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October 21, 1987 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-10-21

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On the right track: Michigan State grad Finneren in the field auditing at Lionel train factory

A New Bottom Line
Accounting adds up to more than bean counts

Consider the exciting life of an account-
ant-no, really. Many people still
think of accounting as something best
practiced by nerdy bean counters in green
eyeshades. But if the field ever deserved
that boring image, accounting now has a
new bottom line. Today's accountant prop-
erly functions as a financial adviser, not as
a glorified bookkeeper. He-or, increasing-
ly, she-may serve on the front lines of
takeover battles. Their fiscal finesse is
wielded on behalf of daring venture capi-
talists, banks threatened by risky Third
World loans and federal prosecutors polic-
ing Wall Street scandals. Often, too, they
can ride an escalator all the way to the top:
nearly one-third of chief executive officers
of the 850 biggest corporations in the Unit-
ed States have accounting and financial
These days the nation's 1.3 million
accountants-the number has grown 50
percent in the past decade-can choose
among several evolving branches of the
profession. Industry accountants, the larg-
est group, work for major corporations
such as ITT and Shell Oil, preparing finan-
cial statements or auditing the records of
manufacturing or marketing operations.
Public accountants, who may work for one
of the profession's "Big Eight" firms or-
smaller regional outfits, are considered to
be independent authorities who can cer-
tify the credibility of a client's financial
statements. And government accountants
may work for the Department of Defense,
the Internal Revenue Service, the Securi-

ties and Exchange Commission or the Gen-
eral Accounting Office, which examines
how government agencies spend taxpayer
dollars. Some also work with special in-
vestigative units of state and local
prosecutors, helping to track down organ-
ized-crime influence in businesses or cor-
ruption in politics.
As the variety of accounting jobs grows,
so does the diversity of those who pursue
the subject: The profession is still over-
Space age: Checking shuttle Columbia's in

public accountants, a status
earned by working in the field for at least
one year and passing the CPA test, a three-
day ordeal similar to bar exams.)
Obviously accountants must be comfort-
able in business and math, but a bachelor's
degree in accounting itself is no longer a
prerequisite. For example, Arthur Young,
a Big Eight firm that recruits at about 100
colleges and hires at least 1,000 graduates
each year, has started a program to hire
nonaccounting majors. One reason: profes-
sors and recruiters say well-rounded peo-
ple with good communications skills suc-
ceed in a field that now requires extensive
contact with top executives. "It's one of the
broadest of all disciplines," says Charles H.
Smith, chairman of the accounting de-
partment at Penn State, which along
with Texas A&M and Oregon State has
one of the largest programs in
ventory the country.
The accountant today "not
only records but interprets,"
says Charles Goldsmith, a di-
rector at the Big Eight firm
Deloitte Haskins & Sells. He
or she must completely un-
derstand the business of his
own company or of his client,
whether it's a school district,
bank or Fortune 500 manufac-
turing company. Accountants
must also be prepared to
travel around the country or
the world, depending on where
their clients need them. "Ten
or 15 years ago, [account-
ing] was much more financial-
ly oriented," says George Sher-
man, controller at Exxon
USA, which employs more
than 1,500 accountants nation-
wide. Today, he says, ac-
countants at Exxon need to
know about everything from



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