After reading the definition for “Certified Public Accountant,” one could easily walk away with the understanding that a CPA is a numbers cruncher, someone who spends all day engulfed in financial statements and budget spreadsheets. While that may be partially true, that impression would fail to recognize the bigger picture. It would fail to realize the other critical word in CPA—the word “public.”
I have held a variety of different titles during my career, including most recently governor of Michigan, but I wear the title of CPA as proudly as any of them. As governor, I’ve taken a deep interest in the budget and the numbers because I know those numbers are ultimately focused on making a difference in people’s lives. It is true that I’ve probably spent more time with spreadsheets than any other governor in our state’s history, and there’s no doubt that being a CPA has been a huge reason for that. But that time spent with spreadsheets has always been done with the understanding that behind every number is a person. It’s about serving the public—making sure the numbers translate into improving the lives of Michiganders.
The fact that in my time as governor we have gone eight-for-eight in getting budgets done early and making smart investments, which is important because that’s what is necessary to best serve the people of our great state. When I got to Lansing in 2011, the culture was broken in many ways. The state was mired in budget stalemates and government shutdowns. Few could agree on the numbers, and people suffered because of it. Schools and local governments didn’t know what to expect from their state government, so they couldn’t put their budgets together adequately in their effort to make improvements in the lives of families in their jurisdictions.
That broken culture has changed. We have paid down debt, reducing state retirement liabilities by more than $20 billion, and put the state on a path to pay off that debt entirely by 2038. We now have a healthy savings account for the future, building the state’s rainy-day fund from a mere $2 million just eight years ago to more than $1 billion today. We’ve made smart investments in a fiscally responsible way. We got the numbers right, Michigan’s economy has turned around, and it’s all been done with a focus on improving life for Michiganders and helping people find success.
If you look at my journey, both in the private and public sector, I’ve put my CPA skills to work for people. It’s important for all CPAs to keep in mind that the job is more than just numbers. The word “public” in the CPA title carries tremendous weight, and service to the public is what matters most. The public puts their trust in us as CPAs, and it is our responsibility to live up to that trust.
Michigan will soon have a new governor; I will return to being a private citizen. I will do so knowing that my CPA skills have served me well in each position that I’ve held, but perhaps most in my position as governor. The next generation of CPAs will continue to play a vital role in serving the public, instilling trust, and changing people’s lives for the better. CPAs can use their skills to serve the public in many ways, not just running for office. They can serve on boards of nonprofits and schools, advise local governments on financial issues, or provide feedback on public policy issues. I would encourage all CPAs to get involved in their communities.
Michigan is my home and always will be. I plan on staying here after my time in office is done. The state of Michigan is in a strong position for continued future success, and I look forward to watching that momentum continue. I ran for governor to serve all Michiganders and their families, and to make a difference in people’s lives. Many CPAs enter the profession knowing that its about so much more than numbers; it’s about how they can help people. Now we, as CPAs, need to be louder and prouder about how we are doing that.