Disaster relief specialist Fredrick Cuny studied Engineering and Urban Planning and began his career as a civil engineer.

Interview with an Accounting Executive


NAME: Joanne M. Riddle

JOB TITLE/OCCUPATION:   Accounting Executive/Manager/Accountant


EDUCATION:  M.B.A. in Business Management, University of Alaska, Fairbanks (1998); B.B.A. in Accounting, UAF (1985); general and industry specific Certificates in Process Improvement, Corporate Strategy and Ratemaking – Components and Design

ADDITIONAL PURSUITS & AREAS OF INTEREST:   Over the last 30 years I have volunteered for numerous public and private organizations, including the State of Alaska Board of Public Accountancy (8 years), Chena Goldstream Fire & Rescue Board of Directors (15 years), American Red Cross (2 years), and various homeowner and neighborhood association boards.

What is your educational background, specific to your profession?

Accounting is a profession based on specific practices and premises which are guided by industry standards to ensure comparability and confidence for stakeholders. Therefore specific instruction at the university level is required to earn a degree in Accounting. Required courses included Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Accounting, Tax, Audit and Theory.

Although I took a bookkeeping course in high school, it wasn’t until after my experience working in the accounting field during construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that I realized I wanted and needed a college degree to be an Accountant. The bar to get a job during pipeline construction was low due to location and the applicant pool. I was hired and able to work in a couple of areas before I found a ‘home’ in the payroll department where I worked for 3.5 years until the construction project ended. During that time I received numerous promotions and title changes including that of Accountant. When I applied for unemployment after the lay-off I quickly discovered that calling yourself an Accountant didn’t make you one, so I soon made plans to enroll in college the following fall. Several credits earned during a semester following high school gave me a mental kick-start to more quickly moving out of the ‘freshman’ category. One month before classes began I was hired as a Payroll Clerk at the local electric utility.  I completed my degree in the max 7 year timeframe to retain the catalog as a non-traditional and part time student.

What was your most valuable experience, that gave you the tools and insight to working in public utilities?

For the vast majority of my career I had the good fortune to work for incredible individuals, particularly my direct supervisor. He had also worked while completing his education and therefore understood the challenges and support I needed. Most importantly he allowed me to tackle tasks, take on responsibilities and be involved to some degree in all aspects of the accounting department. He lived by the principle that if you hire and support motivated individuals they will look good and you will look good too.  Further, working in a smaller organization lent itself to opportunities in all aspects of the business.

As a working professional, what changes have you seen in your industry that have significantly affected how you work?

The evolution of the computer from a centralized large mainframe to a PC on every employee’s desk was certainly a ‘game-changer’ in process improvement.  However, the fundamentals of the accounting process itself remains the same. Availability of information drives demand for it and allows consumers to more easily participate in the regulatory process. Lastly, auditor focus on Internal Controls has changed processes and responsibilities to mitigate risk.

With regards to the new generation of engineers, what are the skill sets that you are seeing?

Generally higher levels of education and specific computer skills such as spreadsheet and word processing application.

What would your advice be to an aspiring accountant &/or to the institutions and instructors that are providing them with the education & “tools” they need to become an accounting executive?

The issue now seems to be how to inspire employees to start on the path to formal education. The particular locality where I spent most of my career experienced a continual shortage of accounting professionals despite its easy access to a state university. I have hired for many openings and interviewed both external and internal candidates. Although I am certainly a proponent of on-the-job training, Accounting is a profession where that will only take you so far. At some point formal education is required, as I learned myself. Our firm’s policy was to interview all internal candidates and if appropriate use it as a training tool to inform employees of deficiencies in their skills, knowledge and abilities and encourage them to begin acquiring those attributes. Additionally, I gathered groups of employees on numerous occasions and spoke candidly as to why they would continue to be passed over for promotions in the department if they did not further their formal education. Despite encouragement and company incentives (including tuition reimbursement and flex-time when required to attend class) very few employees were motivated enough to take on the challenge. My perception is that there are a lot of missed opportunities and that there’s a lack of recognition that it’s the effort that leads to the reward, with regards to career advancement and the benefits that go along with it.

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