Jeff Thomson, CEO of Institute of Management Accountants, shares his leadership advice for current and aspiring leaders.
By Forefront Editorial Team
Editor’s Note: We recently caught up with Jeff Thomson, CEO of IMA, who was recently honored in Accounting Today as one of 100 top influential people in accounting. As a respected thought leader and executive in the finance industry, we asked him to share a few pieces of advice on leadership.
Forefront Magazine: You were named in the top 100 most influential people in accounting by Accounting Today. Can you tell me a bit about what has led you to be awarded this spot among other prominent professionals, and even the President of the United States?
Jeff Thomson: I’m honored to be recognized by Accounting Today, but this award comes as the result of IMA’s outstanding achievement and the organization’s contributions to careers, organizations, and the public interest. IMA is a multinational association that is globally relevant and valued, and I’m proud to lead IMA’s operations. The association has grown around the world in terms of numbers of members and CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential holders. We’ve done this with confidence and integrity, in line with our mission to serve the management accounting profession.
FM: How has you career path helped you grow as a leader?
Thomson: I spent more than two decades of my career working at AT&T and held many roles, including CFO of a major business operating unit. I’ve walked in the shoes of IMA’s members, and I’ve met hundreds of CFOs and professionals from around the world. You might say I have a unique lens for seeing trends and understanding the constant changes in our profession. All of these experiences have given me the perspective I need to support accountants and finance professionals advance in their careers, and help organizations thrive with the help of qualified talent.
FM: As a leader in finance, what is the biggest financial leadership lesson you have learned?
Thomson: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to drive “value through values.” In other words, it’s the commonly shared core values of everyone inside the organization that makes us deliver value to our members. Keeping our employees and volunteer leaders inspired and engaged is what makes great things happen, whether it’s a new member offering, a product, or thought leadership. I don’t just think about tone at the top, I need to think about the importance of tone throughout the organization.
FM: What is one thing every future leader should know? What advice would you give?
Thomson: I urge existing and future leaders to find what differentiates them, both within the company and in their own lives. Increasingly, what sets accounting and finance professionals apart is their ability to be more than a number cruncher and to serve as a strategic advisor within business. CFOs and their teams are taking on new roles and collaborating more closely with CEOs than ever before. Professionals have to be prepared to step up to those responsibilities. Success of business and the overall economy depends on this.
It’s also a competitive world, and organizations need us to bring all our talents to the table. Our unique differences bring value to organizations and society. The more diverse your competencies, the more prepared you can be to take on the ever-changing needs of business and to close the widely discussed talent gap. Your broad array of experiences allows you to innovate in a way nobody else but you can. Continue to seek new experiences and continuous improvement in all that you do.
Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, is president and CEO of IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), one of the largest and most respected global associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. Prior to joining IMA, Thomson was the CFO for business sales at AT&T, an $18B revenue operation.
During Thomson’s tenure at IMA, he has spoken on accounting regulatory issues, providing testimony to U.S. Congress on internal controls and risk management as it relates to Sarbanes-Oxley implementation, appearing before the SEC and PCAOB on critical regulatory matters impacting U.S. global competitiveness. He also served as a member of the COSO (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations) board of directors, which delivers global guidance on internal controls and enterprise risk management. Thomson has authored numerous trade articles on accounting issues and recently contributed a chapter on ethical leadership to “Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset,” entitled Trust: The Uncommon Denominator in an Uncommon Business World.