Anita Sheckells, B.S. ’84 (accounting), is a director with KatzAbosch and vice president of the firm’s Board of Directors. She holds the prestigious distinction of Certified Construction Industry Financial Professional (CCIFP), a certification held by less than 50 professionals in Maryland and less than 1,000 professionals in the United States. As a subject matter expert in construction accounting, Sheckells has authored several financial and accounting articles for various publications and associations. She recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange and shared some thoughts about her career, as well as some valuable advice for our students.
Merrick Exchange: How did you end up at a being an expert in construction accounting?
Sheckells: Early on in my career I was assigned a couple of construction clients. I enjoyed working on the clients due to the people involved, as well as the technical challenges associated with this industry. As a firm, we already had a small concentration of construction clients. My partner, Kent Thomas and I decided that we needed to formalize the structure, training and marketing of this niche. We continued to expand our experience and knowledge in the construction field by meeting with experts in the business and by attending national conferences. As part of this process, we earned the CCIFP designation. As a result, we co-founded our Construction and Real Estate Services Group which now comprises 20 percent of our annual revenues.
Merrick Exchange: Where did you get your start? What led you to your current position?
Sheckells: I started working for KatzAbosch about three weeks after I graduated from UB. I interviewed with my partner, Steve Gershman (another UB grad) and could tell right away that KatzAbosch was the firm for me. I started as a staff accountant and worked my way up to my current position of director.
During my 30-plus year tenure, I have been involved in many roles within the firm, including: Personnel, Co-Founder of Construction Group, Co-Chair of Accounting and Audit Group, Co-Chair of Tax Group, Board of Directors, Sales Team, Relationship Partner, as well as many others. One of the great things about public accounting is that there is a lot of flexibility in terms of career path and schedules.
Merrick Exchange: Please describe your current position as a director at KatzAbosch.
Sheckells: As a director, the two main components of my position are client relationships and business development. I work closely with the accounting and tax professionals that are assigned to each of my clients to make sure that our clients receive the best service and professional advice. In addition, I am involved with many outside organizations so that I can help those establishments prosper, as well as foster professional relationships that will ultimately help our firm grow.
Merrick Exchange: What are some challenges that you, your firm (or clients) are currently facing in the industry?
Sheckells: I think a common challenge for our firm, as well as our clients, is hiring and retaining good talent. We constantly look for ways to attract students to our firm. Our internship program has been very valuable in this respect. We are able to engage with students while they are still in school. They are able to work with us and see what it means to work in public accounting and to work for KatzAbosch. Then, when it is a good fit, we can offer them full-time employment after graduation.
Merrick Exchange: What were your expectations in pursuing a career in accounting?
Sheckells: Initially, I chose accounting as a major because I took some accounting classes in high school and enjoyed working with numbers and associated challenges. Upon graduation, I chose public accounting because I wanted to work with many different companies in a variety of industries. I also wanted to work on a variety of types of work such as tax, audit and accounting. KatzAbosch has given me all of those opportunities and more.
Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who might want to pursue a career in accounting?
Sheckells: Make the most of your 150 hours. Take relevant courses for your last 30 credits and consider getting an MBA or Masters in Tax. Take the CPA exam as early as possible while the information is still fresh in your mind. Try to secure an internship as early as possible.
Merrick Exchange: What’s the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
Sheckells: Job hunting is work. First, you need to determine the type of career you would like to pursue (public accounting, private accounting, government or other.) Then, you need to research the companies that would be hiring for that position. Finally, you need to get your resume to those companies. Many people rely on their personal network to assist in this process. Don’t be afraid to ask professors, family members, neighbors, etc. to pass on your resume to their network. You never know who may be hiring.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you choose to attend UB?
Sheckells: I went to a community college for my first two years of college. UB had an excellent reputation in the accounting community, so it just seemed like a natural fit. Also, my sister-in-law, my husband and several friends all attended UB as well. Now, my niece will be starting at UB in the fall and will also study accounting.
Merrick Exchange: How has attending UB helped you in your career?
Sheckells: UB provided me with a solid accounting and business foundation. The professors were very knowledgeable and most of them had experience in professional practices as well as teaching. This was very helpful as they could add the real-world experience to the classroom training.
UB has helped me make connections with other professionals and potential clients over the years. People like to do business with people who share something in common with them. I remember one particular new client who said that they called me because they saw that I was a UB grad and they were, too.
Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself this year?
Sheckells: I have always enjoyed working with my clients and associates and as such, spend a lot of time doing so. On the advice of my son, I am working on finding a hobby.