For a moment I couldn’t believe what I just heard. It was the opposite of what I expected; yet, after the explanation it made total sense. And it changed my career.


Dr. Donald Kieso was a giant on the campus of Northern Illinois University. He was, and remains, author of some of the most widely used accounting textbooks in academia. NIU’s accounting program is also one of the strongest in the nation. One measure of such programs is the first-time pass rate on the CPA exam. In the early 1980’s, when the national average seldom reached 15% passing, NIU graduates averaged over 60%, often leading the nation.

In 1982, I was an accounting student at NIU, taking Intermediate Accounting with Dr. Kieso. He was an excellent professor. His class was filled with eager, highly-motivated accounting students. We were accounting machines. Then came the unexpected.

“You know,” he started, “you need 24 credit hours of accounting to graduate from NIU with your degree. Don’t take one hour more. Not one. Instead, use you electives outside of accounting, and preferably outside the college of business. We’re getting strong feedback from firms hiring our graduates that they are excellent tacticians and lousy communicators. If you can’t write in complete sentences or stand in front of a crowd with confidence, your career is limited. Go take writing or public speaking courses. Learn to communicate.”

Wow – did a man on anyone’s list of the most important accountants in the country just tell me to take less accounting?

Yes. And he was right.

Dr. Kirk Fischer teaching a class at UMHB

I am nearing retirement, an age that affords some perspective. I took Dr. Kieso’s advice and took additional coursework in writing. During my career, I went to communication seminars and joined Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to public speaking skills. As I reflect on my career, I know that writing and public speaking skills advanced my career and opened doors as much as any accounting knowledge.

Whether you’re a student or in the professional world, take every opportunity to advance your communication skills. It’s the best professional advice I ever received.

UMHB is the university of choice for Christian higher education in the Southwest. If you are looking for a place to receive an education for life and an experience of a lifetime, UMHB would be a great fit for you! Check out our website for more information, or stop by any time for a campus visit to learn more!