The Road Ahead: Aiysha Johnson Takes Over at NJCPA Amid Great Challenges – And Potential Opportunities – For the Profession

Aiysha Johnson talks about the issues facing the profession and her plans for future of the 125-year-old NJCPA in this story from the July issue of INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly.   

While Aiysha (AJ) Johnson may be new to the CEO and executive director roles at the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA), having earlier this month succeeded Ralph Albert Thomas – who had led the 125-year-old organization for more than 23 years – this is hardly her first leadership post. That’s why, with her two decades of experience working for several professional and trade associations, most recently as executive director of the Americas Region at BKR International, Johnson knows well what her No.1 task coming into the NJCPA needs to be.

“My first priority is to listen,” she says, noting how important it will be to hear from the broad range of constituents that make up the NJCPA’s membership of more than 13,000. “We’re in the people business, so I want to meet as many members as possible and let them know that our vision is to help them thrive in their careers.”

Johnson

That vision, as Johnson sees it, includes sustaining NJCPA’s market share, improving the member experience across all member groups (with a specific focus on younger professionals, who generally want different benefits than previous generations, such as career and leadership development) and amplifying the NJCPA brand to a broader population of accounting and finance professionals throughout the region. In pursuing this three-pronged approach, Johnson sees the NJCPA serving as a critical resource as its members navigate a period of upheaval in the profession.

“We want our members to recognize society membership as fundamental to their professional success,” she explains. “We’re at a critical time right now where the accounting profession is experiencing challenges, but there are also opportunities. My goal is to continue to support CPAs and the profession to have a voice at the table, to have a positive impact on our economy and communities, and to encourage others to join the profession.”

Like many firm leaders, Johnson believes the staffing crisis is one of the most critical issues weighing on the future of the profession.

“We need a collective effort between national and local organizations to encourage more people to major in accounting and pursue the CPA license,” she says, noting that NJCPA has recently established its own CPA Pipeline Task Force. “Accounting is a great profession, and our members can tell amazing stories of helping a small business survive the pandemic or developing a business plan with an aspiring entrepreneur, but sometimes those stories get lost behind the tired clichés about accounting and accountants.”

Like many others, Johnson also recognizes the role the 150-hour requirement for CPA licensure plays in the pipeline challenge – as well as the efforts that many state societies, firms and educational institutions are spearheading to try and reach a more accessible compromise. In New Jersey, for example, she points to a “Work for Credit” pilot program between Saint Peter’s University and PwC that allows students with a bachelor’s degree to work at the firm to obtain their final 30 credits.

“We’re excited to see where this goes and find ways to help other colleges and firms set up similar programs,” she says, adding that she’d like to see more firms get involved in a profession-wide, multi-stakeholder effort to address the issue.

Despite its importance, however, Johnson says the pipeline isn’t the only place where firms need to focus their attention and resources in the current environment. There’s plenty of opportunity, she believes, for firms that aren’t averse to change.

“I’d like to see firms stop clinging to outdated business models,” she explains. “Now is the time for firms to modernize their operations. Clients and team members expect their firms to stay up to date with technology, to create morale-boosting experiences and to prioritize their people. Change can be scary for firm leaders because it might initially mean giving up some revenue to change their business model, but they should take a moment to realize that there’s something bigger at stake here than just getting through the day.”

When it comes to helping firms recognize those “bigger” priorities and achieve their goals, Johnson wants to make sure they continue to see the NJCPA as their partner in change on several fronts, including technology/modernization, DEI initiatives and the development of future leaders. And she knows that the first step in forging that path comes back to the values embodied by her predecessor.

“As I said earlier, the NJCPA is in the people business, and from what I’ve learned, no one was better at collaborating with people – members, lawmakers, the media – than Ralph,” she says. “Thanks to him, the NJCPA’s brand generates feelings of pride and unity for members and volunteer leaders across the organization. And I want to continue that legacy.”

 

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