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From Accountant to CEO

11 JUN 2013
Career Path : Accounting

Among the many logical reasons for being an accountant, the fact that many of the world’s top business leaders come from accounting backgrounds can’t be denied. As organizational needs evolve at a dizzying pace, professional accountants need to adapt proactively to these changes to be at the forefront of marketability and value generation. The key to building a successful business is developing a strong foundation that doesn’t let short-term gains overshadow the factors necessary for long-term survival.


An accountant must be a source of integrity and discretion – after all, a company’s entire financial viability depends on accurate records that comply with all standards and laws. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis that began in 2008, corporate responsibility and sustainability have become public priorities. Balancing compliance requirements with at least one eye on the bottom line takes stronger risk management policies that take a harder look at systemic risk amidst the fluctuating international markets and societal shifts, with greater oversight by governing boards, management and regulators. The accountant’s role in this is to ensure that both short and long-term strategy is integrated with present and projected cash flows.


The extent to which accountants take a strategic leadership function in creating, preserving and reporting value largely depends on post-qualification training, experience, and insight into how an organization generates value for its stakeholders. Those employed in smaller organizations typically perform multiple roles with simpler processes and integration. Solid knowledge of general accounting principles, software and work ethic acquired from accounting courses will get your foot in the door but increasingly, versatility enabled by higher level analytical, communication and business management skills are competencies sought for career advancement.


The accountant mindset is valued in strategic decision making to ensure ideas are feasible from all sides before moving forward. It is this instinctive focus on providing professional objectivity and reasoning to the question of directing resources that management covets in the complex modern business environment. As accountants become welcomed as strategic partners, it is entirely likely that their independence, integrity and objectivity will be tested, reconciling often conflicting financial and sustainability interests, but they must remain firm in communicating the hard facts for mutual long-term sustainability.


To integrate and navigate the strategic course they will apply knowledge of detailed operational performance to broader management issues, requiring an understanding of other disciplines, such as organizational and environmental trends. Some accountants seeking a larger role in the higher echelon of organizations are taking other business courses to expand their skill set. One accountant who rose through the ranks to CEO, learned how the business ran at the ground level to understand how the various departments operated, and advises anyone pursuing ventures into non-financial decisions as business partners to look beyond the numbers and particular departments.

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