Time well spent: new CalCPA chair brings penchant for public service.
"The world changes just a few blocks down." says Simitian, as he drives me from downtown Los Angeles to a rougher part of town, dubbed "Skid Row" so we can ii wet with Weingart's executive director and prepare for the board meeting taking place later that day.
He's right about the changes. The surroundings quickly go from bustling, downtown streets shaded by tall buildings and packed with business men and women going about their day--to a worn neighborhood where streets are packed with homeless men and women.
Homelessness was something that was all around Simitian when he was living in New York. "I just always felt homelessness was a much bigger issue here," he says. "Then I moved to L.A. and I realized that we're really dealing with the homeless capital of the world here. I did some research and found what was even more astounding: nobody talked about it. The more I was exposed to the issue, the more I realized it needed my attention."
And whatever garners Simitian's attention definitely benefits.
East to West: Origins and Education
Simitian grew up in New York with his two older sisters. His grandma also lived with the family, and his cousins and other extended family lived in the tri-state area and would vacation together when the opportunity arose.
Both his parents immigrated to the United States mom from Argentina and dad from Armenia. "Both in parents are actually Armenian, but my mother's family moved to South America in the early 1900s," Simitian explains.
His penchant for public service took him to his parents' birthplace in Armenia in 1990, where he volunteered to teach applied economies in a Junior Achievement type of project. He returned to Armenia in 2008 to help expand the program. "It was interesting because we were teaching students applied economies and capitalism--concepts they didn't understand under Communism." he says. "It eventually became part of the curriculum there in the fourth-and fifth-grade classes."
Simitian attended Pace University, located not too far from Wall Street. "I thought I warned to work on Wall Street, or do something related to the stock exchange," he says. A big stock market crash in 1987 put an end to those ideas and "a career in accounting seemed pretty attractive after that."
It was around this time he landed a part-time job with Grant Thornton while still in school. He figured accounting would be a good, fundamental skill to be able to work anywhere in the business world.
"Pace University was interesting because we had so many people working in internships, part-time jobs in accounting and insurance firms and brokerage houses," he says. "We had enormous amounts of exposure to these different companies. So, early on, I understood who the accounting firms were and what was happening in the profession."
He graduated in 1989 with an accounting degree, passed the CPA Exam soon after and was licensed in New York before moving to Los Angeles with Grant Thornton in early 1992. "I had spent some time in Los Angeles with friends that had relocated a few years before, but it was primarily a work opportunity," he explains. "There was an opportunity to stay with Grant Thornton when a senior audit position opened in our L.A. office. I told myself I'd give it a shot for six months or a year and see how it works out. That was 23 years ago.
The Renaissance CPA: 25 Years in the Profession
Simitian is the audit practice leader for the west region and a partner at GT. He says regulation is probably the biggest issue he has dealt with in his 25 years in profession and recalls how accounting scandals like Enron turned the profession away from being sell-regulated one. "Today the bar is much higher with regard to documentation, independence and many other issues." he says. "It has changed the auditor-client relationship, particularly for public company clients."
The other big change lie has noticed is the pace of the business. "The speed at which things are happening in business translates to greater demands on our profession. We have to be able to adapt and respond much taster to tax and audit needs, as well as the training and development of our people," he explains. "There was a time as a new staff person where you had downtime white on an engagement, which allowed you to absorb what was going on around you. Now, because of technology, all that is happening so quickly dial you are placing more and more demands on someone earlier in their career."
Simitian has seen changes in the workforce. "The expectations of the generation joining the profession in the last live or 10 years are very different," he says. "There used to be an acceptance that there's a clues paying process where you do your work, keep your head down, don't do anything crazy--and you will be rewarded. That's not how today's workforce thinks." As a result, Simitian says firms have to be creative when it comes to developing staff and enhancing their experience so they stick around.
What is it that he's hearing these students want from a job these days? "They're about flexibility. The students and young people coming into the work place will work just as hard as anyone else that came before them they'll just work differently. They have no problem working late, but they want the ability to work remotely if needed, and our technology allows them to do that."
Simitian says newcomers to the profession also want to be able to impact the organization and the decision-making early in their career. "They want to understand the company strategy and they want a link; They want to know how what they are doing is tied to the firm strategy, and to what the office is doing as a whole." He says what that really means is that young emerging professionals are looking for a flatter organization. "They want to be able to reach out to the office managing partner as quickly as they would they're colleagues."
Managing talent in his office is something that fills Simitian's day. He meets weekly with his human resources and operations teams and campus recruiting is something Simitian enjoys. "We're recruiting from outstanding universities, and the schools are preparing students better than ever." he says.
Returning to Skid Row: Finding Time to Give Back
But it's his community outreach and development where he really shines, being active with the Weingart Center. "It allows me to give back here in downtown Los Angeles, as well as strengthen relationships with the legal community, banking community and other professions that Also air doing the same thing."
