Interview with Dr. Anthony H. Catanach, Jr., Associate Professor at Villanova University

    Dr. Anthony H. Catanach Jr. is an associate professor at Villanova University and was a Cary M. Maguire Fellow at the American College Center from 2009 to 2015. The reader of this interview will find Dr. Catanach’s answers fresh, honest, and direct. He generously shares his experience and passion in a conversational style that makes the reader wish the interview would never end. New accountants to the profession will profit from his advice to, “Go slow!” Dr. Catanach also reaches out to new accountants and implores them to view first jobs in the profession as apprenticeships in a lifelong journey of learning. The beginning accountant would do well to heed these passionate instructions.

    anthony-cantanachWhat event or series of events led you to pursue accounting or the study of accounting as a professional choice?

    My pursuit of an accounting degree was quite accidental. My draft number was 22, so I sought out and received a Naval ROTC scholarship before proceeding to SE Asia. The problem was that I HAD to graduate in four years. This left little time to think about a major. So, I asked my dad what I should major in and he said accounting. Back then we actually followed parental advice. Later I found out he knew little or nothing about what accountants did…he just had a good friend who was an accountant.

    When I ultimately left active duty, I was trained to be either an urban guerilla or an accountant. There was not much demand for the former, so I played the accounting hand, and apparently my Scottish DNA kicked in and the accounting thing worked out.

    Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your accounting career and the steps you took to meet these challenges.

    Two big challenges immediately come to mind. The first is how I was going to adjust to the transformation of the accounting profession to the accounting business. As a young staff accountant and manager in the early 1980s, we were hired thinking of ourselves as public servants…protectors of the “holy grail.” We were to safeguard the interests of the investing public, who ultimately were our clients. Unfortunately, market forces (principally regulatory enforced competition) ultimately led to a change in client focus from the public to the auditee. And today we have seen the result, decline in audit quality, calls for auditor rotation and partner signatures, as the market perceives the abrogation of auditor responsibilities. I never adjusted thankfully, choosing instead to move to industry, then to academics.

    The second challenge occurred in industry, where pressures to meet short-term performance targets at all costs (including aggressive accounting) in a dynamic M&A culture forced me to evaluate my moral convictions. Ultimately, I decided that long-term performance matters more, and exited industry for academics.

    In short, the challenge is to remain true to your personal convictions.

    How would you advise an individual entering the accounting profession to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?

    The challenges and obstacles are many: changing structural forces, regulatory regimes, accounting standards, technologies, etc. Change is constant. And obstacles are many. Accounting will always be a support function and accountants will always be subject to pressures to more at less cost. Outsourcing and other forms of cost-cutting will be a continuous threat. Then there is the threat of legal and regulatory sanctions for public company accountants and auditors if you don’t get the numbers right, no matter all the reporting pressures and ambiguities you are forced to deal with.

    Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

    One instance is actually a “serial case.” Several colleagues and I designed an innovative way to teach intermediate financial accounting called the “Business Activity Model” which introduced students to technical accounting topics in the context of simulated audit environment. For this, we were awarded the American Accounting Association’s Innovation in Accounting Education Award in 1997. And this technique has been widely adopted by a number of academic programs. For more information see https://bamaccounting.com/

    If you could suggest a role model for a new accountant, who would it be and why?

    This is actually a difficult question that has potentially many answers. Given the dynamic nature of accounting today, I don’t think anyone “role model” will suffice. I think you should pick your accounting “team” of experts that you have come to trust and RESPECT. These may come from teachers, friends, relatives, and co-workers…the key element is that each of these individuals allows you an open door policy to “pick their brain” on any accounting issue, whether it be technical, ethical, professional, or job-related.

    As an accomplished author of a blog related to accounting, what advice would you offer to the new accountant concerning the role of social media in their profession?

    Use social media as a professional tool to stay connected with current technical developments by following content posted by global professionals. Also use it to build and maintain a global network of “colleagues” for professional development purposes. Lastly, use it as a way to build your brand via intelligent queries and communications with the marketplace in general.

    This is the last question and time for the inner accountant in you to break free. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new accountants to mine their own strengths to further their careers.

    My key strength is passion…I care deeply about what I do and what contribution I can make given my limited talents. I work hard not to make money, but to make a difference.

    My advice for new accountants is simple…don’t rush it. Pick up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” and think about how you are going to spend your next 10,000 hours. Think of your first few jobs as apprenticeships guiding you to mastership of your craft.

    We enjoyed this interview with Dr. Catanach and would like to thank him for taking the time to answer these questions in such a thoughtful and enthusiastic way.