Jeff Thomson, CMA, is president and CEO of IMA, the global association for the management accounting profession. He has held this position since 2008 and previously served as IMA’s vice president of research and applications development. Prior to joining IMA, he served as CFO for a multibillion-dollar business unit at AT&T, where he worked for more than 23 years.
Describe your leadership philosophy.
Leaders are being watched all the time. They must set the tone for excellence and appropriate business behavior in everything they do. These behaviors must be continuous and genuine, not situation-specific and contrived.
Additionally, leaders need to embrace the philosophy of creating value through values in order to inspire employees. Value is the business outcome which comes from doing great things for people and society, and must be built from a foundation of core values practiced at every level of the organization. This foundation allows leaders to address severe challenges and disruptions head-on, with deliberation and courage.
Tell us about the first time you were somebody’s boss.
Early in my career at AT&T, I become a manager with a small staff. Some were older than me, some had more business experience and all had different life experiences. I found early on that leaders need to listen and learn from others, regardless of position, race or gender.
When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide if someone is right for your team?
It starts with an assessment of the individual’s fit with IMA’s core values and the organization’s everyday culture. After that, from a more technical perspective, I look for people who are intelligent risk takers and entrepreneurs.
What is the biggest challenge your industry is facing this year?
CFOs and management accountants are asked to do more every day and to raise the bar, especially when environmental and economic disruptions occur. Staying current with business practices and serving as a trusted business adviser is a daunting job, but it’s also an exciting challenge for management accountants around the world.
What is the biggest challenge your association faces?
Significant consolidation of accounting associations is occurring, much like what I experienced in the telecommunications sector. And like telecommunications, in some cases, the goal for some associations seems to become larger in size rather than serve society, be respected and positively influence its respected field.
I am concerned that as a result of these consolidations, associations will lose sight of the ultimate mission of the organization, which is to serve individuals and society. I believe that I have more on-the-job competitive marketplace experience than every other major association executive, but I wonder about the value added to members and the profession when associations are fighting for members. Large market size and share do not trump agility, service and community.
Looking outside of Washington, whose work do you admire most?
Gail McGovern at the American Red Cross, who was a former executive at AT&T. She has done an excellent job leading the organization as it has responded to a number of recent natural disasters.
At the individual level, there are countless others including my mom and my wife who have courageously dealt with severe family challenges in an inspirational and uplifting way.
If a recent college graduate came to you and said that one day he wanted your job, what advice would you give him?
The key ingredients to success include job fulfillment, career planning, stepping out of your comfort zone and having some fun along the way.
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