Watching Simitian prepare for the board meeting--with the Weingart Center's executive director, its clear he is as comfortable in this setting as he was earlier talking to his staff member about a potential problem area with a client. And he is just as passionate. Before we enter the Weingart Center he points to the building across the street. He beams at it and me and explains how the board remodeled the old California Hotel into a transitional facility for Weingart program participants. Like a kid at Christmas, he also points out that there are plans to convert the parking lot we are standing into permanent housing for Weingart participants. One gets die sense he can talk for hours about this stuff.
Simitian's initial work with the Weingart Center, which started around 2003, was typical for a volunteer CPA: He was tagged as the treasurer and dealt with all things financial. However, for the last two years, he has served as the center's board chair after working up through I he ranks. "I helped deal with a variety of different issues from changing funding sources and tailoring the programs offered, to changing leadership at Weingart at the executive director level." he says. "The primary focus has always been assisting the participants that come to Weingart for help."
He says he center attracted him because it was different than other area organizations trying to do the same thing. "It wasn't just about offering people a meal and then putting them back out on the street," he explains. "One of the focuses is really looking for people who are prepared to help themselves, and taking a more holistic approach of providing the services to help them. When they participate in our programs, they sign up for job search assistance they have to slip, at the Weingart Center property and we restrict access to many the external pressures these folks may lace."
One of the fastest-growing, segments or the homeless population the Weingart Center has been helping is veterans, and a large percentage of the people the center deals with have had either alcohol or drug abuse problems. Providing help in those areas is standard to the center's programs, but "we also provide medical services on Skid Row, which was never there before. We've been able to expand what we offer."
Simitian is an active member in his church. He says service to others is part of his cultural and faith background. "We're involved in children's ministries." he says. "I find myself, two or three nights a week, picking up one of my kids from some church program. It's become a big part of our social network."
Finding Lime for it all is the big challenge, but he does well in that regard. "Time is the prize." he says. More particularly: finding more of it. "In a profession as demanding as this is, where time is an important part of the client service process, it's about finding that balance." He credits his support team for helping him through that. "But my biggest support team is my fatuity. That's the type of support yon can't get, anywhere else. My wife is able to quarterback the entire operation from home and keep my head on straight."
CalCPA: Stepping In and Stepping Up
Simitian was introduced to CalCPA when he was asked to participate in large-firm feedback forum on behalf of GT.
"I found out very quickly that many things were being done by CalCPA that were valuable to myself as a professional and to the firm," he recalls. "I remember Lou Savett catching up to me after the meeting and asked me about my level of involvement. I started giving him an excuse and he called me out on it pretty quickly and told me I should really be more actively involved with CalCPA if I wanted to be a leader in this profession. I got out of that elevator with my tail between my legs and realized he was absolutely right."
Simitian ramped up his involvement with CalCPA soon alter that, and was eventually appointed to CalCRA Council by Marc Parkinson, who was the incoming CalCPA chair at the time. "Since then I have tried to stay involved, have played a couple different roles and ended tip on the Board."
When the opportunity to run for CalCPA treasurer arose, he took it. "I felt, at that point, I understood the intricacies of the organization's operations, and felt I could add some value and give back to our profession," he says. Simitian says he continued to receive encouragement from incoming board member, eventually moved up the ranks and decided to put his bid in for CalCPA chair.
"I think we do many things right at CalCPA," he says. "What we do to support the profession and the credibility of the profession on, the work we do in Sacramento to advocate low the profession and the level of educational offerings we provide to keep our 40,000-plus members technically current is just outstanding. I think we do that better than any profession."
Simitian also appreciates everyone's focus on the new member and the continuation of the profession.
"There seems to be this common thread running through all of our programs and activities: How do we continue to develop young and emerging profession? Or: How do we continue to wits in on leadership development? If CalCRA didn't do that, nobody would do that. I think its that philosophy that has enabled the profession to thrive as it has in the last 100-plus years.
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Simitian met his wife in high school, and subsequently went to college with her. They've been married since 1992 and, yes, "we had a big, fat Greek wedding." He says there were many similarities to the Greek wedding made popular by the movie.
Of his three daughters--ages 16, 13 and 10--Simitian says "they're each so unique you'd never know they were all raised in the same house with the same parents. I'm always surrounded by women." Including a female dog.
His activities in his free time are really built around his kids' lives. "I realize how quickly they are growing up. So I try to spend every hour, minute or moment I can with them. Those are the moments that I really cherish."
RELATED ARTICLE: A Typical Day in the Office
Simitian says the best part of his job is that "no two days are the same." He tries not to compartmentalize his work, and deals with a variety of tasks that branch across business development, team management, recruiting and retention, dealing with industry group leaders and his other responsibilities as firm partner.
Damien B.M. English is CalCPA's managing editor. You can reach him at email@example.com.