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Five partners with a University of La Verne connection have helped Vicenti Lloyd & Stutzman become an industry pioneer in the advancement of women to leadership.
In 1962, Richard Vicenti made Johnnie Lloyd his first partner in his young accounting firm. Nothing unusual about that, except that Juanice “Johnnie” Lloyd was a woman.
In early ’60s America, the cars were long, the hair was short and business was a man’s world. The pre-eminent female in the culture was Betty Crocker. Men were the executives, women were the secretaries, and a female earning a partnership in any type of firm was virtually unheard of.
Fifty years later, that same firm, now known as Vicenti Lloyd & Stutzman, is still setting trends. While female partnership in the accounting industry hovers around the 23% mark, that number is substantially higher at the Glendora-based firm, where women compose 55% of total leadership. Among active partners, that number increases to 67% — nearly triple the national average.
At the heart of the operation are five partners in the firm bound by a strong University of La Verne connection, and all are reaching major professional milestones. Royce Stutzman ’59, who this year celebrates his 50th anniversary with the firm, is chairman. Co-Managing Partner Linda Saddlemire ’82 has been with the firm 30 years. Karin Heckman Nelson ’88 is celebrating her 20th year, and Gema Ptasinski ’94 is a partner after 15 years with the firm. Ann Quay Davis earned her accounting degree at Cal Poly Pomona and is a member of the University of La Verne Board of Trustees. She is Partner Emerita at VLS after 35 years with the firm.
“I went to Cal Poly to get an accounting degree because at the time, La Verne didn’t have an accounting degree,” Quay Davis said. “But after getting my CPA certificate, I went back and I did teach a class at La Verne and became more interested. Then, through the Church of the Brethren, I got nominated to be on the board and that’s what really what started my connection [with the university].”
Quay Davis says she was inspired by Ms. Lloyd almost from the moment she joined the firm.
“Certainly, Vicenti, Lloyd & Stutzman was a pioneer organization, related to women,” Quay Davis said. “Johnnie Lloyd was one of the first woman partners in a CPA firm this size in the state. She was really more of a pioneer than I was. When I came, she was a partner and that kind of made me think, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can do it.’ But at the time, there was only one other woman staff member. All of the other women were administrative-type people. And we did pioneer some stuff in terms of being able to travel to out-of-town jobs and get assigned management-type jobs.”
Lloyd, who passed away in 2002, never received an accounting degree, but was something of a phenomenon. She began working as office manager for Dick Vicenti in 1957, then took classes through a UCLA Extension School to accumulate the college credit required to sit for the CPA exam. She not only passed all four parts of the exam in one sitting, but became the first female to score in the top 4 percent. Her paper was judged the most outstanding in California, which led to her winning the John Forbes Gold Medal — the first female to do so in the 17-year history of the award. She was immediately made a partner in the firm that still bears her name.
“She was one of those unique persons who was extremely intelligent,” Stutzman said. “She was an amazing lady and one of the first female presidents of a chapter of the California Society of CPAs. An incredible lady.”
Lloyd’s work effected change in gender roles, though Stutzman said it came slowly.
“When I first entered into public accounting, there were not many females in the public accounting profession,” Stutzman said. “And so we would recruit almost exclusively male applicants to the profession. I’m not exactly sure when it began to turn. Probably about 20 to 25 years ago. Now, there are more female workers here than male, typically because there are more available qualified candidates.”
The American Institute of CPAs reports that, among its 2006 membership, for the first time in the history of the profession, there are more women working in accounting than men.
“I think, when I first started, in my class there were only about four women, out of about 30 students,” Nelson said. “When I started — and certainly when I started here at Vicenti Lloyd & Stutzman — women were starting to have roles in leadership and then, in school, it was moving more toward 50 percent of the accounting classes being women. We were getting to be partners and managers and all kind of positions in accounting firms.”
Nelson is now bucking the traditional image of the 80-hours-a-week-partner bent on billable hours with another concept that was unheard of 50 years ago: flexible scheduling.
“I have education in my blood,” she said. “I can count two grandparents and six different aunts and uncles who graduated from the University of La Verne. My dad (Marlin) was the university librarian for more than 30 years. But I didn’t want to be a teacher, so I went to Manchester College — which is affiliated with the University of La Verne — to become an accountant. I got my master’s degree because I wanted to teach at some point. So, I have done some full-time teaching and I currently have a schedule that’s part-time to allow me to do part-time teaching.”
Quay Davis is another partner with the firm who recently throttled back on her work schedule to enhance her personal life. While she will continue to work full-time during tax season, she plans to work a reduced number of hours the rest of the year to spend more time with her husband, Larry. Both are avid golfers.
