Be the Fitbit for a Company (and Keep It Healthy!)

The Fitbit is among the over 300 million “wearables” that were sold in 2017 worldwide. This technology provides people with a slew of personal data such as heart rate, number of hours slept, or steps taken. Fitbit’s “Manifesto” states that they are about health, not just extending tech’s obsession with data:

“… fitness is the sum of your life… How you spend your day determines when you reach your goals. And seeing your progress helps you see what’s possible.”

Often I explain accounting services as a “Fitbit for your company.” By this, I mean that you can understand the general health of an enterprise and where it is (or should be going). It’s not a data read-out. If accountants can deliver a Fitbit experience to clients, they will improve the overall health of the company and be a business asset for the future.

Let’s try to extend this analogy a little further and look at some of the Fitbit features and their accounting counterparts:

Fitbit provides a stream of timely information. 

A balance sheet tells you, your company, even your non-profit where you are right now. Traditionally, accounting has measured performance solely in financial terms, but over the past decade, accountants have used the same tools to measure customer satisfaction, employee retention, website performance, security, and national happiness. Think of the balance sheet as the GPS position. It shows you precisely where you are right now, in any dimension.

The number of steps taken. 

Fitbit measures flows, such as the number of steps you’ve taken today. In much the same way, the income statement measures the flows into and out of any organization. The flows can be in dollars, customer loyalty, employee morale, or any number of other dimensions. The income statement provides dynamic information on where an organization is headed, much like a GPS does.

…the art of accounting…lies in helping people and organizations measure performance, plan for success and adapt to an ever-changing world.

Map of Route Taken

Combining the balance sheet and income statement gives us the ability to see where we’ve been, where we are, and how fast we’re moving. It gives us the information we need to set realistic goals and devote the resources needed to get there.

Progress Toward Goals

My wife loves her Fitbit. Last night, she was a little short of her daily goal (10,000 steps). That timely information changed her behavior, added one more walk to our evening, and gave her the satisfaction of another great day. In much the same way, financial budgeting helps us stay “on track” to achieve our goals and make small corrections when we stray from the path.

Visualized information

Fitbit has a way of telling a story about my health using whimsical charts and graphs. Just looking at the charts helps me gauge my performance and health. Accounting requires some storytelling too. Using charts and graphs makes the story come alive and helps clients make decisions about their overall financial health, customer satisfaction, market trends and much more.

Communicating with Friends on Your Progress

Okay, here’s the downside of the Fitbit. My wife is simply better than me at achieving her goals. It’s a little frustrating when I see the comparisons, and downright embarrassing knowing she sees them too. That said, it’s this easy access to benchmarking data that motivates me (and in accounting motivates a business) to change behaviors, become more customer-centric, listen to and reward their employees, and improve quality.

There is data all around us. The value of the Fitbit is how it measures, organizes, summarizes and displays the data. In much the same way, the art of accounting does not lie in debits and credits. It lies in helping people and organizations measure performance, plan for success and adapt to an ever-changing world.

About Fred Sroka

Fred Sroka, JD is the Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation. Fred Sroka received his JD from UCLA, practiced as a tax lawyer for 18 years, worked as a tax accountant for 18 years, and managed a couple of years as a management consultant! He has been a member of the GGU adjunct tax faculty since 1983, and a member of the tax advisory board. Fred retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2014 and has served as the Dean of the Bruce F. Braden School of Tax since October 2014.

He holds an active CPA license in California and Colorado and is an inactive member of the California State Bar. Fred and his wife Ronda have two kids (both off in grad school), who provide constant coaching on the world from a millennial student’s perspective. Fred loves to play tennis and golf and is constantly puttering around the house with his tools.

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Audio Meets Auditing: Careers for Music Majors in Tax & Accounting

What can you do with a liberal arts or fine arts degree? It is a question that many millennials (and their parents) are asking more and more since the crash of 2008. Recent statistics showing flat or declining humanities majors and rising STEM majors back this up. However, students that lead with their dreams may discover, to their delight, that their degrees lead them to good salaries and satisfying work. Psychology majors may not wind up seeing patients but love management, where empathy and encouraging employee growth are considered key skills. English majors become content marketers and painters can become web designers. Gender studies majors might find a mission in human resources. Musicians become … tax professionals or accountants? That’s right.

