Ernie Almonte S&L 2004, HKSEE 2007, always starts his speeches with his business card. “How many of you have a business card in your wallet or pocket?” he asks an audience of his colleagues, waving his own card at them. “The most important part is on the back. My core values are listed there: integrity, reliability, independence, and accountability.”
The last word — accountability — offers the only clue to his profession. Almonte, the auditor general for the state of Rhode Island, is the first government official elected to serve as chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in its 100-plus-year history. Since his election, he has been reminding his colleagues that the middle letter in “CPA” stands for “public,” and that accountants have a responsibility to serve the public interest. “As CPAs, we are really in the trust business.”
That trust is more important now than ever. CPAs have a vital role to play in guiding the United States out of its current financial crisis and assessing the potential impact of proposed regulatory reforms. “CPAs are the objective experts of finance,” Almonte says. We have the integrity and discipline to communicate the reality of the situation.”
Almonte credits his experience in the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program with being a transformative experience that prepared him for a leadership role in his profession. When speaking to colleagues, he regularly shares lessons learned from Marty Linsky, a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School, about the distinction between authority and leadership.
“We can have all the knowledge in the world and hold the most senior leadership position, but if we sit back and do nothing, we are not exercising leadership.”
His experience in executive education was so powerful that he came back; Almonte was awarded the Hassenfeld Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship and attended “Innovations in Governance” in 2007. “What I’m trying to do in my job is to help agencies be innovative,” he says. “I’m trying to get people to think differently.”
One of his top priorities during his one-year term as chair of AICPA is the establishment of a leadership academy for CPAs with three to eight years of experience. “I want to help the next generation of leaders,” Almonte says. Half of the participants in the first class will be drawn from groups that have been underrepresented in the leadership of the accounting profession.
“The big thing I’m trying to do is use the skill sets I have to encourage and inspire future CPAs to use their skills to help set our nation on a path to success. We can do it.”