For many of us, finding the career we are meant to do is a crooked and winding path. We try out different jobs and go down different career paths before we land on the one that fulfills us. But some are lucky and find their calling from the very beginning. This was the case for Lesley P. Baker, CPA, CFF.
Lesley is a manager at Russell Thompson, Butler & Houston, LLP, and she finds that accounting is the perfect complement to her personality.
“I knew accounting was my thing from a very early age,” she said. “I have a Type A personality and am very organized. I like everything to have its place, and that is how accounting works. I love the process of working out the puzzle. It’s very exciting when I figure it out.”
Lesley grew up in Atmore, Alabama. Her high school offered vocational courses to juniors and seniors, and she enrolled in the accounting and bookkeeping classes. She took to the curriculum so naturally that her teachers had to put her in a class all on her own so she could progress at a faster pace. She spent class time doing hands-on bookkeeping, keeping up ledger sheets, reconciling bank accounts and paying bills for imaginary companies.
Lesley has a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance (1997) and a second Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting (2001) from the University of South Alabama. She received her certification in Financial Forensics (CFF) in February of 2015 from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). She is a member of the AICPA as well as the Alabama Society of Certified Public Accountants (ASCPA).
Most recently, on May 12, 2016, Lesley completed Class V of the ASCPA’s Leadership Academy. She believes her experience in the academy has been a game changer for her both professionally and personally.
“I don’t really consider myself an introvert,” she said. “But taking this class has pushed me to try more public speaking and to get myself out there more. It has helped propel me to a new level of confidence and leadership within the office as well as also outside the office.”
The Leadership Academy consists of quarterly classes in Montgomery, coaching calls, webinars, required reading and projects throughout the year.
“Because of the class and the projects I have initiated within the office, I have strengthened my role as a liaison between the staff and the partners,” Lesley said. “I have taken over scheduling of the staff and found my voice as a manager. I have implemented office procedures and templates to streamline and improve effectiveness at work. It’s shown me that I have more to offer than I even realized.”
Lesley said the class also encourages prioritizing personal goals such as exercising more, working on her personal LinkedIn account and getting more involved in the community.
“The Leadership Academy allowed me to work on myself not just in the context of work, but on myself as a whole person,” she said. “We learned a lot about time management and implementing one or two goals at a time, a gradual building rather than making a lot of changes all at once.”
As a member of the Board of Trustees for the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, Lesley believes the confidence she gained through the Leadership Academy has helped her to be a better leader.
“The biggest thing the class has given me is the confidence to sit around a table of people I don’t know and have a voice,” she said. “I can be a leader and know that the ideas I have to offer are valuable.”
Skip Brown, CPA, MAFF is a partner at RTBH. He has seen a noticeable difference in Lesley’s leadership skills since her participation in the class.
“As she progressed through the program, Lesley’s leadership skills, while already evident, became markedly more effective. She revamped our Firm’s scheduling and workflow management process to be much more efficient. She also updated our personnel evaluation process and developed specific criteria for advancement to higher staff levels,” Skip said also noting her personal accomplishments. “She has earned her CFF designation and developed personal marketing tools which have already proven to be beneficial for client development. We are proud of Lesley and her inspiration to others who will participate in the Leadership Academy in the coming session.”
Through her experiences this year, Lesley has noticed the need for a better system of communication between management and staff and the need for mentorship for younger staff.
“I have found my voice as a manager and feel that I am now in a position to help managers, senior accountants and staff accountants find theirs,” she said. “I really want to foster an environment that encourages communication and contribution with the younger staff and bridges the gap with staff and partners.”
Supervisor Patty McGill, CPA has noticed how the Leadership class has paid off for Lesley and plans to follow in her footsteps to take the class this year.
“Since Lesley’s enrollment into the Leadership Academy, I have seen a dramatic difference in her manager role at RTBH. She has definitely taken on a larger role within the Firm’s management of both workflow and with her subordinate staff members,” Patty said. “She is much more vocal and assertive and her self-confidence in dealing with superiors and staff has significantly increased. I can see what a difference the class has made for her in both her personal and professional life.”
Senior Accountant Shelby Johnson, CPA has paid attention to Lesley’s career path and admires the hard work and effort Lesley puts into her career every day.
“I have always looked up to Lesley as a leader in our Firm,” Shelby said. “But since the Leadership Academy, I have seen her grow exponentially in terms of confidence and poise as a manager. She has become more assertive, yet remains approachable, which, as a constituent of hers, I greatly appreciate and admire. Not only is Lesley an excellent manager, but she is also evolving into an outstanding mentor. Lesley is continually striving to further her education and knowledge in her field and is truly paving the way for emerging staff to follow in great footsteps.”
Next on Lesley’s agenda – working her way to partner. Not being from this area, Lesley recognizes the need to bring in more business to the Firm and therefore, the need to put herself out there in the business world and the community more.
“I have several goals for the next few years,” Lesley said. “I want to make partner. I also want to get into forensic work and litigation support. I want to mentor staff and help them move up. I think I can reach these goals, and the Leadership Academy has given me the confidence and skills I need to believe in myself. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about it to enroll.”