AJ Major, a partner in a California CPA firm, plays in a rock band and notes that he has run into a lot of accountant-musicians. In a blog post on music and accounting, he quotes a colleague who said: “I think there’s a connection between the left and right side of the brain. Accounting and music [are areas] where there can be that crossover.” It may be more than coincidence that audio and audit have the same Latin root that means “to listen.” Janet Jackson and Mick Jagger studied to be accountants, after all.

“You need some creativity and individual thought in both.
–Linda Weng, Assistant Tax Manager, The Clorox Company
and GGU student

From Symphonies to Schedules

Linda Weng was a top-notch violinist in the Shanghai Wanfang Symphony Orchestra, traveling to several cities in China to give performances. Playing Mozart’s music filled her with a sense of well-being and is her favorite composer to this day.  She calls herself part of the “professional audience” now, “because I know what I like. But music is a better hobby than a career path.” Does Weng draw a connection between her music background and journey toward a CPA designation? She says yes:

“You need some creativity and individual thought in both. The law is interpretive, like looking at a music score. You can listen to other symphonies, but each has its own way to understand a piece. We use software in tax and accounting, but there are different ways to solve problems. You don’t have to do like you did it last year. So it is each employee’s responsibility to solve a problem. My company encourages finding a way of your own.

Learning to adapt is important because in the symphony we are always learning new pieces. This kind of change keeps things interesting in both the symphony and my current field. You must learn quickly, or you get behind—especially with the recent state and federal tax reforms.

In a symphony, you must work together. You must be seamless in the business world too, as we always rely on another department’s calculations.

Weng is currently working as an Assistant Tax Manager at The Clorox Company’s world headquarters in Oakland, with a number of Golden Gate University Graduates who are in the senior manager and director-level roles.She has two classes left in GGU’s MS in Taxation program.

Music Majors in Tax & Accounting Schools

Weng is not alone in experiencing the “audio-audit” connection while getting a master’s degree in taxation at Golden Gate University’s Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation. The school’s Dean, Fred Sroka, says:

“Many of our successful accounting alumni have a background in liberal arts. In Taxation, laws are always changing and are subject to interpretation. Our graduates describe how they enjoy collaborating with executives to analyze situations and decide what moves to make. We have many music majors that have thrived in the GGU Master of Accountancy program, because musical literacy rests on an understanding of patterns and structures, along with a strong creative streak!”

In addition to musicians, The Braden School is populated by a good number of former history, psychology & sociology, and criminal justice majors. Accountants are not, as Sroka says, simply “math people.”

“One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes…This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company.”

Music Majors on the Job

When Rod Hurd first joined Deloitte in San Francisco in the 1980s, about a quarter of Deloitte’s new hires were liberal arts or music majors. Deloitte’s recruiter sought out graduates with these non-accounting degrees based on the firm’s experience with similar hires in the past. Deloitte sought graduates who exhibited strong critical thinking and communication skills with the expectation of drawing on these skills for auditing field work. “One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes,” Hurd says.  “He was one of the standout performers of our class.”

This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company.  Again, musicians proved to be top performers. Hurd has also been involved with a trade group, principally as the Chair of its Financial Accounting Committee, in the development of tax laws & accounting standards.  “Several of the top performers on that committee are non-accountants who bring unique insights and perspectives to the issues facing the industry,” Hurd says.

Rich Carson, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was a professional jazz drum and trombone player who toured the US and Europe with his band as a young adult.  PwC, he says, has periodically refocused recruiting to seek candidates from liberal arts undergraduate programs. “In a way, varying tempos, meters, key signatures, chord orientations and progressions, pitch and volume discipline, and teamwork are critical and are transferable skills to the profession,” he says. People with other fine arts degrees also do well in the profession. A dance major who Carson mentored worked her way up to Assurance Partner: “I saw her grow quite nicely in the firm.  She was a very thoughtful and productive Partner and there are many more like her.”

