Building a Successful Accounting Career
Touro Alum on Climbing the Corporate Ladder as a CPA and Her Day-to-Day Role as Senior Director of Finance at Centers Plan for Healthy Living
Gila Engelberg (Lander College of Arts & Sciences, 2007), credits Touro and a strong work ethic for helping her achieve her career goals. Gila talks about her career journey and offers indispensable advice for new grads entering the workforce.
Why did you choose accounting as your career path? Is it a field you always knew you would enter?
I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. Both my parents are CPAs and I have two accountant brothers so I just figured I would give it a shot and hoped it was genetic! Looking back now, I see that it was such a great choice for me. Growing up, I was very artistic and wanted to have a career that could utilize this talent. Most would never associate such a talent with accounting. I have realized over the years how I use my creativity in my day-to-day work. Building a budget for 30 departments, with five lines of businesses from scratch in Excel is an example of a project that triggers my creativity and make me truly enjoy my career choice.
Where did you start out in your career and how did you advance to where you are today?
Back in the day, you needed to have two years of public accounting experience in order to become a CPA, so that is where I began. I knew I wanted to work in a big corporation, but one that was not too big that I would get lost. I started at RSM McGladrey in the healthcare audit department. I advanced every two years or so from associate to senior associate to supervisor and ultimately manager. My work ethic moved me quickly through the process. I knew if I prioritized my job and worked hard in the early stages of my career, it would allow me more flexibility later in my career when I would need it more. After four years at McGladrey, the partners in my group moved to Cohn Reznick and took me along. I worked there for two more years until an opportunity at a private firm came along. I worked at Revival Home Health Care for two years until I felt I needed more of a challenge in my career and I transferred to Centers Plan for Healthy Living (CPHL) as a Finance Manager. I was promoted to Associate Director of Finance, then Director of Finance and then to Senior Director of Finance, where I am today.
Can you describe the transition from public accounting to private?
Honestly, this transition was more difficult than I expected. In audit, we are trained to view everything from one perspective. We learn to review financial statements from the client and are trained to trace and test numbers for accuracy. In private, you are the one preparing the financial statements and are therefore recording the actual journal entries and ultimately, creating the numbers. It was a learning experience and a challenge, which I enjoyed. It was great having two CPA parents to call constantly with questions. And I always turned to T-accounts (a simple way to view journal entries that records the debits and credits under the accounts in the shape of the letter “T”) when in doubt!
Please share what you do in your day-to-day role as Senior Director of Finance at Centers Plan for Healthy Living.
I run the finance department for CPHL, which is the largest managed long-term care in New York. I oversee about 8-10 employees and I report to the CFO. I am responsible for overseeing monthly financial statement preparation. In addition, I am responsible for preparing the annual budgets, quarterly state reports and all other reporting requirements. My days are usually hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I make sure to try to start my days with a workout (usually a six-mile run or spin) and then head to the office. My job at this point is flexible, which allows me to take care of the day-to-day things that come up out of work. Having the ability to work from home when needed is great, although working from the office is my preference.
Are women in leadership positions perceived differently than men? What do you feel is critical to success as a woman in a senior role in a large company?
Women in leadership are absolutely perceived differently. Many assume we will put family first and work second. I feel I changed that perception since I tried my best to excel at both. I have five beautiful kids and they are independent and self-sufficient and appreciate that their mother is a hard worker. At this point in my career, I make sure to focus 100% on the kids when I am home, so that my time spent with them is total quality.
How did Touro help you achieve your career goals?
Touro had the most amazing accounting program. I remember clearly how much the classes at Touro were in line with my CPA review and helped me pass each exam on the first try.
How can future accountants ensure they are prepared for a career in this ever-changing field? Any advice for new grads just starting out in the corporate world?
First of all, make sure to sit for the CPA exam as soon as possible! Pushing it off will never help and it is a huge asset to have on a resume. Life gets busier, so the sooner the better. I also believe starting in public accounting as opposed to private is very helpful if you are looking for a strong career. Many people that start in private accounting get stuck in a bookkeeping type of role and advancement can sometimes be more difficult. In public accounting, as long as you stick it out for the right amount of time, the transition to private can land you a higher role. But my most important advice is to focus on your work ethic! Not everyone is the smartest and brightest but as long as you take your job seriously and you truly make yourself indispensable, you will grow in your career.