Marie Scherf

Senior manager, private company services, Burr Pilger Mayer, 110 Stony Point Rd., #210, Santa Rosa 95401; 707-524-6520; bpmcpa.com

Age: 58

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional background: CPA since 1986, worked three years in private industry, public accounting since 1983

Education: Bachelor of English Literature, Uuniversity of California, Santa Barbara; 16 credits towards Masters in Taxation at Golden Gate University

Tell us about yourself and your company:  I started work at Andersen & Company in 1997, which was a CPA firm of about 17 employees led by Jim Andersen. In 2009, when we’d grown to about 35 employees, we merged with Burr Pilger Mayer, a firm based in San Francisco that employs about 400 people. Lucky for us, they embraced our little firm up in the North Bay and let us keep our office culture, which was invaluable to maintaining good employees and providing excellent client service, which is always our goal. I started out as a manager, and was promoted to Senior Manager after about two years. I work mostly with small-to-medium size businesses, high net worth individuals, as well as estates and trusts. I’m involved with a large variety of projects, including all types of tax returns, compiled and reviewed financial statements, and a considerable amount of consulting services. My specialty is the construction industry.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?: I just graduated from my first year as a member of Class 29 of Leadership Santa Rosa. Just being accepted to this fabulous program was an accomplishment, since Santa Rosa has a stellar program that is very competitive. It’s an amazing curriculum that exposes its participants to all aspects of the county’s operations in order to understand first hand how the city functions.

Its goal is to foster deeper connections to our communities, and encourage and teach participants to become leaders. It brought us in direct contact with many local leaders in government, business and industry, transportation, planning, agriculture, education, media, health and human services, public safety, and tourism. It was a phenomenal experience promoted by our local Chamber of Commerce and I highly recommend it.

[caption id="attachment_75565" align="alignleft" width="162"] Marie Scherf[/caption]

What is the achievement you are most proud of?: Getting my CPA license, for sure! I was pretty proud of it at the time, but as I work with young people now who are studying for the exam and having difficulty passing it, I realize it was something I’ve been proud of for many years.

Or . . .  being voted Best Coach in the North Bay office of our firm. Its gratifying to feel like I’m having a positive impact on steering someone’s career, and that they know I’m working on their behalf to help them achieve their goals, and that they can count on me to be there for them if they ever need support or guidance.

What is your biggest challenge today?: Finding a healthy balance between my professional and personal life has been growing more and more difficult over the last couple of years. The economy was hard on many of our clients, and now that things seem to be picking up, the demands of my work seem harder to manage.

Also, finding and retaining young professional staff is very challenging. We’re so lucky to have Sonoma State close by, which graduates a lot of promising accounting students. But it’s still tough to find young people who have the desire to learn our profession and who want to live in Sonoma County.

The lure of a more exciting city like San Francisco makes Santa Rosa a tough sell for the younger professionals. Managing emails has also become much more challenging for just about everyone because the expectation is that we’ll be available 24/7, which is unsustainable.

Words that best describe you: Optimistic, loyal, dedicated to my clients, hard-working, proud mother, grateful, blessed. My friends occasionally poke fun at me because they know I’ll always try to find the good side of something, no matter how bad the situation might appear to be.

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?: When I entered this profession, there were almost no women who ran their own accounting firms and very few partners in the Big Eight firms (it’s since been reduced to the Big Four). Having no female role models or coaches probably had a large, though subtle influence on my desire not to be part of a firm at that level. When Andersen & Company joined BPM four and ½ years ago, the focus was very different and we were strongly encouraged to take leadership roles. BPM has several very prominent and successful women partners who are instrumental in leading the firm. That speaks volumes to the young women who are just starting out in their careers.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?: As the economy improves I think we’re going to see a shortage of skilled professionals available over the next several years. Great for the job seekers, not so rosy for the firms looking to hire and retain.

Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person: In 1983, I was hired by a CPA firm in Spokane, Washington to consult on their computer conversion by the owner, Anson Avery. After a few months, he hired me full-time to do tax and accounting for his clients. I was working towards my MBA and taking accounting and tax classes, and Anson suggested that I forget about the MBA and study for the CPA exam instead. He told me that he thought I had a real aptitude for accounting and that I would enjoy it. Frankly, it was a career that I’d never considered, but the fact that he saw something in me and encouraged me, gave me a lot of confidence. Within two years I’d passed the exam and within one more year I’d gotten a full credential, and have been fortunate to love what I do and work with wonderful people throughout my career.

Anson was without a doubt the most unusual CPA I’ve ever met. When he wasn’t driving his pickup truck, he rode his Harley motorcycle around town. He loved to give rides to anybody he could lure onto his bike and then would fly at breakneck speeds down the freeway just for the cheap thrills. He had numerous tattoos back in the day when body art was viewed as pretty low-brow, especially for a professional business person. He had moved to Spokane from Colorado to take care of his sick father and started his CPA firm from scratch, not knowing anyone. He had a huge heart, and was dedicated to bringing out the best in people.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?: Take time to go see a bit of the world and learn about different cultures. It’s much easier to do while you’re young and don’t have to plan around your spouse’s work or your kid’s school schedules. Put your laptop down and go interact with people face-to-face. Facebook friends aren’t the same as real friends and developing relationships will give you much more satisfaction in the long-term. Also, engage in your community and find ways to volunteer and participate.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Tony McGee, the owner and CEO of Lagunitas Brewing Company. Tony started out making beer in his garage and turned a love for his hobby into a multi-million dollar enterprise without sacrificing any of his ideals or his creative nature.

Current reading: I just finished Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, which was a remarkable account of his experience. And I’m currently reading The Heartless Stone, by Tom Zoellner, which is a fascinating story about the diamond industry.

Most want to meet: George Lucas, because he’s so creative. Jon Stewart because he is so clever and is so good at helping others to succeed. Rachel Maddow, because she’s so smart and informed.

Stress relievers: Hiking, gardening, hanging out with my extended family, enjoying a glass of wine.

Favorite hobbies: Skiing, kayaking, hiking.