Carson offers that computer gamers may be another non-traditional incarnation of the successful accounting candidate.  A student of Carson’s at GGU (and new Deloitte associate) reached the highest competitive rank League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike and played with or against professionals. “This type of student,” Carson says, “might be more adept at the analytics and communication needed…even though he is not a ‘liberal arts type.’  He had a great capacity to recall, orient, and analyze data. I am very curious how his Deloitte internship will turn out.”

If you are surprised that musicians find a home in tax and accounting fields, you might want to look at the rest of Fred Sroka’s blog post that debunks accountant stereotypes or learn more about GGU’s tax and accounting degrees.


“What do the new corporate tax rates mean to my business?” Or “To C or not to C . . . that is the question!”

By Fred Sroka, Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation

The tax rates for corporations have dramatically changed in 2018. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has reduced federal corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. With this reduction, many flow-through businesses are asking whether they should convert to C corporations. Let’s explore the opportunity, and factors that may influence your decision.

The vast majority of U.S. businesses are organized as partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), or S corporations. These entities pay a single layer of tax on their income, while traditional corporations (called “C corporations”) pay two layers of tax, first at the corporate level (up to 35% federal) and second when the profits are distributed to the corporate owners (at up to 20% federal).

Choice of Entity in 2018: Three Key Questions

1. Can we convert to a C corporation for tax purposes?

Let’s begin with the simplest step, electing corporate status. Happily, the IRS has made this incredibly easy. Any LLC or partnership can convert to corporate status by filing form 8832. If the form is filed with IRS by March 15, the election can be effective retroactive to January 1, 2018! If your company is currently taxed as an S corporation, then you need to file a statement with IRS under Regs. §1.1362-6(a)(3) to terminate the S status and become a C corporation.

2. Will our taxes be lower as a C corporation?

It certainly sounds better to pay tax at the new 21% corporate tax rate than the 37% individual tax rate, even if your shareholders need to pay a second tax on any distributed profits. However, the decision is not that simple:

Cost Recovery: Incorporating will only save taxes if the business generates profits. TCJA allows very liberal deductions for purchases of business property. You may be able to reduce or eliminate your company’s 2018 income by simply buying new business assets.

Character: While many kinds of ordinary income is taxed to individuals at 37%, TCJA has dropped the tax rate on most business income to roughly 30% under new §199A. More importantly, capital gains are taxed to individuals at a 20% rate. If your business has substantial value in its trade name, goodwill and other capital assets, the decision to be taxed as a C corporation can lock current and future appreciation into double tax.

State Tax: The double tax on corporations also applies to state taxes. If the owners plan on distributing profits from the business, they should be sure to consider the state taxes imposed on both the corporation and the shareholders.

Basis: Tax basis is used to make sure that, at the end of the day, your cumulative taxable income or loss equals your cumulative economic gain or loss. If your tax basis in the business is less than total debt, the decision to incorporate can trigger immediate tax under §357(c). More importantly, corporations don’t allow owners to get basis in the entity’s debt. This prevents most businesses with substantial real estate (and related mortgages) from using corporate structures. Corporations also prevent the changes in basis due to transfers by owners from increasing the basis of company assets. In short, worry about incorporating any business that has a lot of debt or expects a lot of owner transfers.

3. Making the Decision to Incorporate

If your flow-through business is profitable, doesn’t have a lot of debt, doesn’t face a lot of state tax, and doesn’t expect many transfers, you may save substantial taxes by electing to be taxed as a C corporation. The benefits of incorporating are much higher if you plan to leave the profits in the business, since dividends from C corporations cause a second layer of federal and state tax. However, once you incorporate all current and future appreciation is locked into double tax, debt and transfers may cause increased tax burdens, and you can expect your state taxes to increase.

