Accounting Society’s Alumnus of the Year 2004 – LMU

Martha de la Torre’s LMU speech
Being named the Accounting Society’s Alumnus of the Year is truly an honor.  It’s an honor I would have never imagined while struggling through Mr. Grosh’s class as a junior back in 1976.   Those of you graduating from LMU’s accounting department are very fortunate; an LMU degree in Accounting is considered prestigious now more than ever. 
 
I’ve been asked to share how my accounting education from Loyola has helped me.  I am the founder and publisher of El Clasificado, a Spanish language publication I started in Los Angeles with my husband in 1988.  When people in media find out my accounting background, I often get asked what is a beancounter entrepreneur doing publishing a Spanish language paper.  I actually had planned to be a fine arts major and had a dance scholarship to UCLA.  But I decided to be practical and major in accounting with aspirations to go to law school.  It was a more secure career.  
During my senior year I decided to put off law school and try to get a job with a BIG 8 (now Big 4) firm.  The firms made it so easy by coming to visit LMU and holding interviews here.  I was fortunate as were most of LMU’s other accounting graduates and landed a job with a BIG 8.   I was so excited especially since the job market for many of my friends in other majors was not good at the time.  It was obvious during my interviews that the Big 8 firms thought very highly of LMU’s accounting department.  Knowing in November, a semester before I graduated that I had a job was definitely a blessing from God.
In Spring during our CPA review course the professor asked all the students what they were going to do upon graduation.  I believe all but one student said they had obtained a job at a Big 8.  One student said he was going to be an entrepreneur.  I didn’t really know what he meant by that and my friend said he was going to start his own business.  I thought he was crazy.  My parents didn’t immigrate from Ecuador, leave their home and family for me to throw away my college degree and turn down a prestigious and secure position with an established company to be come an “entrepreneur”.
The CPA exam came in May.  I dreaded the experience.  I was so sure that I had not studied enough, was not prepared and would humiliate my family by experiencing my first failure.  Well I’m happy to say I didn’t fail.  I breezed through the practice exam.  The Cost accounting portion seemed simpler than Mr. Grosh’s homework and being Dr. Dasaro’s TA practically turned me into an expert on Statements of Changes in Cash Flow.
So I went off to work at Arthur Young now merged with Ernst and Whinney.  I never went to law school.  I was having so much fun, learning so much and being aware of the incredible experience I was getting by being exposed to so many different kinds of businesses.  I was promoted to manager when I was 25 and decided to go for Partner.  However, at that time there were only two female audit partners in the whole firm and Arthur Young had more female partners than the other Big 8.  But I do like a challenge.  I was a manager for two years and those were the years when I felt my education from LMU and the training and experience from AY began to really transform me into a “businessperson.”  I began to really have the confidence of being an advisor to my clients and staff, a problem solver and a team manager.  But after 7 and a half years at Arthur Young, I decided to leave.    I liked to work 24/7 before the term existed and felt it might be difficult to have a family life in the future if I didn’t change careers.  Things were very good for me at AY and I wanted to leave on top of the wave.  Arthur Young was already offering flexible schedules to woman in management and making plans for the future growth of women, but it was the 1980’s, I was still in my 20’s and I worried that I personally was not going to be able to balance a career as a CPA with a family.  Also I met my future husband at Arthur Young and thought it was a good time to leave.
So Arthur Young sent me off with a fantastic going away party to my next career as CFO of La Opinion, the largest Spanish Daily in the nation.  La Opinion was one of my clients for several years at Arthur Young.  As a manager at AY, I saw the growing interest in the Hispanic market.  As I perused the entertainment weeklies I saw more coverage of Hispanic Art and Culture.  I thought La Opinion had a lot of potential for growth.  So when La Opinion offered me the CFO position at the same time I had coincidentally decided it was time to leave AY, I jumped at the offer.
In 1985 La Opinion was considered small, it was a family run business that had outgrown its infrastructure.  Since there was no previous CFO or controller I was not going to inherit any baggage. This career change seemed a bit risky to my parents but I convinced them that if it didn’t work it would still be a great experience and, hey, with an LMU degree, AY background and CPA I still had future job security.
