NOTE: We are proud to present this feature about our former student, Angela Ho, '06, Business Administration, Isenberg School of Management. This was originally posted by Guest Blogger on the AICPA Insights on May 26, 2016
For Angela Ho, CPA, CGMA, dichotomy has been a constant presence in her life: East and west. Public accounting and business/industry. Young and seasoned.
Born in Virginia as a first-generation Chinese-American, Angela experienced a childhood with one foot in the United States and the other in Hong Kong, where she lived for five years, followed by two years in Tokyo.Her father’s international work assignments were “my earliest exposure to the business world,” Angela says. “I was surrounded by businesspeople starting at a young age.”
Sage Advice for a Career Path
When it was time to return to the United States for college, many of her father’s colleagues suggested accounting as a major. It didn’t take much convincing for Angela to investigate.
“I didn’t know much about accounting specifically, or the importance of financial statements,” she says. “But I took a fairly assertive approach to learning about becoming a CPA — going to career fairs, talking to Big 4 firms, and seeking out career services. As early as my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was mapping out credits and requirements to become a CPA.”
Angela never looked back. Well, almost.“There was a brief period where I considered majoring in psychology instead. Understanding what people are about, the science behind people’s behaviors, I enjoyed all of that in a freshman-level class.“But then my dad sneakily sent me a U.S. News article about the relationship between your college major and your lifetime earnings,” she says with laughter.
Goals and Actions Come Together
The rest is history. With her fondness for math and her drive for success, Angela reached 150 credits within four years at UMass, ready to continue her journey toward CPA licensure.As a freshly minted accounting graduate, Angela jumped right into interviews and networking with accounting firms of all sizes.
“One of my first career memories is the sense of accomplishment I felt after I received several internship offers,” she says. “There’s a lot of stress and pressure during daylong interviews with multiple firms. But I could proudly say, ‘I landed this internship because I put in the work. Now I get to pick what firm I want.’”
Fast forward 10 years: Angela has been vice president and controller of a 39-branch community bank in New York and New Jersey since 2012. She made the jump to business and industry from public accounting after three years as an auditor.“You’re in public accounting for however many years, and of course, the path to partner is the right fit for many CPAs. What I love about the profession is that there are so many other roles. Controllers, CFOs, you name the leadership title; CPAs are part of the collaborative leadership function in any organization.”
And her brief foray into psychology has had lasting benefits.“Getting to know what motivates people is crucial to being an effective leader, because CPAs are constantly working in team environments” says Angela.“People may think accountants have their heads down, pencil to paper, but it’s so far from the truth. You’re always interacting with different departments, auditors, senior management and regulators.”
Standing Out in a Crowd
Angela is the first to admit that she has been on the receiving end of other assumptions, but not because of her Asian heritage.
“I work in a mature and seasoned work environment. As a younger person in community banking, I want to gain a seat at the table and to be taken seriously. Part of that is being as prepared as possible and making sure my facts are straight for meetings and calls.“The confidence of knowing your stuff helps you be a better communicator and presenter. That translates to a commanding presence at the table. And colleagues have to take you seriously, as they would someone who has 10 or 20 more years of experience.”
When it comes to representing a minority group in the workplace, Angela says, “Be proud of who you are. Be authentic. And don’t be afraid to show that. Generally speaking, people are interested in knowing your background.“It’s important to share who you are with people you’re around for 40 to 80 hours a week.”
Angela, the only Asian-American woman at a VP level within her organization, even started an annual cultural event through the great equalizer: food.“Every Chinese New Year, we have a gathering of 30 to 40 people to celebrate the holiday and eat Chinese food that represents longevity and prosperity. It’s a nice break to learn about another culture, and I’m very happy that people take an interest.“It’s a small gesture, but I think one that’s appreciated by other minority groups, as well. We can encourage giving a voice to others and invite them to tell their stories.”
Kimberly Drumgo, Director, Diversity & Inclusion, American Institute of CPAs.