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.
Colette Wilson, CPA, is in uncharted territory as the first African-American female chair of the VSCPA Board of Directors. Fortunately, uncharted territory is a place where she has plenty of experience.
Growing up in an Air Force family meant that Wilson did a lot of moving around as a child. She lived in Germany, Guam and several different states. Her itinerant childhood instilled in her a love of travel and drummed out any shyness.
“I love to travel. I love to meet new people,” she said. “I like to be engaged with a variety of people. I have no problem meeting new people and trying to help them as well.”
Helping people will be a major priority for Wilson as she takes over from outgoing chair Jim Shepherd, CPA. Another focus will be diversity and telling her own story.
“Thinking back to when I started out in my career, the number of African-Americans, the number of women in leadership positions, I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen a whole lot more,” she said. “I think that’s one area where I’ve taken the opportunity to step into various roles that people have introduced me to. It’s great being the first at accomplishing something and paving the way, but it would be even better if there was more diversity along the way.”
Wilson, 43, has spent her entire professional career at Cotton & Company in Alexandria, although she recently stepped away from the firm to focus on her family and her VSCPA duties. The firm’s small size — fewer than 50 employees when she joined — made it an easy transition from years of small classes in military-run schools and what was then Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg.
At Cotton, which deals largely with governmental agencies and programs, Wilson focused on audit and advisory services to federal agencies. She stayed with the firm for nearly 20 years because of the family atmosphere and her passion for the company’s mission.
“We audit the federal government itself. It is, to me, one of the highest levels of public service,” she said. “We were advising and auditing federal agencies on their dollars, on their funding, on their financial statements, on their audits of how they’re spending taxpayers’ money. I feel like it very much was a public service.”
That’s behind her now for the time being as she focuses her energy on her children, Brandon and Olivia. Originally, she hadn’t planned to continue on the VSCPA Board when she stepped away, but she soon discovered that the extra time lent itself perfectly to volunteer activities.
“At first, I had a lot of nervous energy,” she said. “I was used to getting up and traveling and commuting and being tied up at all times. Once I got past that nervous energy, I think that work ethic still has come back to me. I feel like I’m just as busy now with my kids and homework, but I’m able to spend more time with them at school, at their activities, being there for all their events.”
Part of Wilson’s focus as chair will be dealing with members of the generation just older than her own children. Increasing the diversity of the profession is a priority for her, and one way she can do that is by being visible in her role as the leader of the VSCPA Board.
“I’d like to see more diverse young professionals joining the accounting association, becoming certified and looking for those leadership positions,” she said. “I think that some people, if they don’t see people like them at higher levels, they do not pursue those higher levels. I think that those young professionals need to take opportunities, seek out opportunities and pave a way for themselves, looking for mentors and coaches along the way.”