The vast majority of LLCs and S corporations will likely decide to retain their entity choice, benefiting from the newly reduced tax rates on flow-through business income. However, every business should consult with their tax adviser to see whether their tax structure fits the new environment of TCJA.

How to Learn More

The new tax law creates both challenges and opportunities for our alumni. If you advise clients, expect that planning for 2018 will add to the long hours already committed to the coming compliance busy season. If you’d like more resources, please feel free to email me. To build your skills, please also consider coming back for another course or two at GGU. We offer substantial tuition discounts to our alumni!

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How do you make partner at a Big4 accounting firm and how long does it take?

Authors: Fred Sroka, Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation; Richard G. Carson, Senior Adjunct Professor, GGU; Wendell Hutchinson, Associate Professor, GGU.


Only 10% of the people who start with a public accounting firm ultimately make it to partner, but whatever time you spend in public accounting will pay dividends throughout the rest of your career. What skills does it take to make partner at an accounting firm and how long does it take? The authors of this post — Dell Hutchinson, Rich Carson, and Fred Sroka — are all retired “Big Four” partners who now teach for Golden Gate University. Here they share their perspectives on accounting career paths and planning.

What is a public accounting firm?

Public accounting firms are amazing service organizations. Unlike most of corporate America, you don’t report to a single boss. Instead, you likely will have many assignments with many different supervisors. This can be both a blessing because you are more empowered to chart your own career and a curse because it is easy to get overlooked or overcommitted.

Timeline and Skills

Here’s a quick summary of the different levels within accounting firms and a rough timeline to chart your progress along the way:

Associate: For the first 2 or 3 years of your career, you’ll be classified as an “associate”. That means you spend a lot of time doing what other people tell you to do. The learning curve is steep and the hours are long. Since you are reporting to maybe 5 supervisors, you have to learn how to budget your time, ask questions, and manage the expectations of people above you. The most important skill — for associates and on throughout your career — is your ability to communicate clearly, honestly, and effectively.

As to how far up the ladder you climb, who knows? However, unlike many other career paths, public accounting empowers you to chart your own course and provides a wide range of exciting alternatives…

Senior: After 2 or 3 years in public accounting, you should have developed the skills necessary to be “in charge” of a project”. That’s when you’re promoted to “senior associate”. The good news is that you now have associates below you, which gives you much more control and leverage. The bad news is that you need much better management skills to manage your time, your staff’s time, and your client’s expectations–all on multiple projects. Seniors tend to have the highest stress levels, and many talented professionals quit during their senior years because of the pressure.

Manager: If you’ve survived to year 5 or 6, project management has become a core skill. You’re now ready to move on to overall relationship management. As a manager, you are expected to work closely with the client to make sure that all the individual projects run smoothly, are delivered on time and are delivered on budget. Along with better project management and relationship management skills, your technical skills should rise another level as well. While seniors are expected to be able to spot errors, managers are expected to be able to spot risks and opportunities!·

Senior Manager or Director: While the promotion schedule is pretty consistent from associate through manager roles, the time required to move higher up the organizational chart varies widely. Somewhere after 8 years, you may be ready to move on to practice management. Managing a practice requires great technical skills, solid project management skills, good people and relationship management skills, and an ability to build teams and systems that can serve multiple clients effectively. Senior managers and directors are often subject matter experts in fields such as international tax, state and local tax, mergers and acquisitions. They run many client relationships and also help coordinate staff development and serve as technical resources for other teams.

