Finance Career Path: From CPA to CEO with Dawn Brolin

From CPA to CEO: Q&A with Dawn Brolin

Finance Career Path: From CPA to CEO with Dawn Brolin

Not all Finance career paths are the same. Some have more twists and bends. Some include television appearances. Some include basketball.

At least this is the case for Dawn Brolin, CEO of her own consulting firm, Powerful Accounting, LLC. Dawn is a sought-after speaker, a thought-leader on Finance, and generally recognized as social media rockstar.

We spoke to Dawn about her career path, and asked how she would advise Finance leaders on the path to CFO. Read on for tips about building thought leadership and positioning yourself for success.

Jumping Through Hoops on the Career Path

Dawn Brolin was bitten by the accounting bug pretty early in life. “I knew when I was 16 years old I was going to be an accountant. I took one accounting class and LOVED it,” she said.

So, it’s no wonder that she went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. After she graduated she did some bookkeeping, but spent most of her time pursuing another love: coaching high school varsity basketball. Once she started her family, she was back in the accounting game—at first on her own, then as a partner in a firm.

“During my time in that firm, I learned a lot from the other partners about accounting, tax and other things,” she said. But while she learned a lot, it was not a supportive working environment.

“They told me I would never pass the CPA exam and never be able to do tax returns. That negative feedback only fueled my fire,” she recalls. “I have been an athlete my entire life and when someone tells me I can’t do something, watch out! A year after I left I finished the exam and passed!”

In 2011, with her CPA license and CFE license in hand, she ventured out on her own once again—this time to increased success.

Dawn notes that there was one particular relationship that helped set the future direction of her firm.

“In 2011, when I started up my own company again, I re-acquainted with a great tax attorney, Eric Green. He is a partner with Green & Sklarz, LLC out of New Haven, CT,” she said. “He taught me everything I know about tax representation. His expertise and willingness to share it with me have brought me to where I am today with fraud casework and tax.”

Brolin now owns a firm with 3 employees who provide write-up, tax prep, technology consulting, tax representation, and fraud casework.

Choosing the Right Team

Dawn is picky about who she works with—whether as employees or as mentees.

Ambition and follow-through are key, Dawn says: “I’m looking for someone who is a go-getter. An individual who can take a project and run with it.”

And with the fast pace of her business, Dawn needs people with a high learning aptitude. “Someone who you teach them something once and they get it and don’t have to ask again,” she explains.

Dawn also values higher education. “Education is typically not a required skill of mine, but I do like to see that someone can start something and finish it. So if they don’t go to college and they are in accounting/finance, they would need to obtain some level of certification relative to the work they will be doing.”

A certain degree of levity is also important. “I like to work with people who have a sense of humor,” she said.

Becoming a Thought Leader

Dawn is a sought-after speaker and thought leader who has been featured on television, in print, and online. How many other CFOs have a talent manager and a social media team?

“I put a lot of time into writing and sharing my knowledge with others. I am even on track to write my first book this year!” Dawn said.

When asked how she accelerated this part of her career, she cites her experience on the Intuit Accountant and Advisor Council as a major turning point.

“When I was on that council, I met a lot of amazing people and made great connections that I still have today,” she said. But the council didn’t just provide connections that would be relevant to her future success; it also paved the way for personal brand recognition.

“I found out that I could interview to teach and speak for Intuit,” Dawn said. “So I applied for the Trainer/Writer Network at Intuit and that changed everything.”

Dawn began touring the country teaching accountants about QuickBooks.

“I found that I loved speaking and helping people so it came very natural to me. Then I started speaking—donating my time and paying my own travel expenses—for non-profit organizations or other business at thought leadership types of conferences to get my name out there.”

Building Thought Leadership: Tips for Finance Leaders

Success as a Finance thought leader can be accelerated by a strong personal brand and media presence. Here are Dawn’s top recommendations for building a following.

  1. Write for others: “Many publications look for people to write content as an expert in their field,” Dawn said. “You have to understand that you likely will not get paid out of the gate but certainly the more content you create the louder your voice will be.”
  2. Build your digital presence: It’s not enough to have a website. To build your brand you need fresh content that helps you to maintain ongoing visibility. For that, Dawn recommends starting a blog on your website and being active on social media.
  3. Start an accounting podcast: There are a growing number of accounting podcasts but there are still niches to fill. If you’re challenged to come up with content, Dawn recommends that you, “either interview others in your industry or just share content that you know.”
  4. Create a YouTube channel: Short informative videos can help sell your skills as a strategic thinker and an effective communicator.

But regardless of where you start, Dawn said it’s important to remember that, “Content is key, start there!”

Staying On Top of Your Game

For Dawn, the process of learning is never done. She believes that there are always new opportunities to provide value to her clients and the Finance profession at large.

A key area of investigation for Dawn: Technology. But it’s not just learning about implications Finance technology as a tool for good, it’s also understanding how technology can be used for ignoble causes.

“As a business owner, you have the keys to people’s castle. Therefore, with the rapid changes in technology and the number of people out there looking to steal information to sell, you have to stay on your game.”

“As a Finance professional, it is critical that you continue to educate yourself on the most relevant and timely information,” Dawn concludes. “The business world is moving at a very fast pace and if you get behind in even some of the simplest pieces of information, you will put yourself in a corner. Be proactive and contribute your knowledge to your industry. You will get back as much as you give and more.”

Find Your Way to Success as Finance Leader

There is more than one path to success as a Finance leader. Visit our Finance Career Acceleration Center for more insights from Finance experts, including practical information to help you reach your desired destination.

Dawn Brolin is the CEO of her own consulting firm, Powerful Accounting, LLC. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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