their own path; the ceiling is where we make it.”

Flexibility in an Evolving Marketplace

One wonders if asking questions about women in the workplace or balancing business and personal life is even relevant these days.  Jennifer Murtha still thinks so.  “You can’t escape the essential differences between women and men; instead you have to embrace them.”  Burdine further expanded, “You have the decision to start every day with a great attitude; realize the power of the net that you cast.”

Murtha, who with her high school sweetheart, attorney Kevin Murtha, is raising three boys, sights McGladrey’s “Flex Time” policy as a key not only to her success as a professional, but also as a mother.  “This allows me to organize my schedule around both the needs of my clients and the needs of my family.  McGladrey isn’t the only company to do this, but they were certainly a forerunner, which explains why they have been rated so highly as a company of choice for working mothers.”

But she pointed out these company perks only work when the leadership of the company sees them as an asset, not a liability.  Murtha added, “If Kathy and Terri didn’t support me and support the Flex Time policy, I couldn’t do it.  They understand that just as people differ in areas of specialization, we also have different lifestyle choices.  There is a prevailing attitude in the company that when we are good to our employees and clients, they are good to us.”

McGladrey’s policies give the company a competitive edge in attracting and maintaining the best and brightest employees in a highly competitive market.  Among accountants, unemployment is just a little over 2 percent, so firms must offer not only flexibility, but opportunity to its workforce, especially when they are getting started.  Thomas-Beck pointed out that, “Recruiting and retaining are much easier when the company is employee-focused, so employees can in turn be client-focused.  Also offering not only nationwide, but worldwide opportunities gives ambitious young CPAs a multitude of options.”

Finding the Sweet Spot

All companies have mission statements and slogans, but at McGladrey it seems as though it goes well beyond a framed plaque on the wall.  Instead, their mission is as much a part of their operating procedure as the latest tax codes.  Both Thomas-Beck and Burdine spoke passionately about their responsibility to “understand my clients – their business, their aspirations and their challenges.”  Perhaps like identifying with the pressures and demands of working women, the ability to listen, to care, and to put them in another’s place, gives them an upper hand not only with employees, but with their clients.

Thomas-Beck said, “One of my previous leaders used to look to me after a significant meeting and ask, “What did that really mean?  What is your intuition telling you?  He wanted me to help him understand what they weren’t saying, what observation was driving me to conclude.  Communication is a strength for women and a key to understanding, one that often gives us (women) a decisive edge.”

For the CPAs at McGladrey, understanding others begins with an understanding of one’s self and what Clayborne described as her “sweet spot.”

“One of the strengths of our firm is giving people the opportunity to identify the area that we feel is best suited to our skill sets and then to focus on that particular area of public accounting.  What is more, as a firm, we are able to cross-pollinate each other’s expertise.  There is a strength in that diversity, locally and nationally.  I like the protection of knowing there are very smart people who have vetted the processes so we don’t ‘go rogue’,” said Clayborne.

It is helping others, both clients and employees, achieve their objectives and aspirations that excites Thomas-Beck most about the future.  She confided, “My executive coach and I were talking about what my professional goals should be as I looked ahead.  Then one day it hit me – I don’t aspire to some higher position anymore, in fact it is no longer about my success.  I want to be a part of helping others achieve their goals…that inspires me!”  Her coach then told her, “I already knew that about you, but I wanted you to arrive at it on your own.”

Kathy Thomas-Beck

Title: Florida Market Managing Partner

Years with McGladrey: 23

Organizations: Financial Counsel for Brevard Cultural Alliance; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member; Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member

Kathy Thomas-Beck is the Florida Market Managing Partner overseeing McGladrey’s seven Florida offices, including the local Melbourne office.  She has been a practicing Certified Public Accountant for over 23 years, providing advisory and professional services for local, national and international clients.

Terri Burdine

Title: Tax Partner, Central & North Florida

Years with McGladrey: 23

Organizations: United Way of Brevard Finance Committee; Parrish Medical Center Women’s Advisory Board; The Pilot Club of Titusville Member; Associated Builders and Contractors Space Coast Chapter Member; U.S. Space Walk of Fame Foundation; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member; Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member

Personal: Married to Greg, a real estate investor, with 2 children – Allison, 19; and Brandon, 23

Jennifer Murtha

Title: Director, Risk Advisory Services

Years with McGladrey: 13

Organizations: Board Member of American Cancer Society; active participant for Viera Relay for Life; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member; Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member

Jennifer is a Director in the Risk Management practice of McGladrey and has over 18 years’ experience focusing on both external and internal Audit Services.

Personal: Married to Kevin, an attorney, who practices law in Melbourne, with 3 children – Matthew, 5; Patrick, 10; and Robbie, 11

Yvonne Clayborne

Title: Director, Risk Advisory Services

Years with McGladrey: 12

Organizations: Yvonne remains active civically with her church; her sons’ baseball teams; currently holds the position of Vice Chair for the Brevard Symphony Orchestra; is a member of the Board of Overseers at Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business; is an active member of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants State & Local Government Section and the FGFOA; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member; Space Coast Chapter of the FGFOA, and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA)

Personal: Married to Greg, a teacher, assistant athletic director and head baseball coach for Rockledge High School, with two sons – Colby, 18; and Tyler, 15