In addition to communication, here is a list of needed skills as you climb the ladder:
Time Management
Project Management
Stress Management
Managing Client Expectations
Technical skills (audit, tax, consulting or a variety of other specialties)
Building teams and systems that can serve multiple clients effectively
Spotting risks and business opportunities
Meeting with current and prospective clients to sell services
Mentorship, growing professional staff, and building the firm’s culture for success
Dealing with urgent issues and managing the firm’s legal, professional, and ethical responsibilities

Partner: When are you ready to make partner or principal? Nowadays in the “Big Four” accounting firms (Deloitte, PwC [formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers], EY [formerly Ernst & Young], KPMG) 12 years is considered early, 15 years might be average; and some folks may take a little longer. Partners own the business, share in the profits, and have the ultimate ownership of all client relationships. It seems like the end of the professional road, but frankly it’s just another milestone in your professional development. As a partner, you’re partially architect (watching the market and designing your firm’s services to meet changing demand); partially a salesman (meeting with current and prospective clients to sell services); partially a fireman (dealing with urgent issues and managing the firm’s legal, professional, and ethical responsibilities); and partially a mentor (growing the professional staff and building the firm’s culture for success).

What accounting career paths are there?

Few millennials are confident of their career path 15 years into the future. Happily, you don’t need to commit to any single firm up front. The skills and personal brand built up in your first 5 years will produce dividends for the rest of your life, whether in public accounting or working in a corporate environment.

If you like people, like solving problems, and are willing to work hard, then public accounting can be a very rewarding career. As to how far up the ladder you climb, who knows? However, unlike many other career paths, public accounting empowers you to chart your own course, and provides a wide range of exciting alternatives (public accounting, private industry, government, nonprofit and academia) the further you climb up the mountain.

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Meet the Incoming Chair and New Members of GGU’s Board of Trustees

Randy Merk (MBA ’85), Incoming Chair of the Board of Trustees, is the retired Executive Vice President of The Charles Schwab Corporation and past President of Schwab Financial Products. He oversaw all mutual fund, investment management, insurance, and banking activities within Schwab, and from 2004 to 2007 he reported directly to the firm’s legendary founder and chairman, Charles R. Schwab.

Before joining the Schwab organization in 2002, Merk was President and Chief Investment Officer of American Century Investments, Inc., headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to that, he was Chief Investment Officer for Fixed Income for two mutual fund companies: 20th Century Investors (Kansas City) and for Benham Capital Management (Mountain View, CA).

Merk earned a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of California, Davis, and attended Golden Gate University where he was selected the Outstanding MBA Graduate in Finance in 1985. Today, Merk consults for financial service firms and teaches at GGU as adjunct faculty. He is known to his fellow board members for his financial acumen, his penetrating questions and his faith in the future of Golden Gate University.

New Board Members

Tracey Edwards (JD ’81, LLM ’83)

Tracey Edwards, who recently retired from Deloitte after 31 years, rejoins the Board and will be serving on the Law School Task Force. She previously served from 2000 to 2016.


Scot FerrellScot Ferrell (MBA ’88)

Scot Ferrell currently serves as the Chair of the Ageno School of Business Advisory Board. Managing Director at Marsh since June 2002, he is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Red Cross Chapter Board of Directors and past President on the Board of Directors for the Fairview Fire Protection District.

Francis S. Ryu (JD ’95)

Francis S. Ryu has his own law practice in Los Angeles, leveraging trial success and dispute resolution skills to help clients prevent future threats to their companies. He has been a member of GGU’s Law Dean’s Advisory Board since March 2016. In 2013 he was voted GGU Alumni Association Volunteer of the Year.

Accounting Graduates Share Advice, Experience About Their Chosen Career Paths (Video)

If you are interested in starting a career in accounting or getting promoted to a senior position, this video features alumni of the Master of Science in Accounting program who are working in IT consulting, forensic accounting, and auditing at KPMG — one of the Big Four accounting firms. The graduates were asked:

  • Why did you pursue the career?
  • What is your job like?
  • How did GGU prepare you?
  • What advice they can you offer people considering an accounting career?

Here is some of what they said:

Dan Haigh, Senior Financials Consultant, Appirio (’16)

“I decided a Master’s-level degree at GGU would help me because, as a consultant with different clients, having many classes to choose from would put me at a different level than my peers. I applied the things I learned almost immediately.”

Justin Hibbard, Forensic Accounting, Forward Forensics (‘14)

“The great thing about GGU is that you have practitioners teaching.  So I might be learning how to assess damages with someone who is working on a case like that during the day.”

