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Updated: March 4, 2024 / The WBJ Hall of Fame

WBJ Hall of Fame: Despite sustained growth, McCall has kept small-firm mentality, values at AAFCPAs

A woman stands in front of a window overlooking the Worcester skyline Photo | Matt Wright Carla McCall, managing partner of AAFCPAs in Westborough

When Carla McCall first got into the field of accounting, she didn’t have many potential female role models to look to for guidance. The fact her grandmother started her own insurance agency in 1948 showed women could be business leaders, but upon graduating from Bentley University in Waltham, she found few female accounting executives whose footsteps she could follow.

“There were no women that were role models in this profession,” McCall said. “You kind of had to figure it out yourself.”

Thanks in part to a progressive managing partner at her first firm who took an interest in personal development, she quickly fell in love with the job, enjoying the fact clients leaned on her as a trusted advisor.

After five years working at that small firm in Connecticut, McCall joined Westborough-based accounting firm AAFCPAs in 1995. Her early work was mostly tax-focused, but she eventually turned her attention to being a nonprofit auditor.

a bio box for Carla McCall

McCall has been at AAFCPA ever since, working her way up the ranks to audit manager in 1996 and becoming a partner in 2003. Taking the reins of a firm from its founder can be a tricky process, but McCall and Dave McManus assumed the roles of co-managing partners in 2011 from Founder Herb Alexander and kicked off the next stage of the firm’s evolution.

McCall’s vision was a key reason for the firm’s success, said McManus, who is now partner and AAFCPAs cannabis practice leader.

“She’s a visionary,” McManus said. “She really transformed this firm from being a traditional CPA that focuses on compliance, audit, and tax services into getting us to look into different areas such as business and IT consulting.”

AAFCPAs has undergone rapid growth since 2011, continuing as McCall took over as the sole managing partner in 2020. Now with 300 employees, revenue has grown from $16 million in 2011 to $63 million in 2023.

The growth hasn’t gone unnoticed by others in the industry, as AAFCPAs was named among the top 100 accounting firms in 2023 by INSIDE Public Accounting, an Indiana-based organization providing leadership, financial, and operational consulting services to certified public accountant firms.

“It has always been an environment where you can try anything and it’s okay to fail, that kind of culture,” McCall said. “I was lucky enough to have leadership that embraces that, because I’m not sure every firm does.”

Beyond taking steps to help rapidly accelerate AAFCPAs’ growth, McCall has implemented a human-first approach, making efforts to ensure the next generation of accountants had access to resources and mentorship not always available to her at the start of her career.

This process has included creating the firm’s first mentoring, coaching, and professional development programs, as well as the firm’s first culture statement, which made it clear AAFCPAs’ employees are the company’s greatest asset.

McCall made deliberate efforts to help ensure young women in the field had role models and resources unavailable to her at the start of her career, launching the firm’s Women Opportunity Network in 2011 with the goal of providing a platform to discuss and share insights regarding the realities of being a woman in the accounting profession.

Not just focused on its own well-being, AAFCPAs formalized a program in 2015, which sees 10% of its net income donated to nonprofits.

McCall’s service to nonprofits goes beyond her work at the firm. She previously served as a board member and treasurer for SheGives, a Boston-based angel group focused on supporting a number of nonprofits working on issues ranging from homelessness, education, the arts, and the environment.

Despite her career experience, McCall hasn’t rested on her laurels, constantly keeping her eyes open for ways to utilize new ideas and technology to further AAFCPAs’ development, including thoughtful use of artificial intelligence.

“We used to write everything down on ledger paper. We’ve come a long way,” she said. “If you’re not keeping that external view of what is out there, then you’re probably behind on how you’re doing the work.”

It’s not just technology that is changing the accounting landscape, as private equity has begun to eye the space. While audit firms can’t be owned or operated by outside investors, some firms have sought to allow investment into their consulting and advisory sides of the business.

AAFCPAs making such a move would be a diversion from its founding principles, said McCall.

“We’re firmly committed to remaining independent,” she said. “It's how we were built, to put the firm first. Our founder created a firm that he wanted to last long beyond his tenure, and it has.”

McCall has been instrumental in that continued success, said McManus.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without her leadership,” he said. “She has been instrumental in keeping that small-firm mentality as we continue to grow.”

CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this story incorrectly said AAFCPAs donates 10% of its proceeds to nonprofits. The correct information is the company donates 10% of its net income to nonprofits. Additionally, a previous version of this story implied Carla McCall is a current board member and treasurer of Boston-based SheGives, when she is a prior board member and treasurer. 

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