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Jean-Luc Bourdon
Jean-Luc Bourdon
 

What Does Success Mean to CPAs?

May 3, 2010
by Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA, PFS

The laws of success are luck, ambition, good-looks (occasionally) and the ability to make something obvious appear wise, wrote Lucy Kallaway in a recent Financial Times article. Kallaway reached that conclusion as she offered a scathing and witty critique of Maria Bartiromo’s book, The 10 Laws of Enduring Success. To reconcile Kallaway and Bartiromo, I must say it is difficult to separate rules of success and blatancy. The road to achievement is marked clearly and offers no secret short-cut. I took my own road-trip to find out.

The Road to Success

Years ago, my college roommate and I set out on a cross-country study trip. One of the discoveries we were hoping to make was the common characteristics of successful individuals. We organized our trip to coincide with regularly scheduled Rotary Club meetings in various communities, where we would ask to be introduced to local community and business leaders.

From California to Georgia, we spoke with the “movers and shakers” of a cross-section of America: a union leader, a federal circuit judge, several business executives and many entrepreneurs from various industries. None of them offered us a “secret” to success. In fact, the advice they offered us was good, old common sense. So, what did we learn?

These successful individuals had a few common threads:

  • They had a positive outlook. Logically, pessimism does not lead to achievement.
  • They were involved. You don’t win the lottery if you don’t play. Similarly, these individuals were successful in their field because they were players in it.
  • They were disciplined. None of them credited luck alone for their achievement. Instead, they had consistently worked at it for some time.
  • They had done things differently than the average person — or logically, they would not have differentiated themselves.
  • They consistently followed their core principles (e.g. “finish what you start” or “you don’t ask, you don’t get”).

I’m sure you recognize these elements from the successes achieved in your own life. Preparing for the CPA exam takes much discipline, while retaking the exam takes a positive outlook, etc.

During our journey, one individual succinctly put into words what made him successful. He said he quit teaching and purchased a fast-food franchise when he realized he didn’t need to know much more than he did; he just needed to do more of what he already knew.

As a college kid, I found the simplicity of these lessons disappointing. I had expected something far edgier. As a CPA, I have often been reminded of the profound truth of simple wisdom. And I have also observed that some of the most intricate theories lead to remarkable failures.

CPAs are in an opportune position because of their ability to:

  • Closely observe and analyze clients’ — or employers’ — success and
  • Seize the possibility to contribute to it. Of course, the characteristics of achievement can be applied to every area of a CPA practice.

As a CPA, PFS, I apply them to wealth management.

Application Example

In 2008, in the middle of the financial meltdown, I fell back on my road-trip observations to remind clients how principles of success applied to investing. My point of view was and is, that we don’t really know what the stock market will do next week or in the next few months, but we can act on what we already know that:

  1. Disciplined investors reap long-term benefits;
  2. Stock market participation is beneficial in the long term and
  3. Short-term setbacks can be overcome with long-term positive outlooks.

We must also act differently from the average investor. As Warren Buffett puts it:

“Seek to be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are being greedy.”

Finally, we must consistently follow core principles. Some of my favorites are:

  • No wind favors he who has no destined port.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Good things come to those who wait.

Conclusion

Whether we learn about success from Kallaway, Bartiromo, a road trip and/or our own experience, it is good to remind ourselves of what success means to CPAs and what leads to it. Even if the way to accomplishment appears obvious and common sense, getting there is challenging and hazardous. The role of CPAs is to guide individuals and organizations on the way to achieving their goals. That is a cool, complicated and quite a trip.

Epilogue

What lessons have you learned about success and how do you apply them to your practice? Please e-mail me your answers. I would love to combine answers in a follow-up article.

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Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA, PFS is a wealth manager with Walpole Financial Advisors, LLC (WFA) in Goleta, CA. His opinions and comments expressed within this column are his own and may not accurately reflect those of WFA. This information is being provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment or tax advice. Nothing in these materials should be interpreted as implying the performance of any client accounts or securities recommendations. Bourdon volunteers as financial literacy advocate. He also currently serves on the UW-Platteville’s Distance Learning Alumni Advisory Board. All members of the AICPA are eligible to join the PFP section. For CPAs who want to demonstrate their expertise in this subject matter apply to become a PFS Credential holder.