“Young women in high school should learn about well-paying STEM jobs such as accounting” with Erica Bortz and Tyler Gallagher

I think young women in high school should learn about well-paying STEM jobs such as accounting. So many people think accounting is just tax preparation or auditing — actually all my friends just think I prepare tax returns — but it’s much more advisory and interesting than that. I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica […]

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I think young women in high school should learn about well-paying STEM jobs such as accounting. So many people think accounting is just tax preparation or auditing — actually all my friends just think I prepare tax returns — but it’s much more advisory and interesting than that.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Bortz, CPA, a shareholder with Concannon Miller, a mid-sized CPA and business consulting firm in Bethlehem, Pa. She started as a bookkeeper with the company in 1995, rising through the ranks to become the firm’s first female shareholder in 2009. She was the architect of the firm’s successful employee benefit plan audit practice and is a leading partner in the firm’s top niche of providing accounting and tax services to McDonald’s franchisees.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I took my first accounting course in high school, and I found it both fun and easy (I got an A!) I always liked numbers and it just all made sense to me.

I majored in accounting in college. I graduated in the middle of a recession so I didn’t get a job as an accountant right away and instead started as a bookkeeper. After working at a nonprofit agency and a bank, I took a bookkeeping job at a public accounting firm because I saw it as an opportunity to move up and become a CPA.

I became an accountant about a year after I started at Concannon Miller and became the firm’s first female partner 13 years later. Helping my clients be successful in their businesses is my greatest professional joy and I wanted to become a partner so I could serve as their most trusted advisor.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

We recently conducted a client satisfaction survey and I was overwhelmed by the results. It was so gratifying to hear how thankful many of my clients are for the help and advice I’ve provided them over the years. I got so many compliments that one of my coworkers asked who I paid to get so many shout outs! More than anything, getting a heartfelt thank you from a client is my favorite thing about my job.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Since we first started working with McDonald’s franchisees 50 years ago, we’ve always advised them on transition strategies, whether it be selling to a third party or gifting or selling to family. With Baby Boomers hitting retirement age, that work has increased significantly in recent years. We’ve conducted a lot of succession planning training, including a full day Succession Success workshop especially for McDonald’s franchisees.

McDonald’s has very high standards for its operators, and requires even family members of operators to pass a financial skills test to become operators themselves. We recognized a need for quality financial training for future McDonald’s operators and in 2016 created a McDonald’s Next Gen Academy for Finance & Leadership. Since then, more than 150 Next Gen Operators have attended the Academy, and in the process, are better equipped to run the financial end of their businesses.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Many professional services firms thrive by becoming experts within a specific industry. In addition to more common niches such as manufacturing, construction and nonprofits, our firm also specializes in providing tax and accounting services to McDonald’s franchisees. We currently serve more McDonald’s franchisees than any other CPA firm in the United States.

We got our first McDonald’s client in 1969 and grew the niche in a unique way. One of our McDonald’s CPAs was invited to speak at a McDonald’s conference but there was a catch — it was on a cruise, so he’d have to stay for the entire trip. Besides getting to go on a multi-day cruise — not a bad deal! — he was able to meet and network with dozens of McDonald’s franchisees — and obtain many of them as clients!

We’ve continued to grow our McDonald’s niche in similar ways over the following 50 years. While we haven’t gotten any more cruise invites, we do attend more than a dozen McDonald’s operator conferences every year where we provide financial education and meet franchisees.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

While we didn’t have a female partner until 2009, we now have four female partners, which accounts for 36% of our total partnership. That’s far higher than the industry average of 24%. Women also account for 40% of our managers, which also is encouraging.

I think it’s great for our young staff to come in and see so many female leaders. That wasn’t always the case here. Before I become partner, there was the perception that the firm wasn’t open to female partners and that women had to go elsewhere to enter leadership. Now that myself and three other women are shareholders, it signifies to other women here that it’s possible for them, too.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement in the industry as a whole. Accounting is still dominated by men, and there’s a misperception that female CPAs aren’t as capable advisors as male CPAs, which of course isn’t the case.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and /or c) society to support this movement going forward?

Companies should offer flexibility, not just to women but all employees with small children. After I had my daughter, I first worked part time and later worked from home. It ultimately wasn’t the best option for me, but it can definitely work for some people.

Family support was also crucial for me as I advanced in my career. My daughter was six when I became partner, and being a shareholder here involves a lot of travel as our McDonald’s franchisee clients are in 42 states. I relied a lot on the support of my husband and mother — and my daughter herself — when I became partner.

Lastly, I think young women in high school should learn about well-paying STEM jobs such as accounting. So many people think accounting is just tax preparation or auditing — actually all my friends just think I prepare tax returns — but it’s much more advisory and interesting than that.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

My daughter is 16 — so almost an adult but not quite. She is at the age where the question of college and how to pay for it is front and center. We’ve saved money for her for college but I also want her to pay for some of her education. I paid for my entire degree, and I think it made me more vested in my education and driven to find a job. The day I paid off my student loans was the best day of my life. I’d advise all young adults to take some financial responsibility for their higher education.

Some of my other financial advice for young adults includes “paying yourself first,” which includes contributing to both a 401(k) and savings account every paycheck. Also, after you have children, if you do, start saving for their college education early, as well (while I advocate for children to pay for some of their own college, taking on too much college debt can be crippling.)

Though my daughter is still young, we’ve already talked about the importance of being careful with credit card spending. While getting a credit card can be important in building credit, it’s crucial to not charge more than you can afford to pay off.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the team at Concannon Miller. I work with a great group of people who are very supportive of me and the firm. I was mentored by several great CPAs throughout my career, and there have been multiple people I worked with over the past 24 years who were especially helpful to me. I am most grateful for the support from Barry Hetzel. I remember telling Barry pretty early on that I was interested in becoming a shareholder, and he was always very supportive of me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Nothing will work unless you do.” — Maya Angelou

I had to work incredibly hard for the opportunities in my professional level, and especially in my quest to become my firm’s first female shareholder.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My daughter recently spearheaded a fundraiser for Four Diamonds, which funds research and care for children with cancer. I was very moved by her dedication and her compassion rubbed off on me. We don’t personally know anyone afflicted with pediatric cancer but there was a young girl in our community who is now thankfully in remission. We followed her family’s updates online and it really opened our eyes. I’d love if a cure were found.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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