The second installment of our FICPA Conversations series is, appropriately, a two-parter!
In recognition of International Women’s Day, we spoke with our 2020 FICPA Women to Watch Award winners: Emerging Leader Kathryn Horton and Experienced Leader Karen Lake.
A graduate of Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University, Kathryn is a member of the FICPA Board of Directors, a member of the FICPA Council, and chair of the Young CPAs committee and CPA Summit.
She’ll take us through her winding path from school to factory life to breaking into the business and finally launching her firm, Kathryn K. Horton CPA, and explain the importance of patience, networking and determination.
To read our interview with Kathryn, scroll down; and to read our interview with Karen Lake, click the link below.
Tell us a little about your path in the industry. You have a unique story.
It was a little bit of a different path than most. I actually wanted to do statistics; I wanted to be an actuary. The problem was that I wasn’t very good at calculus. Once I realized that was a roadblock, I knew accounting was the way I wanted to go. My dad was a CPA, so it was a natural fit. I went through school and got my bachelor’s, but when I graduated it was 2009, the job market was terrible. I had really worked my way through school and mostly taken night classes, and when I graduated, the opportunities just weren’t there. I took the CPA Exam while looking for work, but I still couldn’t find a job in public accounting.
So – I actually got a job working in a factory. I worked as a production control assistant and a production forecaster for a company that made aircraft parts in Ft. Lauderdale. I did that for two years and started going back to school for my master’s in accounting. I knew that’s still where I wanted to go, but that it would come when the time was right. In the meantime, at the factory, we had to do an inventory observation. I helped in getting everything prepared, and we had auditors come out. I thought it was just fascinating – the work they were doing. I was following along, asking all sorts of questions. I knew I wanted to go into public accounting, and I wanted to do audit.
With that in mind, I went to a career fair at FIU, resume in hand, and I pounded the pavement. When I was in school, I was always working and had never had the chance to meet with potential employers during recruiting events. It was an uphill battle. I met with 20 firms, and I got two callbacks. One of those was from a firm over in Sunrise – Daszkal Bolton – who brought me in as an audit intern. I got in a little late, starting as an intern at 25, but it ended up being a great opportunity. While I was there, I became intrigued by data analytics. For me, that was the best of both worlds, combining statistics and forecasting and accounting. I got my year of experience, secured my CPA license, and found my main interest area in accounting. Daszkal was also really great when it came to getting involved in the community and with professional organizations. It was a platform for me to develop and flourish.
From there, I went on to a larger, national firm – Marcum – to get some broader experience. That was a segue for me to jump off and start my own firm.
That is a pretty winding road, all things considered. What was it, through all of that, that motivated you to head out your own?
Data analytics was the driver; I wanted to cultivate that. But I also wanted the time and flexibility to get more involved with the profession. I really felt, through all the experience I had and all the networking I’d done through professional organizations, that I had developed a very solid sphere of influence. In that way, even though I was going out on my own, it didn’t feel like I was starting from scratch.
As I said before, my dad was a CPA. He had started his own firm in the 80s, so he, too, was very much an inspiration for me. He was very encouraging and gave me a lot of good advice. I have to say, it has been one of the best career decisions I’ve made.
After all that, how did being recognized with the Women to Watch Award reframe the way you looked at the early part of your career?
It was a very long road, and it did take time, but we all are a product of our experiences. So every step along the way was important for me to get where I am now. I think you have to take the opportunities when and where they are and not try to force things to happen. If you put in the hard work and the time and the dedication, it’ll all come back. Things work in circles.
When it comes to winning the award, it really did solidify that I’m doing something right when it comes to working hard and working with integrity. It helped establish me as a professional with my peers and our Young CPAs.
I’ve asked a version of this question to our other two Conversation subjects, Ron Thompkins and Karen Lake, but I’d like to get your thoughts as a Young CPA who’s already running your own firm. A recent study produced by the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business and the California Society of CPAs revealed that for every 10 of the accounting profession’s most senior leaders, “nine are white, eight are male and very few identify openly identify as LBGTQIA.” How do you think your peer group, your generation of CPAs, can make progress in the industry as advance in your careers and take on your own positions in leadership?
That’s a really great question. I have to say that with our Young CPA committee, we have a very diverse group. Our young professionals are open-minded and bring a different perspective than from that legacy era of 40-50 years ago, when it was very male-dominated, very white-male-dominated. Our Young CPAs are a very motivated, inspiring group. They make a positive impact within their communities, through service opportunities, and within the profession.
I do strongly feel that as our young professionals move into these leadership roles, we will see a lot more diversity and inclusion, because of how diverse we already are. I’ve been fortunate enough to go through D&I classes with our Young CPAs, and they are the change-makers. There will be a paradigm shift, and we already see it happening. We still have a long way to go, but we are starting to see a shift, and we’ll continue to see it over time, in part because our Young CPAs are so inclusive and motivated.
We started out by talking about your unconventional start. Given your particular set of experiences, what advice would you give to young women who are considering a future in accounting?
Take every opportunity possible, and never sell yourself short. A lot of times, young professionals or women won’t pursue certain opportunities, because they don’t think they have a shot or enough experience or self-confidence. Sometimes we do sell ourselves short. My dad would always say, to use a baseball analogy, take as many swings as you can, because you’re going to get a hit at some point. That’s how I’ve always operated.
You can achieve a lot more than you think, and that’s something that – 10 years ago, sitting in a factory – I would have never thought. If someone would have told me back then that I’d have my own firm, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’d have thought, “No. That’s reaching for the stars.” But it can happen! You have to believe in yourself and have that sense of self-empowerment. Don’t let that roommate in your head talk you out of the opportunities that could make a difference in your career.