“[Billable hours] are critical to have,” Stutzman said, “but we also believe very much in quality of life. It’s about family, its about community, its about giving back to the community as well as the clients that you serve. For me, it all goes together hand-in-hand; one without the other doesn’t work. So we don’t have as many billable hours as some of the larger firms have, but we’re very successful in building quality lives, I believe.”
He’s not the only one. Vicenti Lloyd & Stutzman was recently recognized as one of the best accounting firms to work for in 2012 by Accounting Today magazine. The magazine’s annual list of the top 100 firms was created by Accounting Today and Best Companies Group to identify, recognize, and honor the best places of employment in the accounting industry. Firms selected are ranked by overall scores in categories such as workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems and demographics, plus overall employee experience.
Accounting for changes in the workforce is part of the strategy for any business. With a shift toward educated and talented women occupying a larger share of the industry, forward-looking firms take such things as child-bearing into consideration.
“That’s one of the things we recognized a number of years ago,” Stutzman said. “We’re dealing with women in accounting who are frequently mothers, and I believe very much in life cycles. What works today may not work tomorrow so well, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a good quality worker and shouldn’t be part of a good firm. And so we changed our approach to that a number of years ago, which now I see that some of the national firms are doing as well. I think we were one of the first ones to start that pattern.”
The change in Quay Davis’ schedule coincided with Saddlemire’s promotion to co-managing partner, which will be another facet to her diverse experience within the firm.
“One of the reasons I was first attracted to this firm was because it had one of the only women in leadership at that time, which was Ms. Lloyd,” Saddlemire said. “That was unheard of at that point in time. I entered the firm in 1982 and we were already on the cutting edge, if you will, and it just went from there. Now, we have quite a few women partners.”
Saddlemire, who joined VLS in 1982 and made partner seven years later, found herself working on fraud investigations that arose during several audits. She was intrigued by the detail of the work, which she found dovetailed well with her way of thinking.
“One of my favorite pastimes is working on puzzles,” said Saddlemire, who recently entered the doctoral program at La Verne in Organizational Leadership. “Fraud investigation was a different way of practicing accounting, using the same skills for different purposes. Just like a puzzle, forensic accounting is solving a problem, getting all the pieces to fit together. Take an entity that has an internal embezzlement, and we come in and help investigate that, analyze that. Very interesting, very challenging.”
The work led Saddlemire to become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) in 1994 and she was Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) in 2008. That paved the way for her to join forces with retired FBI agent Ernie Cooper. Since then, the firm’s fraud investigation group has expanded from one to nine — more than 10 percent of its professional staff.
Such work helped VLS reach that enviable business echelon of broad expertise at the highest level of the industry, while maintaining one-to-one, personal relationships with their clients.
“Our mission, at our firm, is to be a trusted advisor,” Ptasinski said. “That’s not just about numbers. It’s about helping our clients come up with solutions, in terms of their business. They come to us with a lot of questions, and they’re not always just, ‘How do I account for this?’
“Accounting is definitely about more than just numbers. It’s about good communication skills and having a really well-rounded education. It’s really a people profession. The majority of our time, as you grow up in the industry, is spent interfacing with clients, dealing with issues and building relationships. That’s such a huge part, the heart of the profession.”
An accounting firm with a heart? That seems to be business as usual at this amazing firm, and Stutzman says the La Verne connection plays a strong role in that.
“I look at the values La Verne espouses and you look at our firm and you will see some of the very same kind of statements about what we believe in,” the soft-spoken Stutzman said. “For example, one of those missions that I believe in is making a positive difference in the world. I think that’s something La Verne portrays in the community as well. That’s a very, very important mission to us, to make a positive difference in the world.”
It’s entirely likely that, 50 years ago, “Johnnie” Lloyd had no idea how much of difference she would have on the future of not only her little accounting office but on the entire industry. In the ’60s, acceptance, opportunity and advancement for women were the objectives. Now, loftier goals are attainable.
Ideas for the future in the business may be advanced by someone like Ptasinski, the youngest of the five partners who carry on the ideals of not just their firm, but those of the University of La Verne as well. The next plane of achievement and satisfaction may well be reached through giving back.
“I’m glad to be a part of encouraging and offering opportunities for women to go all the way from associate up to partner level,” Ptasinski said. “You appreciate all the great things that you have in life, and the opportunities. When you’re out there, and you can provide that to somebody else, provide them with an opportunity for a great career, it’s really rewarding.”