February is diversity month at the VSCPA, and the VSCPA is spending the entire month spotlighting the contributions of our diverse membership. Our first spotlight member is Marian Millikan, CPA, tax manager at Cherry Bekaert in Richmond. She specializes in multi-state, corporate and individual tax services for closely held private companies, owner-managed businesses, professional service firms and investment funds and assists clients with strategic growth and tax planning, including international tax issues and state and local tax compliance. She is a member of the VSCPA's Young Professionals Advisory Council and a former member of the VSCPA Educational Foundation Board of Directors.
VSCPA: What led you to the accounting profession?
Marian Millikan: I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2006 with a marketing degree, and came across an administration position at my current firm, Cherry Bekaert. I knew I liked accounting, but I never initially thought it would be the career I would pursue. After starting at Cherry Bekaert and working with CPAs and our professionals directly, I started to really understand the benefits of public accounting both as a long-term career with diverse, exciting work opportunities. Working with clients from many different industries and really understanding their unique businesses has proven to be both challenging but also extremely rewarding. I think those two factors really drove me to pursue a career in public accounting.
VSCPA: What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
MM: Being a trusted advisor for my clients is probably one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career. Locally we have some amazing businesses that are doing great things for our region. Being a part of that really makes me feel like I’m making a difference.
VSCPA: Who are the role models and mentors have helped you the most in your life? In your career?
MM: I’ve had a few during the different aspects of my career and life. My first and most impactful mentor was Karen McManus,who is currently our HR senior manager of training and development for the firm. She challenged me to do my best. She was the one who showed me that I could be a working mother one day, and that my career could be anything that I wanted it to be if I put forth the effort. Seeing her juggle work, life and children impacted me so much that I can honestly tell you I would not be where I am today if I didn’t see this happening. I would not have had the faith in myself to move forward in my career. Most importantly, she was not only my advocate when I needed her the most, but she was also my opposition when I was unable to see beyond my own opinions.
I continue to find mentors and role models as I’ve been navigating my own career. I think it’s important to build relationships and connections with different types of individuals, even those that challenge you or you may not necessarily see eye to eye with. It’s in those differences that you find perspective, and frankly, to be successful in a business world that continuously changes, that will be your biggest asset.
VSCPA: How can the accounting performance ensure a diverse workforce in the future?
MM: That is a great question, and there are many things that can be done and things I see already being done. I think recognizing individuals for their unique strengths is the most impactful thing that the profession can do. There are so many professionals that I have met that are huge assets to their firms and companies, and all of them are extremely unique. But when we think of the “perfect accountant,” we all might think of the same characteristics, but that just isn’t the case anymore. No longer are we just the number-crunchers and form filers. We are business advisors, planners, we build connections and offer advice in the areas of technology, benefits, compliance, fraud and forensics, mergers and acquisitions and risk advisory (just to name a few). We help with the big picture. I think those differences are what will drive a diverse workforce.
With diversity, you will have the skill set to tackle some of the biggest hurdles that will come your way. The challenge will be being able to bring those differences together and provide unique learning and enhancement opportunities. We are in a profession that is continuously changing. The ability to be fluid in our knowledge, decisions and management will drive us forward and in turn will help guide our clients forward.