Throughout her 40 years in accounting, Greta Russell, CPA, has continued to believe it’s the best profession to be in.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in our profession in my years of being a CPA,” Russell said.
She graduated from Ohio Dominican College in 1976, but after working at a finance home office and interacting with auditors, her interest was piqued enough to go back to school and earn a degree in accounting.
By then Russell was a wife and mother along with working a full-time job, so she went to school in the evenings. She earned her Master of Taxation Degree from Capital University Graduate and Law Center.
By the time she graduated she was working as a supervisor at a savings and loan company. Her employees encouraged her to become a CPA and even found a discounted prep course available.
She earned her license in 1981 after taking the CPA exam at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, taking all four parts in one sitting. The CPA exam experience is different in almost every way now, and she said technology is just one indicator of how much the profession has evolved.
March is Women’s History Month, and while the profession is about half women today, that percentage was far lower when Russell entered accounting.
“There weren't that many women CPAs in the profession at that time,” she said. “You were more than likely with mostly men in any meeting.”
To the question of whether it was difficult being the only woman in the room for much of her career, Russell said “yes and no.” During school she said one of the first things she learned from a professor was not to let male peers assign “secretarial” duties to her, such as typing notes, because as a woman she could risk being pigeonholed.
“That professor was very clear that we needed to make sure no one reduced us,” Russell said. “Now today that doesn't have to be said. But back then we had to learn that.”
Russell said one of the biggest lessons she took away from her career was the value in being prepared. As a CPA, she said she knew people looked to her for guidance and advice, and she took that responsibility seriously.
“As an accountant, I'm there to help achieve goals,” she said.
Her preparation did not go unnoticed, as Russell went on to have an exciting and impactful career. She worked as comptroller for the State of Ohio Treasurer’s Office and as controller for The Ohio State University.
“I chose accounting as a profession because it allows you to be in the room,” she said. “At the end of the day, most decisions have a financial impact.”
She served on numerous civic and community boards, including the Accountancy Board of Ohio as a 2010 Chair, Columbus Community Shelter Board, YWCA, Girl Scouts, was the Key Club Lead of United Way of Central Ohio and held two terms as national president of the National Association of Black Accountants.
Russell said some of her favorite career moments to look back on were being recognized for her work in helping others, such as being named a YWCA Woman of Achievement in 1997. She was also recognized by the Society’s “100 Most Influential CPAs of the Century.”
“That was special to me,” she said. “I was doing work in the community and helping in different organizations and served on different boards that recognized my skill set.”
Russell said another special moment was being asked to sit on the Accountancy Board, since she did not have the traditional firm background experience that many of her peers did.
She retired in 2012, and although she acknowledged many aspects of the profession have changed, said she’s disappointed there is still such a small number of minorities in accounting.
“We've come a long way,” she said. “But we have a long way to go.”
And although Russell said any career is bound to have tougher moments, she said she’s glad she chose accounting as her life’s work.
“It’s still the best profession around,” she said. “All roads lead back to accounting.”