UI alumna named as accounting firm’s first female CEO

By Marie Wilson

When accounting firm Clifton Gunderson announced its new chief executive officer Thursday, the company did more than just choose a new leader.

The announcement made Krista McMasters, University alumna, the first female CEO among the nation’s top 25 accounting firms.

The company’s board voted unanimously to promote her to the position.

McMasters graduated in the class of 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and got a job as an associate accountant for Clifton Gunderson.

During 30 years with the company, she worked her way up to become partner in the accounting firm, director of assurance services and chief practice officer.

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“There’s great opportunity for women in business and public accounting specifically,” McMasters said.

“I certainly hope that this gives the message that public accounting firms are very open to the development of all people, male or female.”

McMasters said she hopes women with business aspirations will see her accomplishments as an example they can strive to follow.

Margie Mathewson, junior in Engineering and president of the National Organization for Women, said she looks to McMasters, whose position will create new opportunities for women in business, as a role model.

“I feel like this is a great thing, but it’s been a long time coming,” Mathewson said.

“It’s kind of sad that it’s 2008 and it’s the first time there’s a female CEO in one of these companies.”

Women sometimes struggle to reach leadership positions in the career world, said Pat Morey, director of the University Office of Women’s Programs.

“For a woman to rise up through the ranks is not an easy task,” Morey said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the glass ceiling, and I think it’s still a reality for many women.”

When McMasters attended the University during the 1970s, she said women were a minority in the accountancy program.

However, for this academic year, 45 percent of undergraduate accountancy majors are female and 50 percent of graduate students in the master’s of accounting science program are female, said Ira Solomon, head of the department of accountancy.

“Twenty years ago, the percentage of female students was much lower, and when you’re looking at who’s going to be CEO of these big firms, that’s what’s relevant,” Solomon said.

“Because they’re going to have at least 20 years of experience.”

McMasters said she did not begin her career with aspirations of becoming a top executive.

“I certainly wasn’t thinking about that,” McMasters said. “When you start, you don’t know what you want to do.”

Her career path eventually led her from Clifton Gunderson’s Danville office to Milwaukee, Wis. and into a unanimous appointment to the company’s top position.

Still, some people may not support a female rising to such a corporate leadership post, Mathewson said. But she believes examples like McMasters’ appointment prove our country is moving toward gender equity in the business world.

“Just the fact that we have a female legitimately running for president shows that we’re moving in the right direction,” Mathewson said.

“I know there’s people who are opposed. But I feel like it’s a much smaller number than in the past.”