For Linda Milne, being a CPA for hire is the perfect job
by Keith Morrill
As a Montpelier CPA without an office, Linda Milne travels the state as a freelancer, offering her temporary services to CPA firms, businesses, and state agencies.
On this particular week in mid-August, CPA Linda R. Milne finds herself heading to Brattleboro, back to Montpelier for a few days, and finally jetting off to D.C. to earn a few of the 40 credits she needs to maintain her license.
Somewhere in the flurry of activity, she finds time to talk at the Montpelier office of Mudgett Jennett & Krogh-Wisner PC. Though this is not her office, she looks at home amid the file folders and stacks of paper fighting for available surface space.
This is just business as usual for Milne, who has carved out a niche as a CPA temp, a freelancer fielding assignments from private firms and state agencies in Montpelier rather than working directly for another CPA or having any direct tax or audit clients.
Since 1995 Milne has provided clients with a number of services, which include auditing, internal controls evaluation, and financial management. Rather than picking up work from a wide variety of clients, Milne says it is largely a select few who keep her busy with regular work — clients such as the Vermont State Auditor’s office, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and Mudgett Jennett & Krogh-Wisner.
She’s worked on projects for Mudgett Jennett for several years, and John Mudgett has high praise for Milne’s services.
“We use her as part of our audit team,” he explains. “She goes out and does either audits of organizations as a member of the audit group or sometimes we’ll go out and do specific projects … in different locations. She’s just really good with people, so she’s really good at that role. She gets out and works with a variety of individuals in different settings. She’s just very helpful to them and is logical and a good communicator. We’ve been happy to have her.”
Good communication is key to Milne’s work. There’s a large teaching element involved in working with clients. Often she has to translate complicated tax and accounting language into a language they can understand and implement.
“I have to understand the processes and understand what accounting standards apply to the clients and — especially with the smaller towns, if I’m working on town and city audits — explain to them what impact the accounting standards coming down the line will have on them, and what they might have to do in order to comply,” says Milne, adding, “It’s their choice as to how to do those things. We can’t tell them to do it.”
This is true for other aspects of her work besides audits. Speaking of working with clients to assess their internal controls, she says, “A lot of times you have to understand what controls they have in place, and then give them some education on what controls they need. Sometimes there are too many — the controls they have in place are duplicative or not effective. You have to give them some coaching into how they can do better.”
The challenge of providing clients with the proper education varies greatly from client to client, she says, and because her clientele is so diverse, Milne is often caught up in the cycle of learning, translating, and teaching.
Milne says that her varied clientele epitomizes what she loves about being a CPA temp. “I like learning new things,” she says. Whether that means learning new auditing standards or tax laws, or visiting a new business and deciphering its operations so that she can “figure out how to proceed with the audit — how to document their financial records, and how to test those records to be sure they’re reliable.”
Milne doesn’t hail from Vermont, having arrived in state in 1992. She was born in Philadelphia in ’56 to Bertram and Betty Rearick and was raised in Levittown, Pa. Her brother, Greg, still lives in that area working as a psychologist and counselor.
She attended Dickinson College in nearby Carlisle and graduated in 1978 with a bachelor of arts in political science. She put her degree into action working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. For the next 15 years, she lobbied legislators and their tax staffs on behalf of a variety of trade associations and businesses, including oil jobbers, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.
“I liked tax,” says Milne. “I liked the complexity of being able to read the tax law. I had to read it multiple times to be able to understand, then to be able to explain in plain English, to the legislators and their tax staffs, its impact on the wholesalers or the businesses I was representing.”
Ultimately she landed a job with the American Bankers Association, a position that demanded a firmer understanding of accounting. Her interest in accounting bloomed and soon Milne had devised a 10-year plan for taking the necessary accounting courses to sit for the CPA exam, obtain her license, and move away from D.C.
Of her desire to leave both lobbying and the capitol, Milne explains, “You’re always in a hurry-and-wait mode based on what’s happening in Congress and in the Committee of Ways and Means. It was a great life when you were young; I just couldn’t see doing that forever.”
The opportunity to leave presented itself midway through that 10-year plan when she met George Milne, then president of Granite Bank in Barre, while visiting friends in St. Albans on a skiing trip.
“He walked into the garage and I was putting my skis in the car,” Milne recalls. “It was 8 in the morning and I couldn’t even say hello to him.” When another member of their skiing party broke her arm on the slopes, Milne skied with her future husband. After they wed, they moved to Vermont in September 1992. George brought two sons from a previous marriage: Jamie Milne, who resides in St. Johnsbury, and Chip Milne of Marshfield.
Milne relocated to Vermont and spent the next few years taking classes at Trinity and Champlain colleges to complete her coursework. She finished, passed the exam on the first try, and officially earned her CPA in ’95.
Opportunity for work presented itself even before then. While gathering experience working part-time for David Angolano, a CPA in Shelburne, Milne answered an ad from the State Auditor’s office looking for CPAs to assist with audit work. She picked up a few projects on the state audit. “That really launched me on the CPA temp career,” she says.
From there, things grew gradually. “There wasn’t anyone doing CPA temp work at that time,” says Milne. Some firms were reluctant to take on a professional temp because they feared she might take their clients when the project was finished or move clients to another firm she’d worked for. Still, business grew. “It took a little while for the concept to take off — for me to develop enough contacts as a CPA to have a good amount of business.”
Initially, she assumed she would be working with a wide variety of clients, picking up projects where she could in order to fill her schedule. Instead she found she was gaining enough work from just a few clients to keep her busy throughout the year.
To strengthen her skills and round out her expertise, Milne serves as trustee of the Vermont State Colleges. Milne explains that because boards are users of financial statements, being a board member provides unique insight that comes into play when helping her own clients ensure that their financial reporting meets their objectives for performance. “It’s very complementary to that process of actually being an auditor where you’re hands-on and doing the work,” she says, adding that it plays well to her love of learning, too.
Being a CPA temp allows Milne a degree of flexibility in her schedule. “This way I’m not locked into two weeks of vacation a year,” she says. “I can accept a project or not accept a project.” That schedule has allowed her and George (now retired) to travel the globe, visiting destinations such as Russia, China, Thailand, Egypt, Italy, and Australia. For shorter trips they venture to Moody Beach on the coast of Maine.
Instead of spending long winter months preparing tax returns for clients, she and George enjoy the sport that brought them together, and can be found at various ski areas around the state. Stowe is a favorite location, not in small part because the lifts open early enough to let Milne hit the slopes for a few hours and still work all afternoon. Such are the perks of life as a freelancer. •