November 20, 2018

How I Stole My Soul Back From Public Accounting

High Rock Accounting founder Liz Mason writes about her journey from public accounting grunt to starting her own firm.

High rock accounting

FPA (aka F$#@ Public Accounting) was an acronym I started using around the time that FML gained traction circa 2006, or the first year I was a senior associate in public accounting. I know you can all relate. While texting my friends after missing a Friday night dinner, around 10 pm, “I’m still at work – no end in sight. FPA.” Or “No I can’t make your Sunday morning brunch as I will just be getting off work at 11 am. FPA.” I laugh about it now.

Eventually, I rebelled against the idiocy of the industry norms and founded a firm to do everything differently – High Rock Accounting. Our motto is even “Accounting, Done Differently.” It took me almost 10 years in public accounting and working for three different firms to realize my passion lay in the disruption of an old-school industry.

Let me back up for a minute. This is an origin story – I will get to the how I am going to take over the world in a later post. This post will cover the why.

It was 2004, and I was a 19-year-old accounting student with a budding curiosity for business….just kidding, this is not going to be that boring. Like many of you, started in public accounting when I was basically still a kid. I grew up there: intern, associate, senior, and manager at 25.

After a few years of working my butt off at manager — for less money than any man at my level), I started questioning reality. What was my passion? The specialty group I managed to get into was interesting, plus I was learning a ton, so, cool? It did not make me happy. FPA.

I started in business school because I love business. I wanted to help them grow! I wanted to give back to my local economy and do things for good (not evil). I found myself working for big corporations and helping giant companies that did not care or need help. I went to a local firm hoping that would be better, and in some ways, it was much better. I was working with local companies, I was selling, the people I worked with were cool, and I did not feel like just a number.

Internally, however, the firm was exactly the same – you needed a million billable hours, you had to have ridiculously high realization, and all of the incentives were bassackwards. Many of the partners at every firm I worked for were divorced and miserable – still working 80-hour weeks. That was not the life I wanted. FPA.

There had to be a way to build a profitable firm that both cultivated closer client relationships and foster a culture and of work/life balance that normal humans could embrace.  Have you ever looked at a Senior Manager or Partner with kids and thought, “how do they do it all?” Have you ever wondered if you could have the life and career of your dreams? FPA for making us think we have to choose. We can have both!

I quit my job one week before AICPA Leadership Academy. I went to Leadership Academy with no idea how I was going to fix this industry, no job, and no life plan. It was humbling. The other attendees of Leadership Academy 2013 were AMAZING people who had accomplished so much more than I had at such young ages. I was finally in a room with intelligent, motivated, and accomplished CPAs that got it. They were all seeing the same issues I was and were determined to help the industry.

Right after Leadership Academy, I founded High Rock Accounting (with two co-founders who are no longer around – I learned many lessons on that front). High Rock is a new type of firm. Everything is cloud-based. We bill monthly subscriptions. We have a culture that encourages our team to take vacation. Honestly! We pay them $1,000 to go away, and they have to disconnect while gone. We have clients that send us axe-throwing lessons for Accountant’s Day. The first stage of #CPAWorldDomination is complete. We have proved that this model works, and is the front-line of the change occurring in the industry. High Rock will be a catalyst to change the future of the CPA firm. Stay tuned for Stage 2 – I am going to blow your minds.

Stand with me and blow up the traditional model; stand with me and shout FPA; stand with me and build a better future; stand with me and execute #CPAWorldDomination.

Image: iStock/drante

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