Initially I felt I had a lot of flexibility at La Opinion.  The first thing I did was learn how to use a PC.  I read a book about spreadsheets on the beach.  Besides getting an accounting degree from LMU this was one of the smartest things I ever did.  I started from the beginning, built a strategic plan, obtained financing for a new press and realized I needed a controller to run the day to day accounting operations.  That person was Gil Garcia, now the CFO at La Opinion, an alumnus of LMU and formerly with Arthur Young.  I reported directly to the president and felt I was an Intrapreneur  (Someone who runs a company like they own it but without the risk, and with the security of a paycheck every week).
At La Opinion I learned a lot about CASH FLOW and fully understood the words that “CASH is KING” and “will I meet payroll this week.”  Who cared about FASB’s and SAS’s anymore, those little schedules and techniques you learned in intermediate accounting were really becoming handy.  I got very involved with all the operations of the company.  I did everything I could think of to save money and to grow revenues.  I had to:  I was the one who didn’t sleep when payroll was due and the one called if something didn’t get paid.
Within two years of implementing our strategic plan La Opinion turned it’s financial direction to levels it had never seen.  In 1987 La Opinion had a daily circulation of about 77,000.  They had virtually no competition and with the advent of desktop publishing, there was so much potential to expand as long as it was controlled.  At the end of 1987 I left La Opinion primarily because I liked to do things in a controlled and methodical manner and some at La Opinion wanted to grow more aggressively.  I continued as their consultant and also did some pro bono work for Para Los Ninos a nonprofit I was involved with at the time.
While at La Opinion I often wondered why there wasn’t a penny saver in Spanish.  Classifieds were one of the primary reasons people bought La Opinion; national ads were difficult to obtain because La Opinion was not home delivered and selling newspapers for $.25 was not very profitable. A Spanish-language, home-delivered, free shopper sounded like a good idea. Someone should do it.  Friends and colleagues also thought it was a great idea and said why don’t I do it.  Not me, that’s crazy, I don’t want to be an entrepreneur.
Well, some attorneys I knew offered to fund the publication if I wrote the business plan and got it started.  The Hispanic market in the 80’s was booming so I considered it.  I wrote the business plan as a challenge.  I didn’t really plan to become an entrepreneur, I was really considering going to grad school, getting married and treating myself to a new red convertible SAAB.  Well my fiancé, a practical and thrifty CPA really didn’t like the idea of a red convertible SAAB, he thought executing the business plan and partnering with my attorney friends was a much better financial decision.  So I launched El Clasificado in 1988.
My partner’s law firm went bankrupt after the launch, his investment check bounced, the recession began early in the Hispanic market and I found myself with a classically undercapitalized insecure company.  I raised capital myself from friends and family while our few employees ran the operations.  I made cash flow projections daily.  I became the salesperson and marketer while my husband took care of operations after his day job. We struggled, we didn’t take a paycheck for over 10 years, we made mistakes with our business model and everyone said I should just give up and go bankrupt.  My ethics wouldn’t allow me to do this and if it wasn’t for my accounting background I could have never survived to see our present success. The accounting education I received from Loyola Marymount together with the training and experience I received from Arthur Young ensured that good or bad I always knew the Company’s financial position.  Even when we didn’t have money, I at least knew exactly how much we didn’t have.
We now are a $5,000,000 profitable company with 74 employees *, facilities that we own in excess of 10,000 square feet with plans to grow outside of Los Angeles in two years.  In 2001 we bought our first publication called Al Borde, an alternative Rock En Espanol bi-weekly paper.  We’ve turned down all the major publishing media with interests to buy us.  It’s too late.  Being an entrepreneur is now fun.  Watching our employees who many of them started with us in high school grow into management is motivation to my husband and myself.  Having a product or “widget” that the community loves, that customers praise, that our employees are proud to produce is unbelievably satisfying.  We are very fortunate and I thank my family, God and Loyola Marymount for the opportunity to have received an education I am very proud to use in my daily life.
Copyright 2004 Martha de la Torre