Dr. Dora Herring, a retired accounting professor from Mississippi State University (MSU), is the only woman to ever be president of the Mississippi Society of CPAs (MSCPA). Even more unusual than that, her son, Dr. Clyde Herring, who is currently an accounting professor at MSU, has followed in his mother’s footsteps and is the current MSCPA president.
“We believe that it is a first on the planet for a son to follow his mother as a state Society of CPAs president,” said Jack Coppenbarger, executive director of the MSCPA.
Clyde didn’t originally start out with the intention of becoming an accountant.
“I wasn’t sure what major I wanted to go into originally at school,” Clyde said. “Both of my parents were accountants. I decided to go into accounting because I was good with numbers, although accounting is not just math. I did well and after graduation went to work in Nashville.”
Later he decided to get his Ph.D., and ended up being drawn back home to Starkville to teach.
“After a few years at a Big Eight firm in Nashville, I started rethinking where I wanted to live, and where I wanted to work,” Clyde said. “I talked to my mom several times, and decided that was a lifestyle I might enjoy for myself and my family. I’ve now been at MSU for 18 years, and have enjoyed it along the way.”
Clyde said Starkville is a nice small college town, a great place to grow up, and a good place to raise a family.
“I have always enjoyed living here,” he said. “There is a lot that adds to a town when it has a university. I felt like it would be a good place to live, and was close to my family, as well, which was important.”
Teaching and the accounting profession have both changed from the years when his mother taught.
“The technology today is so much more expanded than it used to be,” Clyde said. “That is a big area of change in how accounting firms and the industry use computer technology to do audits, tax returns, financial statements, cost analysis and various other things that a company would need. The technology has allowed people to automate some of the more mundane types of tasks that used to take longer, allowing CPAs and accountants in industry to concentrate on other more important areas. That adds value to the services they provide, which is so important in today’s business environment.”
A people-oriented profession
It can be a challenge at times to attract students because of the less-than-glamorous image of accounting. But Clyde says what they try to get across is that accounting is a very people-oriented profession. Accountants help business people improve their current operations, expand and be more profitable.
“Young people don’t tend to look at accounting and accountants that way,” Clyde said. “They look at it to be somewhat mundane, a sitting-behind-a-desk type of thing. Accounting has always been known as the language of business, and that is totally true. If you have an accounting background, you have the ability to go into many different areas helping clients improve the overall organization and profitability of their business.”
Being in the accounting profession is very service-oriented. Clyde is very interested in the service side of the business, whether that means helping students in various ways, or being involved in organizations such as MSCPA and the Institute of Management Accountants. He finds being involved with MSCPA professionally helpful because it helps him maintain close contact with practicing CPAs.
“Many come to MSU recruiting our graduates, so maintaining those relationship is an advantage to our students,” Clyde said. “It also helps me to keep up with what is going on in the profession from people out there practicing. I have really enjoyed my service in the CPA society. I never expected to be president. I didn’t know that was coming.”
Clyde said he has tremendous respect and admiration for his mother, and what she has accomplished in her career. Early on she was one of few females in accounting, and certainly in accounting faculty.
“She has really done well throughout her career,” Clyde said. “She was always a dedicated, hard worker helping students and being very active in her profession, as well. I would never be able to fill her shoes, and would not try to. But I’m certainly glad I have been able to serve the society, as well. And it is neat that she was there before me.”
In the footsteps, but…
Dr. Dora Herring believes it may be the first time a child has followed a parent as president of a state CPA society. But she is sensitive about making sure people realize that her son is an independent professional who has followed his own path.
“He carved his own niché,” Dora said. “It isn’t something I planned or promoted. Of course, I am proud. But he is his own person. He didn’t follow after me because it was what I was doing. It was because it was what he wanted to do. He’s a natural teacher and he loves the students. I think he is more of a natural teacher than I am, but I loved it the whole time I was working.”
Dora said it is traditional in the society that people don’t campaign for office. Officers are nominated by other members.
“You have to understand he was elected because his members wanted him, not because of any connection with me,” said Dora, who taught accounting at MSU for 30 years.
Dora and her husband, Ward, also have two other sons. Calvin Herring is a radiologist in Gadsden, Ala., and Barry Herring is a dentist in Starkville.
“I’m proud of all of my children,” she said.
Dora, who was MSCPA president in 1990-1991, said when she began teaching accounting, it was almost accidental because women were not usually hired to teach that subject.
“But they had a class, and no one to teach it,” she recalls. “I was in the graduate program, they let me teach it, and it went from there. I always had as much opportunity in my career as I could handle. I never felt constrained by being a woman. But I realized it was not common for women to teach accounting. As time went on, the number of accounting majors were more like half and half male and female, and the females typically did better.”
Dora believes that is because accounting is a very people-oriented profession, and women excel at people skills.
“A lot of judgment is involved to apply our principles to specific transactions,” she said. “Accounting is not math. We use figures in accounting as a means of expression. Accounting is more of a communication business trying to convey the condition of a company — what its performance has been. You are supposed to make a report where you present what a company has done and the position it is in. You do have some leeway; you have some choices what you can do in order to achieve that purpose. The accounting scandals are where accountants did not make good choices.”
The scandals called into question the ethical standards of accountants. Dora said it has made accountants more aware of the importance of upholding those values.
“We have always had a lot of ethics in accounting because many clients don’t have the background to know if you are telling them the right thing or not,” she said. “If they had that background, they wouldn’t need you. So we have always stressed ethics and values. I think the scandals did hurt the profession’s image, but the vast majority of accountants are ethical. Like any profession, you get some people who live on the edge, and it doesn’t work out sometimes.”
Dora said she valued her service with MSCPA because it allowed interaction with other professionals she wouldn’t have otherwise gotten as an academic. Another advantage of the society is it allows accountants to pool their resources to get continuing education necessary to maintain their license and stay current in their profession.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.