At a National Association of Black Accountants student conference last fall, longtime member Herschel Frierson spotted a problem. A group of students on their way to the event’s job fair weren’t dressed appropriately.
Frierson and other NABA members pulled them aside, slipped off their ties, and handed them to the students, said Angel Johnson, a former national director on NABA’s board, signaling the “ultimate” in mentorship.
In more than two decades as a NABA member and Crowe LLP employee, Frierson has led the charge to add racial diversity to the accounting ranks.
In 2016, only 1 percent of CPAs at U.S. firms identified as black, according to an American Institute of Certified Public Accountants survey.
At Crowe, Frierson has helped increase this number by building a recruiting partnership with a historically black college in Tallahassee, Fla. As a NABA leader, Frierson has helped organize multiple student conferences, which teach African-American students about accounting and finance careers.
At their June 2018 convention, NABA presented Frierson with its top honor, the Frank Ross National Outstanding Member of the Year award, which recognizes someone who is exceptionally dedicated to NABA’s goal of elevating black accounting and finance professionals. Colleagues and friends told Bloomberg Tax that Frierson has personified this mission throughout his career, helping permanently diversify his firm and profession long after he retires.
“Now people see me and say, ‘he received this award.’ They’re going to look at me with an extra eye, with a little bit of a bigger ear,” Frierson said. “There’s more of a voice that I can have and more of an impact I plan to have on the profession.”
At Crowe, Frierson has helped recruit and retain more African-American employees. For example, he and Crowe colleague Christopher Mitchell spearheaded the firm’s partnership with Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black college, said Crowe Chief People Officer Julie Wood.
Frierson and Mitchell worked with the school’s accounting department to identify top sophomores and juniors, which the firm invited to a recruiting event, Wood said. Crowe hopes to later hire FAMU students for internships and full-time jobs, Frierson said. Frierson also helped launch an African-American employee group at the firm.
The Big Four accounting firms—PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Deloitte LLP, KPMG LLP, and Ernst & Young LLP—already visit historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to recruit, said Scott Lilly of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization that represents these schools. However, he hasn’t seen smaller firms like Crowe compete heavily for talent at HBCUs, making their partnership with FAMU “innovative,” he said. Eight percent of undergraduate accounting graduates in 2015-2016 identified as black, according to the AICPA.
“They’re expanding the pond where they’re trying to find fish,” Lilly, who helps pair HBCU graduates with employers, said. “If you keep going to same pond, you’re probably going to get the same results.”
In NABA, Frierson has held a variety of leadership roles, ranging from chapter president to national director. In all these positions, Frierson has helped arrange the organization’s student conferences, which give African-American college students a taste of accounting and finance careers. He has also volunteered for the Accounting Career Awareness Program, NABA’s program for high school students.
“Accounting is the language of business,” Frierson said. “I just want to open up opportunities that maybe minorities might not be aware of when it comes to accounting and finance.”
Frierson uses the conference planning process as an opportunity to cultivate new NABA leadership, said ZeNai Brooks, a NABA member he mentored. For example, Frierson asked Brooks to manage registration for a student conference, an experience she said pushed her outside her comfort zone. She is now president of the region and oversees the area’s 12 NABA chapters.
“He’s just really good at identifying talented people and helping shape not only their career, but their personal development and leadership,” Brooks said.