Tips for Dealing with Disruptors and Finding Success: Interview with Kimberly Ellison-Taylor

by Jen Mueller | Jul 09, 2018

At the 2018 WSCPA Annual Meeting, June 19 at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Washington, Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, and Immediate Past Chair of the AICPA, talked about Thriving in Disruptive Times and gave the audience a glimpse of the future of the profession.

During her stay in Seattle, Kimberly talked with me about what it’s like to be a CPA with a STEM background and her advice for dealing with the technology disruptors of today.


Jen Mueller: Kimberly Ellison Taylor was in town recently for the Annual Meeting. And Kimberly, I think your story is so fascinating and you approach CPA work from a very different angle. What's the angle that you take?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: It's about people and I've been so excited to work with students and our members across the profession. So whether they're in business and industry or public practice, government, education, not for profit, or consulting, we are a people based profession. And so I'm excited and energized by meeting our people.

Jen Mueller: And it’s so I think different and counter-intuitive to what a lot of people think when they hear CPA. They think it's all about math and it's boring and that you know it's not something for them. So what's the piece of career advice that you give most often when people in the profession run up against that?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: It's interesting because one of the things I like to tease is that we couldn't nearly be as boring as people think we are. We are fun! We like to have fun. But more importantly than that I say as CPA as we speak the language of business and we are critical to the foundation of how organizations operate, because it's people, process, technology, and resources. And so businesses that aren't paying attention to their efficiency or effectiveness, mergers and acquisitions, new product or supply offerings are not going to be around if they're not paying attention. Who else to help them, but a CPA? And to guide them to increase the competitive advantage. And so I talk about all of the options and I talk about the end because people do taxes and they are auditors and they are in STEM like me, and they are educators, and they work not for profit, and they're government leaders. There are so many things we can do, being a CPA. So why wouldn't everyone do it?

Jen Mueller: I happen to agree and now I have a new appreciation for the profession. You mentioned STEM. Boy there was a lot of stuff that is changing when it comes to technology and what people need to be aware of. What are you seeing, just as far as trends and what's on the horizon?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: So from a STEM perspective it really comes down to a couple of different things. We're in an environment where the pace of change will never be as slow as it is now. And I just heard that quote at one of our recent meetings. Technology is a game changer, and so that means that technology is going to enable disruption and it's going to empower organizations to really be broader in their reach and how they respond to their customers and their clients. And so there is no option for us. We have to be paying attention to technology and what that means as we promote and protect the public interest.

Jen Mueller: Artificial intelligence has been in the news a lot. Does that come into accounting?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: Absolutely. Because think about it from an artificial intelligence perspective, I fully expect that over time we will all have bots on our desk. We may have robots in our homes, certainly in our businesses, and so artificial intelligence will give us the opportunity to put a lot of that technical knowledge, a lot of the consistency of processes and procedures, and ensure that there's quality because if you were to do with incorrectly the artificial intelligence system would say, “Wait a minute, Jen. You're doing this wrong, because the last 10 times you did it, you followed steps A, B, C, and D. Now you're doing G. Do you really mean to do that? And so we're expecting greater quality, and we're expecting greater responsiveness and productivity.

Jen Mueller: So instead of being afraid of it, it really is something that could be good. But part of this comes back to training people for change and to be aware that it's happening whether we want it to or not.

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: It's here. We have to ride change like a surfboard. We cannot be stressed. We have to be prepared. And so that's exactly what the Washington Society of CPAs, that's what you're doing. You are actively working in the community to prepare leaders to embrace change. And that's what I think is so exciting.

Jen Mueller: So for a couple of things here. If people are in a leadership role but they feel like they need to step it up. Is there a book or a resource that you recommend most often?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: I would definitely send people who want to know more to the Washington Society of CPAs website. And then I would send them to the American Institute of CPAs website. I think there are a number of really great resources and guides. And so don't be intimidated. I mean, we have YouTube, we have all kinds of tutorials online. There's certainly a lot of information that's available. But your trusted sources could be the society websites that I just mentioned.

Jen Mueller: What's the thing you didn't know as you were going through your career and yet kind of glad you didn't? Otherwise you might not be where you are today.

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: I don't know if I appreciated that the learning never stops. Because when you're going through your classes you’re so destination driven. Like if I get here, if I get the next degree, if I finish this next class, there is no there. I don't think I knew that there was no there. So now, I can be better prepared, I think, knowing that I have a commitment to lifelong learning, and that I'll always be in the mode of learning something new.

Jen Mueller: Well then lastly with that in mind what's the thing that you're learning new right now? And it could be personally or professionally. I'm kind of curious about both.

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: Ah, well that would be great. So I am learning more about balancing my time, because what happens is, I'm very goal driven. And so I'm always thinking about what's next. I want to be in the moment. I want to enjoy the moment and be present. I have two kids, and so I like to talk about my family, because a lot of people think they have to choose. And you don't have to choose. You just have to be present, and in the moment and not thinking about the next thing. Be there. So that's what I'm actively working on.

But I can tell you that there are a number of books that any given time someone is always recommending a book to me, but because I'm reading publications and reading documents and getting alerts across all the various publications is kind of challenging, but I'm doing it.

So I'm staying up the speed and then I can ask people. I have no problem with asking for help. And I think we all have to be in a position of asking for help.

Jen Mueller: I'm certainly glad that we asked for this time. It's been fun.

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: Thank you. I'm looking forward to future discussions.

Jen Mueller headshotJen Mueller is a veteran sports broadcaster and the founder of Talk Sporty to Me. She is an expert in business communication and can be contacted at

If you missed Kimberly’s presentation, Thriving in Disruptive Times at the WSCPA Annual Meeting, June 19, 2018, you can view the live video on Facebook here.

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