Elissa (Lieberg) Sieh
Year of Graduation: 2009
Majors: Accounting and Hispanic Studies
Current Position: Manager at CliftonLarsonAllen, Bellevue, WA
Please give a brief description of your current position.
My position at CLA is a manager in the BizOps service group. This means that I provide outsourced controller and CFO functions for clients that need help with their accounting. I help clients of all sizes, primarily in the healthcare industry group.
I am also the BizOps office leader, which means that I head up a team of outsourced accountants, propose new accounting services engagements, and am the point of contact for outsourcing engagements in our Seattle office of about 150 employees. Another hat that I wear at work is the firm lead for healthcare BizOps, which means I head up the process for implementing best practices and firm-wide templates for the healthcare industry's outsourcing clients.
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
I started my career working for LarsonAllen as an auditor in their healthcare industry group in Minneapolis. I spent about 1.5 years in that group and then volunteered to move to the Seattle office, which had just been created by an acquisition of a Pacific Northwest firm. I moved with a healthcare principal and we set out building up the healthcare practice in Washington. I stayed on with LarsonAllen through a merger with CliftonGunderson, which resulted in the firm that exists today: CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA). After four years of auditing, I was contacted by a recruiter and decided to go work as an accounting manager for a healthcare startup: Abode Healthcare. After two years in that role, I decided I was much happier working on various client projects rather than month-end accounting cycles, and reached out to my old boss at CLA. They were hiring for a Controller in their BizOps group, and here I am today. After just a few months back at the firm, I was asked to be the leader of the office BizOps group as well as the leader of healthcare BizOps for the firm.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Public accounting is a great place to start for anyone interested in any accounting career. The hours are long, but the work is always a challenge, and there is no faster way to learn accounting, business operations, or industry characteristics.
Outsourced accounting is a unique field and is not offered by every public accounting firm. If you are not sure if you’re more interested in audit or tax, and you want to become better rounded in accounting, be sure to choose a medium sized national firm that offers professional services beyond just audit and tax. The opportunities are endless.
And lastly (warning, major CLA plug ahead), if anyone is interested specifically in outsourcing as a career, business is booming right now, and the opportunity is huge. Reach out to me and I will gladly put you in touch with someone in BizOps at CLA. I know we are hiring BizOps professionals in different offices all over the country, and it isn’t the traditional public accounting path that students take directly out of college, so it isn’t quite as well known.
What skills are important in your field?
Customer service, attention to detail, and organizational skills are key. I work with clients of all different sizes and backgrounds, and it is really important to understand what they are looking for as well as their general knowledge of accounting before reaching out to them. Accounting for small to medium sized businesses is a lot of work, and clients aren’t always aware of the payroll filings they need to submit, or how state and local taxes work, or why they need to reconcile their bank accounts regularly. All of these skills require attention to detail. A lot of times our clients don’t have that and are essentially paying us to do whatever they don’t want to do. Being able to juggle 5-20 clients is a whole different issue, but equally important. Learning how to prioritize clients and maintain organized client files is huge.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
It is really fun to work with staff accountants that are starting to understand more complex accounting based on clients we have worked on together. It is really satisfying to be able to turn over a complex client to an accounting associate and have faith that the client will get great service and the accounting will be correct.
Managing so many clients gets to be stressful some days. It seems like there will be radio silence for days sometimes, and then all of a sudden, four clients all need something done immediately and my phone is ringing off the hook. Each of them is equally important, and it is difficult to decide what project to work on first. This definitely makes the days go by quickly and keeps it interesting!
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
I worked at the Career Resource Center at CSB/SJU, and I think the most valuable experiences for me were events where networking and community were emphasized. This included different career panels and accounting events. It was very helpful to realize that alumni and industry professionals in general really love to help people in their career paths. I see it from the opposite perspective now – if CSB/SJU students reached out to me, I would be so excited to answer questions and help them out in their quest to find the right job for them.