Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of profiles highlighting the diverse interests and careers of VSCPA members. Know a member (including yourself) who would make for an interesting profile? Email VSCPA Communications Specialist Chip Knighton.
If there’s one thing that defines the professional path of VSCPA member George Strudgeon, CPA, it’s his willingness to seek out new experiences and go with the flow. It’s what landed him an alma mater, a wife and a career.
Strudgeon, an audit director at the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) in Richmond, left high school as a football standout and an aspiring physical therapist. Five years later, he not only had an accounting degree and a promising job, but he’d landed the cute girl in his accounting class.
Strudgeon played on the offensive and defensive lines on a state championship team at West Potomac High School in Alexandria — and he chose Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in large part to get away from football. (He didn’t stay away from contact sports for long — he spent two years on the club rugby team at VCU.)
He started out on the physical therapy track, getting up close and personal with cadavers in anatomy class, before a class decision made on a whim changed the trajectory of his entire life.
“I had to study pretty hard for those [physical therapy] courses, but I made it work,” he said. “For an elective, I ended up going over to the school of business and taking an econ class. I didn't do much homework, but I showed up and got As on the tests and an A in the class. I thought, 'Am I in the right field if I'm having to put in so much more effort to get the same grade?' When I went over to business, it just clicked and made sense.”
He switched his major to accounting and spent an extra year at VCU making up for the credits that didn’t count toward his new major. He was also spending increasing amounts of time with Michelle Knight, a fellow accounting major whom he met when they were both resident advisors in the VCU dorms.
Today, he and Michelle are married with a son and a daughter. Michelle left her job in public accounting to raise their children — a path that belies the way each of them began their careers.
“She was more focused than I was,” Strudgeon said. “She knew what she wanted to do when she entered college.”
In his own words, Strudgeon was “starry-eyed” in college and planned on signing on with one of the Big 5 firms at the time. But when he interviewed with the APA, he found that the government agency was competitive in the areas he valued and provided a good work-life balance.
So he went to work for the APA in 1998 and has been there ever since. And he’s taken on the task of making sure Virginia’s public funds are spent responsibly.
“My clients are an extension of my government,” he said. “I want to make sure that they're doing their job correctly and that they're doing it the best way they can.”
It’s not just the importance of the work that’s kept Strudgeon at the APA for 15 years. Even while tracking the same government agencies year after year, he’s found the variety that keeps his job just as fresh as the day he walked into the building for the first time.
“Everything is new. Nothing is the same,” he said. “I'll go from auditing an agency that spends $7 billion a year to one that's under $500,000. That's a very different audit. I never get the same thing twice. I wrap up one audit and move on to the next.”
And those audits have taken him to some pretty interesting places, even though he allows that most of his clients are within walking distance of the APA’s offices in downtown Richmond. He’s audited cash collection points at state parks and toured the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s (ABC) central warehouse. And he’s even spent some time in a Virginia prison (as a visitor, of course, not an inmate) as part of an audit.
“We had to do an inventory at a correctional facility of their materials for producing license plates,” he said. “They went around the office and grabbed every guy of a substantial size and said, 'You are going to do this inventory.'”
Strudgeon, a self-described efficiency fanatic, remains most impressed with the controls Virginia government agencies put in place to ensure they run smoothly.
“If you are a Commonwealth employee and we have assigned you a gas card, they actually do a check to make sure that the amount of gas that you purchased isn't more than the tank that's in the car,” he said. “Typically, state cars are economical little cars, maybe 10-gallon or 11-gallon gas tanks. If anybody goes and fills up a tank that's got 16 gallons, red flags go up, because that obviously wasn't the state vehicle you were filling up.”