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Leading the Entrepreneurship Initiative at the University Level: The Expanding Role of the CPA

Oct 23, 2018

Steven W. Fouty, CPA, CGMA, DePauw University


On August 1, 2018, I began an entirely new phase of my professional life as a CPA. Over 30 years after leaving the world of academia with a BS in Accounting from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, and then gaining my CPA certification, I am now “back at school” as the James W. Emison Director of the McDermond Center for Management and Entrepreneurship at DePauw University. The 30+ years that passed between the end of my college studies and my return to academia were filled with some of the most varied and interesting roles in business a person could imagine.

Steve Fouty

The scope of responsibilities a CPA is able to fulfill has grown and continues to expand. As business and technology changes occur at a faster pace than ever before, CEOs and board members look to someone with a CPA credential to provide much more than financial statement accuracy. In my career I have been able to grow and be responsible for many interesting initiatives not traditionally thought of from a CPA.

Someone with a CPA background is often the best person to more accurately forecast the future, being able to understand the many facets of a company by interpreting the current financial statements and also putting numbers around the future initiatives the executive team is contemplating. For me, forecasting the future was a far more satisfying way to spend my time than reporting on past financials. I have been able to provide insight and even lead the strategies for benefit packages, facility buildouts, legal contract creation and negotiation, sales incentive compensation, equity design, employee growth, etc. With a CPA’s core competencies of ethics, accuracy, controls and compliance, this becomes the springboard to advance in many other areas of analysis and insight.

The scope of responsibilities a CPA is able to fulfill has grown and continues to expand.

Upon graduation I did not choose to work for a public accounting firm, or a well-established corporation. I had taken the accounting program as a springboard to a career in emerging technologies. Back then, entrepreneurial programs were few and far between, and not looked upon very highly as a declared major. I knew accounting was considered a solid major that could lead to many career opportunities in the business world, so I chose a business degree in accounting and earned my CPA certification.

Thankfully, times have changed, and the entrepreneurial-focused curriculum is now one of the most popular majors in colleges across the country. That is why I am so excited to be back in the world of academia and be responsible for expanding the business-readiness, and especially the entrepreneurial programs, offered to the students of DePauw University.

DePauw has a history of developing outstanding entrepreneurial-minded business leaders. Brad Stevens, head coach of the Boston Celtics who created his own career path, spent his undergraduate days in Greencastle, as did Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, and David Becker, who created First Internet Bank. There are many others. For me to have the opportunity to join the staff of a university that already has a great history of success stories is a dream come true, and a culmination of over 30 years of experiences in roles from controller to CFO at many entrepreneurial companies in the greater Indianapolis emerging-technology scene.

My first job out of college was with a start-up software company, On-Farm Computing. This was a joint venture with Sperry Corp. The entire company folded four weeks after I joined! You would think the "start-up" fire in me would have been put out by that experience and that I would have opted for a more stable company to join next. But my desire to be part of the beginning of a company, being able to define the strategy, help birth the culture, and wear many hats only grew stronger. Over the next three decades I would work for a few more unsuccessful start-ups here and there, but most of my entrepreneurial career was spent as an early leader and first finance member of five well-known start-ups that went on to provide successful exits for their founders and investors.

My first success was with Don Brown's Software Artistry, which went public and then later sold to IBM. Then came the biggest, and most widely known, success story in Indianapolis; I was the original controller for ExactTarget and worked with the company over 11 years, seeing it grow from approximately 17 employees to just under 2,000. ExactTarget also went public and then sold to Salesforce for $2.5B. I then turned to smaller companies and joined the executive teams of Compendium, Emerging Threats and PolicyStat, which had successful exits with Oracle, ProofPoint and iContracts respectively.

However, the greatest accomplishment for me was being an agent for personal change – I was able to hire many individuals and watch them grow in their professional and personal lives. Finding a person who had great potential but was in a job that didn't let them expand their horizons or identifying a student with talents just waiting to be unleashed and providing them the opportunity to grow and excel, were my greatest "wins." There is nothing more satisfying than watching people take tremendous advantage of professional opportunities that bring them to new heights in the workplace, and in their personal lives as well.

So that brings me back to why I am so happy to be in my new role at DePauw University: I get to be a part of developing the next generation of great business leaders and entrepreneurial thinkers.

I am still an active CPA with membership in the Indiana CPA Society and I attend the Society’s CPE courses. But my career journey has been a non-traditional one.

As a CPA, the options for a career are infinite. Businesses need strategists and visionaries who also have sound financial acumen. It is this balance a CPA can provide to any organization, large or small. As a CPA, in many ways you can tailor your career to your passions. That is what I have been able to do, and I am very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and am excited for the challenges still to come.


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