Clay: Vision and Integrity
With a successful and influential career, a devotion to community service and an enduring attachment to CAB, Monroe native John Clay is the model choice for CAB's 2004 Alumnus of the Year.
Clay entered college with a strong interest in math, which led him into engineering. But engineering was not his destiny. "After struggling with Mechanical Drawing I decided to move over to the CAB. My first accounting course hooked me. Believe it or not, I thought it was fun."
After graduating magna cum laude in 1970 with a 4.0 in his accounting courses and passing the C.P.A. exam in his first sitting, Clay joined the Fort Worth, Texas, office of Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young). Four years later, Clay and a colleague started their own Fort Worth C.P.A. firm. Clay recalled the stresses of that time.
"My wife was pregnant with our first child and had quit her job and I had just signed a large ($25,000) note to buy half of a sole practitioner's practice. Thankfully, what I perceived as my biggest challenge, convincing established small businessmen to put confidence in a 27-year-old adviser, actually turned out to be mostly imaginary," he said.
As Rylander, Clay & Opitz expanded, Clay realized that although it was relatively small, his firm experienced needs similar to those at Ernst & Ernst. "I felt the need for the type of practice manuals customarily available to the practice offices of the Big Eight firms from their national offices," Clay said.
Finding that neither the American Institute of C.P.A.s nor traditional publishers provided such products, Clay and a colleague wrote their own manual. The result was the first edition of Guide to Compilation Engagements. After three additional loose-leaf manuals, Clay focused his attention solely on publishing.
Today Practitioners Publishing Co. is a leading publisher of accounting and auditing manuals for C.P.A. firms. Clay turned over the reins a couple years ago and will soon retire. Next he will serve on the board of directors and audit committee of a New York Stock Exchange company.
Clay's distinguished career has won notice. The Texas Society of C.P.A.s honored him with its distinguished public service award, the American Institute of C.P.A.s selected him to be in its business and industry hall of fame, and Tech inducted him as a member of the university's Tech 100 during Tech's centennial celebration.
With a philanthropic spirit matching his dedication to his field, Clay helped found two community organizations in the Fort Worth area.
Because We Care is a substance abuse prevention program at work in Fort Worth public schools since 1983. Clay served as its president for nine years and was recognized with the United Way's Hercules Award. Youth Sports Council of Fort Worth offers athletic programs to inner-city youngsters, including uniforms, equipment, coaches and transportation. Clay still serves as its president and was recognized in 1993 by the National Recreation and Park Association as citizen volunteer of the year.
As a Tech student, Clay served as president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, treasurer of the Student Government Association, and was an active member of accounting society Beta Alpha Psi. He also found time to date future wife Mary Margaret Stamm of Minden (class of 1970).
"The best measure of the education I received at Tech and CAB was how well I performed in the Ernst & Ernst training schools relative to my contemporaries from other better-known schools," he said. "I enjoyed very much Professor Smolinski, the department chair, who took an interest in me and helped me think about my future in accounting. Professor Rives was an excellent teacher and motivated me to work harder. Professor Armstrong's classes were always fun."
Clay offered advice to other Tech graduates. "Whether you go into sales and marketing, law, accounting, or management, establish as a guiding principle an unflinching commitment to integrity and honesty," he said. "No matter how smart you are, or how well-prepared, or how attractive your personality-no matter how hard you work or how much you accomplish, if you are not trustworthy your career will falter or collapse in the long term."
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