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EIGHT DECADES of GROWTH
Eighty years ago, when George R. Webster became the first president of the California State Society of Certified Public Accountants, the newly incorporated group had a membership roster of just 36 people.
At the first meeting, the fledgling organization essentially had no capital or income and attracted just 13 participants. The fact that Webster himself was actually a Minnesota CPA without a California certificate wasn't even an issue. There was no reciprocity law at the time.
Webster and the Society's other founding fathers certainly had a humble beginning by today's measure. However, the subsequent eight decades have witnessed an explosive growth in the accounting profession-and a blizzard of complex issues--that went beyond anyone's wildest imagination.
If the profession and the society had been private companies, their phenomenal tandem growth could be compared to the of many successful start-up firms in the Silicon Valley. If Webster were alive now, no doubt he and his slide rule would be overwhelmed trying to calculate all the electrifying changes since 1909.
Just consider these comparisons with the past:
* Today, the California Society of CPAs is among the largest state organizations of its kind in the nation, with some 27,000 members. That's more than 10 percent of the membership in the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Because of this critical mass" alone, the California Society exerts a tremendous influence over national issues.
* At first, the Society had virtually no support staff, relying instead almost exclusively on the dedicated volunteerism of its membership. Today, the Society has a full-time staff of about 125 people, many of whom are highly skilled professionals in their own fields such as insurance, personnel, management information systems, government relations, communications, and education.
* In 1913, when the Society was unified with the Southern California Association of CPAs, the group had a grand total of $267.48 in its fund balance. Today, the Society has annual revenues of more than $14 million, more than $10 million of which is from its Education Division.
* In the early years, the first actions taken by the Society's Board of Directors consisted primarily of electing officers and forming committees, such as for admissions, legislation and complaints. Today, the Society's increasingly sophisticated infrastructure offers more than 1,000 education courses a year, coordinates more than 40 discussion groups, 300 chapter committees and 30 state committees and is becoming involved in a widening spectrum of services, including communications and lobbying efforts beneficial to its membership.
But numbers don't tell the whole story. As the Society marks its 80th anniversary, its past and present leaders are in general agreement on the group's greatest and most enduring contribution through the years: maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards possible for California CPAs.
As a result, the Society has distinguished itself as a leader, establishing numerous educational and professional programs that have served as models for other state societies and for the AICPA.
"Over the years, the Society has been a bulwark of defense and pride for the profession--not just in California but for the entire nation," says John Norberg, who was Society president in 1954-55. "Of course, I have been out of office for a long time, but it's been a pleasure to watch it grow, maintain its strength and develop into more innovative areas," he adds.
"What has always amazed me the most was that all these very busy CPAs could take time out and show such an interest in their professional organization," says Tindall Cashion, who was Society president in 1970-71, and authored a book that chronicles the group's first 75 years. (Many of the Society's historical accounts in this article were extracted from Cashion's book.)
"Without a doubt, the number one aggravation has always been the various attempts to lower the standards of accountancy--to cheapen the profession by giving stature to people who don't have the same qualifications as CPAs," says Cashion, who pored over the minutes of every board meeting since 1909. "But the Society has vigilantly kept up the fight, …