From the July 2009 Issue
At 31, Steven Harris, CPA, shares many of the attributes of his generation,
especially music and a great appreciation for business, personal and entertainment
technology. But there is definitely something old-school about him, and this
is most visible in his dedication to his employer, his family and his community.
Unlike many young professionals who anticipate and even desire several employment
changes during their careers, Steven plans on staying right where he is for
the foreseeable future. Since an internship during his senior year in 1998 at
the University of Missouri’s St. Louis campus, he has been on the staff
of RubinBrown LLP (www.RubinBrown.com),
a 350-person accounting, assurance and business consulting firm with locations
in St. Louis and Kansas City. It is the 55th largest practice in the United
States. Steven is an audit manager, overseeing several corporate clients from
the firm’s St. Louis headquarters, which has more CPAs than any other
firm in the city.
RubinBrown serves a large and diverse primarily corporate client base through
industry-specific divisions that offer full service to businesses in industries
such as automotive, contractors, home builders, hospitality, nonprofit, real
estate, manufacturing, media, financial services, professional services and
public sector entities. Its core areas of practice include assurance services,
tax consulting, benefits management, IT consulting, corporate finance and forensic
Although the firm uses an industry-oriented approach to its client services
groups, Steven notes that he is more of a generalist, working with several of
the teams to provide audit and taxation services.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to work with a diverse group
of clients because it gives me a greater range of experience in many industry
groups on both the audit and tax side,” he said.
Steven Harris, CPA
“And this group-oriented approach, which includes audit, tax, consulting
and other services into each division, helps build teams that work as one to
meet all of the needs of our clients. And that’s a key point because it
takes the ‘mine’ out of the client service equation. These are OUR
clients, not mine, yours or theirs.”
During his 10 years at RubinBrown, Steven has seen many of the major technological
trends in the accounting profession first-hand, from the old binders that were
in place a decade ago to the movement toward digital audit workpapers and increased
remote work capabilities that allow for flexibility and instant access to client
data while increasing the need for controls over their information. He notes
that these advances, including the anywhere wireless card for his laptop and
his BlackBerry, have made audit work much more efficient since teams can access
all of their data, email and other information when at client locations. As
evidence of its effective use of technology, RubinBrown earned a 440 on The
CPA Technology Advisor’s Productivity Survey, a
free technology assessment tool for accounting firms (www.CPATechAdvisor.com/productivity).
“These technologies really had a major effect on how we do our jobs
and also let us be much more responsive to our clients,” Steven noted.
As a part of all accounting internships, RubinBrown has all newcomers work with
their technology groups for a few weeks. This experience, plus Steven’s
personal interest in technology, further helps him professionally and when traveling
to visit his fiancé Arica in Detroit. The two will be married in August
and will then honeymoon in the Bahamas.
Even before he chose accounting as a degree, he had an eye on technology.
“I knew that computer systems and mobile technologies would be a major
part of any career choice I made. I had even thought of computer engineering
as a potential career and took some courses, but found that the accounting profession
was much more enjoyable because of interaction with people. I really fell in
love with client service.” Accounting was probably his destiny, having
seen the importance of good bookkeeping at his father’s contracting business
while he was growing up.
The same technologies that make Steven more effective at work and while traveling
on business (he spends about 50 percent of his time at client locations) also
enable him to contribute more of his time to the several professional, community
and faith-based organizations he supports. Steven is currently president of
the National Association of Black Accountants’ (NABA) St. Louis chapter,
a market captain for the United Way and is involved with Insight St. Louis,
which helps promote the dynamic career opportunities that exist in the city
to students at historically black colleges and universities. The group also
provides annual guided tours and networking opportunities.
“St. Louis is a wonderful city. There are a lot of professional opportunities
in the area, and we showcase the city to these students. In New York or Chicago,
even when you’re successful, you can still get lost in the big pond, but
in St. Louis you have the opportunity to be a bigger star.”
Another community-oriented organization that Steven has a close connection
to is INROADS, which provides career development and training to help place
talented minority youth in career-focused business internships. It is through
INROADS that Steven obtained his internship with RubinBrown to begin his career
in public accounting. He is also on several of the accounting practice’s
internal committees and is involved in identifying and recruiting new team members.
He was recently recognized as the 2009 Rising Star by the National Association
of Black Accountants and has won numerous other awards. “I just wish my
dad was still around to help me celebrate these victories; I know he would be
Steven credits much of his professional development and success to RubinBrown
partner Steve W. Hays, Sr., CPA. “Steve has been a great leader similar
to a good head coach, leading our teams to excel and reach championship levels
of client service. He’s also phenomenal at developing a good mix of friendship
and professional relationship, supporting team members in every step of life,
because he has sincere passion in making sure you succeed and do your best in
all of your endeavors.”
When time and technology allow, Steven spends as much time as possible with
his daughter Khloe, and with Arica and her son Omar. Arica is also an accountant
and serves as the president of NABA’s Detroit chapter. Originally from
St. Louis, Steven has plenty of other family in the area, including his mother,
whom he says gave him his outlook on work/life balance.
“She was always there for us, and since she worked early in the day
she was able to spend time with me when I got out of school. She definitely
taught us that family was the most important thing, but that you also need to
take pride in your work.” His father was also a strong influence, one
that continues in Steven’s life through his quote, “Success starts
with a solid foundation.”
Steven also pals around with his nephews Gerald (19) and Andrew (16), playing
video games, basketball and hanging out. “I have the ultimate guy place
right now, with cool video games, sports on TV and other things, so it’s
pretty easy to get them to come over, and I can usually use my toys to get them
to help with my yard work.”
He is actively involved with the athletic ministry at his church, the Shalom
Church City of Peace. The Baptist congregation of about 7,000 is large enough
to sponsor its own internal softball leagues, where Steven serves as both a
coach and as second base/shortstop. He helps the ministry with financial management
for its various groups, including health and wellness, and the financial literacy
programs. Steven also plays on RubinBrown’s softball team.
While some who achieve so much success at an early age can succumb to ego,
Steven has managed to stay firmly grounded to the principles that helped him
attain that success. He constantly defers praise and helps refocus the spotlight
on the effort of the whole team, whether it’s a professional accounting
engagement or a softball game.
As for his professional team at RubinBrown, Steven says his dedication to
them is more than camaraderie, he sees the firm as his professional home —
one in which he plans on staying. “I’m a lifer with RubinBrown.
I see a lot of opportunities within the firm, and I see it growing. I hope to
continue as a part of its team and perhaps a partner at some point, to help
shape the evolution of the practice.”