Stephanie Dodge, First-Year Associate, KPMG (’16)

“Associates to the bulk of the test work and the seniors will do organizing, planning, and review work. Promotion to a senior position takes about two years. The energy you need in the cohort program is same as when you are working and need to push through the busy season. It is challenging, but rewarding.”

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President’s Report: Dr. David J. Fike Outlines GGU’s Present and Future

President David J. Fike joined Golden Gate University two years ago and has ushered in changes to keep what it offers to students fresh and responsive to rapidly changing times. He says: “Through economic booms and busts, GGU has remained impressively committed to providing a high-quality, pragmatic and professional education to working adults. That historic and ongoing commitment is our mission and our promise.”

During Dr. Fike’s tenure, new educational routes and degrees have come online that are specifically designed for career advancement for working adults:

Here are some facts gleaned from the report:

About GGU

  • For the second consecutive year, Washington Monthly ranks Golden Gate University America’s #1 School for Adult Learners in its annual College Guide and Rankings.
  • EMBA faculty—more than 80% of them—are scholar-practitioners, active professionals in the real world of business.
  • The incoming Board President, Randall W. Merk,  is a GGU graduate (MBA ’85) who is retired Executive Vice President of The Charles Schwab Corporation and past President of Schwab Financial Products.

About our Students

  • 89% are over 25.
  • 44% of undergraduates are people of color and 62% of first-year law students identify as a minority.
  • 48% of undergraduates are online students.

About our Graduates

  • 68,000+ graduates and climbing
  • GGU had the highest mean earnings of adult students 10 years after graduation among four-year colleges for adult learners.

What’s Next?

Dr. Fike reports that the Framing Our Future initiative will introduce new degrees and programs, integrate degree and credentialing programs for greater student flexibility, expand its partnerships with the business community, and implement strategic priorities and capacity building for continued leadership in the future.

Read the President’s Report >>

What Does A Tax Accountant Really Do? Alumni Debunk Stereotypes

In this short video, alumni of GGUs Master’s Degree in Taxation program go beyond the “number crunching” stereotype to discuss what a tax accounting career is really like. The interviewees are now working at Apercen Partners, Cisco Systems, and two “Big Four” Firms: PricewaterhouseCoopers (now PwC) and Ernst & Young (now EY).

Most mention communication with clients and coworkers as rewarding and essential to the job. As Wylan Lau, Tax Senior at EY, says: “[Job interview skills] such as how to present yourself, how to do public speaking, and how to talk to people..are relevant now in talking to clients [and] colleagues…Those are things I learned when I was at GGU.”

Request information about the Master of Science in Taxation program >>


Videoconference: Join the Discussion on the New U.S. Tax Proposals

By Fred Sroka, Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation

The proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has grabbed national attention.  We’ve prepared three PowerPoint slide decks to help you discuss the major proposals with your clients.

Download PowerPoint Presentations

Free Videoconferences for Tax Professionals

Next Tuesday, we are hosting one-hour videoconferences to share perspectives on the impact of the proposed changes. If you would like to join any of the discussions, please register using the links below:

Individual Taxpayer
November 14, 2017
11:00am – 12:00pm
Register now >>

Business Taxpayer
November 14, 2017
12:00pm – 1:00pm
Register now >>

International Taxpayer   
November 14, 2017
1:00pm – 2:00pm
Register now >>

If you can’t join but have suggestions or concerns, please let me know.


What is Forensic Accounting? Hear from This GGU Student in a New Video

Joey Byers will graduate this year with a Bachelor of Science in Business with an Accounting Concentration. One of his aspirations is to pursue fraud cases as a forensic accountant for a government agency. In this short video, he discusses his attraction to forensic accounting: “a field in which you become a number detective.”

Byers’ next step is to tackle the forensic accounting concentration in GGU’s Master of Science in Accounting program. The concentration was designed by Director of Accounting Programs Ric Jazaie, a veteran of forensic investigations at the FBI and his consulting firm.

Request information about GGU’s accounting programs >>