Jeannine P. Birmingham, CPA, CAE, has been with the Alabama Society of Certified Public Accountants (ASCPA) for 25 years, serving as its President & CEO for the past 16.
She leads the professional membership organization as it works to enhance the state’s accounting profession by advocating for, educating and serving its approximately 6,000 members. But her accounting career journey got a jumpstart from the encouragement and enthusiasm of one committed college professor. Today, Birmingham is paying that passion forward and reaping big rewards by helping the next generation of CPAs reach their full potential.
What is ASCPA’s purpose?
ASCPA connects Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and accounting professionals who share common interests and challenges. We protect members through state and federal governmental affairs programs. We also educate members by offering unique, purposeful continuing education in various formats.
What are the main duties/responsibilities of your role with the society?
My top duty is providing strategic leadership. I am accountable for developing and executing ASCPA’s long-term strategy, ensuring our goals align with our mission and member values. I also collaborate with our elected, volunteer board of directors on governance. Additionally, I oversee operational management, financial management and external relations for the organization.
What first drew you to accounting?
I unexpectedly found my way into accounting. After completing a math major at Troy University, I was contemplating courses for my upcoming junior year as well as potential career paths, with a four-year scholarship underway. I was encouraged to take an introductory accounting course, and the rest is history. I was motivated by a brilliant professor, passionate about accounting, who inspired me to pursue a second major in the subject and become a CPA. To this day, the leadership skills, professional responsibility and diligent work habits instilled by this professor remain major influences on my career.
What’s the No. 1 challenge the ASCPA faced last year, and how did you and your team manage it?
The top challenge currently is building the talent pipeline and improving employee retention. Nationwide, shifts in postsecondary education are impacting accounting enrollment, as are demographic changes (the silver tsunami” of retirements) and evolving technology. To address these challenges, ASCPA is focused on increasing awareness of accounting careers for middle school and high school students.
We are also creating college programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and two-year institutions and working with firms to evolve their cultures to improve retention. Aside from talent pipeline issues, frequent changes to tax laws and regulations pose an ongoing challenge for the accounting profession. Compliance standards change nearly every year, making it difficult for accountants to stay current.
What does leadership look like to you?
Effective leadership requires embracing change, remaining adaptable and taking on challenges. Skilled leaders have the ability to motivate and inspire others to accomplish shared goals.
What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your work?
Seeing strategies through to completion that deliver value to our members, collaborating on national initiatives where I can both share Alabama’s perspective and gain knowledge to bring back to ASCPA, and working with aspiring young professionals. Engaging with intelligent, talented students and recent graduates who represent the future of the accounting profession is tremendously rewarding. I look forward to seeing where their energy and skills will lead the field next.
“Skilled leaders have the ability to motivate and inspire others to accomplish shared goals.”
What’s your favorite business podcast?
If you weren’t on your current career path, what would you be doing?
Fashion design. I have always appreciated color, fabrics and keeping up with the latest trends and styles, even if they are not my personal taste.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
On my computer is the quote, “When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat. Instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future,” by Queen Elizabeth. She exemplified strong leadership with her resolve in the face of adversity. I would have loved a dinner with her.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Outside of work, I enjoy staying active through regular exercise. My weekly routine includes approximately 25 miles of power walking and strength training. Other interests are gardening and leisure reading, which provide a change of pace from professional demands.