Disruptors. They are the few and the fierce. In our series, Leading between the Lines, I have the opportunity, and the pleasure, of meeting with some of South Florida’s most dynamic female business leaders, ones who are disrupting their industry, approaching things in a new way, solving new problems, and effectively pushing the status quo into a new frontier. I want to learn about their journey, what it really takes, what they’re actually up against, and how it feels each step along the way. Meet Teri M. Kaye, CPA, Tax Services Leader, Partner-in-Charge, and Executive Committee Member for CohnReznick.
Upon graduating from the University of Florida with both a Bachelor and Master of Science degree in Accounting, Teri embarked on her career, which would span more than three decades in public accounting. Teri specializes in holistic tax planning and compliance for entrepreneurial high-net worth families and their businesses, assisting them in reducing their total tax burden throughout their personal and business life cycles.
And yet, at the height of her career, Teri finds herself flexing a different skill set: leadership.
Holding one of only four seats on the Executive Committee for CohnReznick, Teri works with her fellow Committee members to provide strategy, vision and leadership for the entire firm of nearly 200 team members. And she does so as the only female Committee member- a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.
Read my full interview with Teri to learn about how she shifted her focus from tasks to people, the opportunities that come from escaping your limiting beliefs, and the impact of a woman’s perspective.
Nicole: What motivated you to get into the accounting industry? What led to the decision?
Teri: I was always good at math in school and loved business and economics so I knew I would want a profession that included all that. I visited my older sister over the summer- I was 16 and sat in her economics class with her at UF. I remember listening to the lecture and it was like a lightbulb turned on in my head. As I researched various business and math majors, I realized that I wanted a profession that included: being able to work from anywhere in the world; hours that could be flexible if I ultimately had children; would allow me to continue to learn and grow. Accounting met all of those. Once I took my first tax class, I was hooked!
Nicole: What has been your proudest achievement? Why?
Teri: I am so proud of being selected for and serving on the four person Executive Committee for CohnReznick. Our Executive Committee provides strategy, vision and leadership to the entire firm. As the only woman, I often bring a different perspective that leads us to make better decisions. One of the best things about CohnReznick is that we have created an environment that allows people to explore new areas professionally, to learn and grow and thrive so that they may evolve into their best professional selves. Seeing the progress and changes in those around me and knowing that our leadership has played a part is hugely gratifying.
Nicole: What have been some of your failures and challenges along the way? What have you learned from them?
Teri: Earlier in my career I focused too much on getting tasks completed and not enough on the interactions and feelings of the team members. As a manager and leader, I did not realize the impact I had. Now, I pause more before speaking or writing. I try to think through how other people will think and feel after reading or hearing what I write or say. Having people feel good about the situation is just as much a desired outcome as the underlying task.
Nicole: What has surprised you most on this journey?
Teri: In many professional service fields, there is a distinction between “technical” and “business-development” and people tend to fall into one or the other pretty early on in their careers. For the first part of my career, I was hyper-focused on acquiring and applying tax technical knowledge to the benefit of my clients and teaching the information to my team members. I never thought that I could successfully develop the business and gain new clients. That limiting belief impacted my behavior and became a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I realized business development skills would be helpful to my career, I had no idea how to begin. All of a sudden, opportunities popped up for me to use my technical knowledge publicly at women’s groups, teaching a tax class for controllers and CFOs, writing articles, etc. I am now the most prolific business development tax partner at my firm. So, the biggest surprise was that by playing to my strengths, but not limiting how I applied them, I could thrive in both realms.
Nicole: What influences and inspires you?
Teri: My husband and children! My husband and I read and listen to very different types of information and then share and discuss – so I am constantly hearing new ideas and perspectives. My children are in their 20s so I listen to their thoughts and experiences and bring them to CohnReznick to help us continue to address the needs of our younger team members.
Nicole: What are you currently challenged with? And how has it impacted you?
Teri: Recently, I have been reminded that our health can change in an instant and life after a major health event can be very different- for both the person and their family. Having the right health and disability insurance is important as those may ease the financial burdens. But even with financial resources, plans can be upended temporarily or permanently. Life can change. I am exercising more, starting to meditate, making some better food choices and seeing all my doctors more regularly.
Nicole: What is a common challenge for your clients? And how does CohnReznick solve this problem?
Teri: Tax law changes all the time with new legislation, regulations and court cases at the federal, state and local levels. Keeping up requires a team approach to ensure that pitfalls are avoided and opportunities are maximized. With all the changes, people’s goals tend to stay focused on protecting and enhancing their assets for their immediate family and next generations. CohnReznick has over 200 people, with different areas of focus – so all aspects of international, federal, state and local tax law can be effectively utilized for our clients.
Nicole: What is the biggest misconception about your industry? What do you wish more business owners understood?
Teri: Bookkeepers and accountants are not the same as CPAs. And not all CPAs and CPA firms have the same breadth and depth of service. As people’s businesses grow and expand their needs often outpace the abilities of many small firms.
More and more frequent tax law changes at the state and local level will create even more need for state and local tax knowledge. Technology and software can only do so much. It’s important that business owners have the right professionals- the right people and the right teams- supporting them.
Nicole: What are your goals currently? What's next on the horizon for you and CohnReznick?
Teri: As part of the Executive Committee for my firm, my goals are narrowly focused on: 1) navigating a challenging environment for team member recruitment and retention by ensuring we offer the best possible work environment and 2) providing the highest level of care and support for our clients.
Nicole: You have accomplished so much over the course of your career. And today you sit on the Executive Committee for your firm, in one of only four seats, and as the only woman. What advice would you give other professionals who are striving to sit in a similar seat one day?
Teri: Be open to feedback, be flexible in approach and execution, and be constantly curious!