By Carol Magner Mitchell, CMA
This article originally appeared in Strategic Finance Magazine.
I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue, but when I got a job in the Operations & Maintenance Department at the University of Hartford to help pay my tuition, it showed me new possibilities. It was being run like a separate business within the university (the other departments were its customers and were “buying” its services).
My first job out of college was my dream job. I landed in a five-year accounting/finance leadership training program with Emhart Corp., a global conglomerate that primarily owned industrial-type manufacturing operations. Every eight months I moved to a different financial department at headquarters, then to the accounting department at a field manufacturer. I also spent a year in internal audit (even going to New Zealand for one audit). The exceptionally strong financial people were clearly acting as business partners, and the company was very focused on internal controls, asset management, return on investment, and other management accounting areas. So they told me to go back to school and take more accounting courses. I promptly pursued a graduate certificate in accounting at UHart.
Not having a CMA was still bothering me, but I also thought it was important to complete a master’s degree, so I transferred into Rensselaer’s M.S. in Management program in international business. I had one semester behind me when Black & Decker, Inc. pursued the idea of buying Emhart Corp. I was close to finishing my five-year training program and was already deciding which path I wanted to take. I requested the Treasury Department or an international assignment. As luck would have it, Emhart’s Glass Machinery Group headquarters was moving to Switzerland, and its CFO asked me to come along as his financial (consolidation) analyst. While there, I learned about strategy, general business risks, consolidation issues, hedging/ exchange rates, managing with a tight corporate cash situation, and much more. It also was my first chance to implement a consolidation system.
After three-and-a-half years, I returned to the U.S., and, despite holding a couple more management accounting roles, I kept asking myself: Do I have the right to call myself a management accountant? Do I know enough? So as soon as I completed my master’s degree, I began studying for the CMA exam. Those were the days of four parts and several handwritten questions. I recall walking out of the exam, which I took in two days and which former IMA® Chair Carl Smith proctored, with cramps in my hands and not being confident about passing more than one or two parts.
It seemed to take months to receive the results, but one day the envelope arrived. I was afraid to open it, so I waited for my husband to come home. “I think it says you passed all four parts,” he said, showing me the letter. I literally started jumping up and down! He seemed surprised that I could be more excited about the CMA than receiving my master’s.
Next, my husband and I moved to Europe when the Glass Group brought me back on board as the controller of its German operation—my first operational controllership. I had to quickly improve my German in order to read contracts and help the company avoid risks on sales and purchase activity. Things like setting up proper costing standards, reducing inventory, and M&A work—including restructuring into three legal entities after our sale—were on the agenda.
During this time I attended my first IMA Annual Conference (Seattle in June 1999). While there, I met two Hartford Chapter members (Lynn Tinter and Christine West), and I couldn’t quite understand their level of excitement about IMA even though I had joined in 1996. Little did I know that they would pull me onto the Hartford Chapter board after my return to the U.S. and I would join their quest in helping members with continuing education, attaining certification, and working to engage members, students, and other professionals.
My further work life had me dealing with a turnaround, pricing in volatile raw material markets, and system implementations, but I finally managed to start carving out time for IMA activities, particularly helping find speakers for our local meetings as well as the NorthEast Regional Council’s annual conference. I’m proud to say I’ve worked with a great group of IMA NERC members on every conference (2019 will be our 12th). With IMA Global’s support, we also held a regional student- and faculty-focused leadership conference in 2017.
IMA also offers great networking advantages. My ties helped me get former IMA Chair Joe Vincent of the New Haven Chapter to join me on the board of a local community health center. In addition, the diversity of CMA-type jobs is why I decided to join one of our other Hartford Chapter board members, John Fortin, to initially help drive our local campus outreach initiative and extend our reach to area colleges in western Connecticut and Massachusetts. We then managed to pull in newly graduated student Kim Dera as our chapter campus outreach director, and she has taken our activities to another level.
I always tell students that I’m a businessperson first and an accountant second. I provide examples of the types of activities I’ve had to get involved with, and I explain that it never occurred to me to take an audit career path. Also, my CMA certification was instrumental in my landing an operational controller position at a French-owned company that understood the value a CMA could bring.
I’ve had an exciting career with a tremendous amount of international exposure and adventures. I want students to understand just how much fun (and stress) awaits those 75% of accounting/ finance graduates who will ultimately work in businesses. IMA has elevated so many members’ careers, and I’m delighted to help celebrate our 100-Year Anniversary. I’m confident IMA will soar in its next 100 years.
Carol Magner Mitchell, CMA, is the SAP Functional Data Lead at The Metropolitan District and is a member of IMA’s Hartford Chapter. You can reach her at email@example.com.