Become A CPA

Become A CPA

What's Your CPA Story: Brad Tilden

by User Not Found | Aug 17, 2015

To showcase the variety of career opportunities available to CPAs, we asked some WSCPA members, "What's your CPA story?" Here is Brad Tilden's story.

Brad Tilden, CPA is the chairman and chief executive officer of Alaska Air Group and its two subsidiaries, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. Under his leadership, the company has earned many accolades, including ranking highest in customer satisfaction among traditional carriers in the J.D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction Study for eight years in a row.  The airline also ranked No. 1 in on-time performance for five consecutive years by FlightStats, and was named the Best Airline in the U.S. by The Wall Street Journal for the second consecutive year.

As a youngster, Brad would often go to the airport after school to watch airplanes take off and land.  As the leader of Air Group, Brad has added a passion for using numbers to drive change to his lifelong love of flying.

From childhood you dreamed of becoming a pilot. When did becoming a CPA enter into your career plans?

After graduating from Highline High School in Burien, Wash., I enrolled at Pacific Lutheran University. Originally planning on becoming a teacher, I became interested in business.

I earned a degree in business administration and accounting. On the side, I took what money was remaining from summer jobs and began training for a private pilot’s license. Following graduation, I worked for eight years at the accounting firm Price Waterhouse at its offices in Seattle and Melbourne, Australia. I passed the CPA exam and earned my license in 1985. I joined Alaska in 1991 as director of general accounting.

How did you make the transition to your current position?

I was promoted to controller in 1994. In 1997, I earned my master’s in business administration from the University of Washington.  I was promoted to chief financial officer in 2000, to executive vice president of planning and finance in 2007, and to president of Alaska Airlines in 2008. Then in 2012, I succeeded Bill Ayer as chief executive officer of Air Group.

What skills do you see as essential for success as CEO?

Being a CEO is like being any other kind of a leader. You need to have an understanding of your organization and the competitive environment, and then—together with your team—you need to come up with a plan that can be successful. You need to be able to bring people together, and motivate them to go out fight hard to execute the plan. These things, along with the right personal values, should help you be successful. Good timing and/or good luck are also part of most success stories.

What advice would you give to a CPA who aspires to get involved in your field?

Learn everything you can. One of my reflections from school was that understanding and then mastering the basics is a lot more important than I thought it was at the time. You need to actually understand subjects like economics and English and so forth, and understand them well. You need to be able to think critically about problems, be creative about solving them and clearly articulate a path forward.

The other bit of advice I typically give people is to “go for it.” Take some risk with your career. Sometimes I see people play it safe.  I think they should take a little risk, have fun, figure out what it is they really want, and go for it.

Every business needs people who understand the numbers and who can help to keep the business on track.  We do need to balance this with a focus on people, and a focus on using our knowledge of the numbers to drive change.

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