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cover storyMeet CalCPA’s Incoming ChairFrom the Jewel of the Sierra to the City of Angels … CalCPA Chair Tayiika M. Dennis Principal, Nonprofit Services CLA LLPCalCPA Chair Tayiika M. Dennis grew up in South Lake Tahoe, which turns out to be a contributing factor to a “full circle” type of moment for her when she was installed in that position at the CalCPA Council meeting held in Lake Tahoe in late July. Dennis’s family is originally from the Alameda-Oakland region of the Bay Area and lived between there and Lake Tahoe when she was really young. “My grandmother was a traveling nurse and had a second house in Tahoe,” she says. From the age of 5 onward, she lived in Tahoe permanently. “It’s a small town. You go to the grocery store, and you see your elementary teacher—just one of those towns.” She attended South Tahoe High School and says, looking back, she feels lucky about the childhood she had. “I had a very innocent childhood. We had a basketball hoop at our house and we were the most popular house in the neighborhood—one of those places where everyone hung out. My grandmother and my mother would always feed everybody. The entire neighborhood would come to our birthday parties and other events.” Dennis graduated high school and headed to UCLA. “I basically came to UCLA and never left Los Angeles” (she’s a principal at CLA LLP, boasting more than 20 years of experience in both private and public accounting with an emphasis in the nonprofit world). She admits her family was a little worried about her going from small town with a population of 22,000, to UCLA where the campus had 36,000 people. “They were like, ‘Wait, can you do this?’ But I was able to do so, lived in the dorms the first couple of years, got my first car my junior year. And I was afraid of the freeways. I used to take Sepulveda because you can take Sepulveda all the way to the Valley. I really loved Tahoe and it’s a beautiful place, but I guess LA is now my home.” Finding AccountingDennis started at UCLA in a pre-nursing program. “My mother is a nurse, my grandmother, a nurse. And I’m the oldest of four. I have two sisters and a brother; one of my sisters is a nurse, so there’s like a nurse gene that works and runs through the family. So, I started pre-nursing and realized very quickly that I should not be a nurse. I did OK in classes like biology, psychology, etc.—but I really don’t like blood. So that was that.” Through her experience with the general course requirement, Dennis discovered accounting via economics. “I got my first A at UCLA—an easy A—in my first accounting class. I still remember Professor David Ravetch, who is still teaching at UCLA, and he was very passionate about accounting,” she says. “One of the main things I remember about that class is the session right before the final exam, he sat on the stage and had created a very long song about all the accounting concepts that we learned for that semester. That’s passion right there, and accounting just clicked for me. From there I decided to take all the classes needed to sit for the CPA Exam.” Entering the Workforce & Finding the Way to CPA After a temp job working for a small company while in the process of graduating, Dennis ended up working at Universal Studios as a financial analyst in the Universal Studios, Information Technology Group. “It was all of the programmers and people who created video games, rides and all the technology on the lot, which was really exciting because there was always something going on, whether it was a movie being filmed, or a music video being made” she says. Her graduation and the time immediately following was during the waning dot com boom. “It was right before before the bubble burst.” she says. “But there was a lot of investment in that department because programmers were so hard to keep. It was a really fun department. We had a lot of socials and would go explore during the day to see what was being filmed on the lot. It was very exciting. “One of the people I reported to had a bachelor’s degree, but had not pursued her CPA license or an MBA. She always gave me the advice that if I was going to make this my career, then I should pursue my license. And our department head, Todd, was a CPA and he worked in public accounting and said how valuable it was.” Dennis worked at Universal for two years, passed the CPA Exam and then entered public accounting. “I thought I would do a couple of years, get my CPA license and then move on,” she says. “And here I am some 20 years later because it’s always different. I love working with different clients and I really like what I do.” Helping HandsDennis encountered a key figure in her career when she landed a job at a small boutique firm based in Pasadena that specialized in nonprofit organizations. The firm went through a number of changes, and the partners ended up splitting. Dennis stayed with the firm, but one partner—Gayle Whittemore—left and started her own practice. “Years later, we ran into each other at a conference, and it was really perfect timing,” says Dennis. “I just left that small boutique firm and started with the one I’m with now, which was then NSBN LLP, which was acquired by CLA LLP in 2018. Gayle and I’s relationship picked up right where it left off and she became a valued, outside perspective with experience. She is a great mentor and always will be someone that I still can call to this day whenever it comes to making big decisions. She has been instrumental in my career.”A Standout Client With a long-standing career and a thick portfolio of clients, it’s interesting to note one of Dennis’s favorite clients—Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA)—is one of the first business development successes that she had. “I believe we are going on the 13th year of working together,” she says. “In the beginning, they had just been awarded their first major government contract. They had the audit requirement to fulfill, which we worked with them on, and that first year we had some recommendations in terms of improvements and how to better manage the organization. Fast forward to working with them through the years and they’re now well over $11 million in revenue, have multiple locations and are successfully servicing the Garden Grove Orange County area. They’re a wonderful client and it was an experience during which I learned what it meant to be a trusted advisor.” Enter CalCPACalCPA entered Dennis’s professional life in 2008, when she was transitioning into the firm that she’s at now. “Change is never easy, and when you change firms, you must re-establish yourself because people don’t have history or sense of who you are—even though you’re a CPA and achieved the manager position, you still have to prove yourself. “When I was hired by a partner, Ken Scurlock, now retired, he hired me because my résumé came across his desk through his friend who knew my recruiter. It was almost this inside connection to obtaining this position. And I was not hired because there was a specific opening. It was more that they saw an opening to build on the opportunity my specific nonprofit skill set provided. Ken saw that, which was wonderful, and I love Ken. But I was still trying to find my place. And then I got a CalCPA email about the Leadership Institute. I applied and I was part of that 2008-09 class.”“ Anytime someone’s willing to speak with you, teach you or to show you what you did wrong—they’re taking the time to invest in you. That’s huge, right? ”From there, involvement with CalCPA snowballed, and that January during her graduation and CalCPA Council meeting, Dennis was approached to apply for the CalCPA LA Chapter board and get more involved. The rest is a long history of involvement leading to CalCPA Chair. “The support of my firm in achieving leadership roles with CalCPA is a tremendous factor in my success. CLA exists to create opportunities for our clients, our people and our communities. Make sure you work for a firm that allows you to pursue your passions.” Advice for Future CPAsDennis’s key word of advice for those coming after her is to absorb and to learn as much as possible, and not take criticism too personally. “Anytime someone’s willing to speak with you, teach you or to show you what you did wrong—they’re taking the time to invest in you. That’s huge, right? Always look at it as an experience that will make you better.” Dennis also recognizes that these unprecedented times can be hard to navigate for people forging a career. “The global pandemic was devastating to many things, but a number of good things came out of it.” she says. “Consider working remotely, which is a good thing for many people and reasons. However, while convenient, I do think that remote work provides a little bit of a disservice for young staff, as they are missing the office experience, being able to learn and grow with those around you. I don’t know how someone could build connections as a trusted advisor fully through a screen. “Don’t take building one’s network for granted and understand that creating trust is something that takes interaction. The hybrid workplace is here to stay, but really look at making those connections—building your network—to carry you through your career. Your network is your net worth.” “ The global pandemic was devastating to many things, but a number of good things came out of it. ”