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‘Weird brain’ the secret to this CPAs’ success

Written on Jul 31, 2020

Rob MacKinlay, CPA, CGMA, has spent his life making things better. At age 10, he was selling sandwiches to his friends because the school lunch wasn’t up to par. At 20, he started the MacKinlay School of Hockey because the hockey camps in his new hometown in Northeast Ohio (he’s Canadian) weren’t cutting it. At 25, he convinced the accounting and auditing partner-in-charge at Cohen & Company to let him start an Audit Bootcamp to coach his coworkers. And at 39, he’s spent the past four years as president of Cohen & Co.’s private company services division.

MacKinlay has, as he calls it, a “weird brain.”

Rob MacKinlay, CPA, CGMA“I was doing stuff that wasn’t normal,” he said. “In college, when I would study for tests, if the test was an hour long I would multiple it by 10 and prepare for 10 hours, so there wasn’t one question I couldn’t answer. I would go into those tests excited.”

Early in his career at Cohen & Co., he took preparation to the next level when he decided to read every FASB and auditing standard.

“I downloaded every piece of literature ever issued and read everything applicable to my clients,” he said. “I would read at night and my wife thought I was nuts, but it helped me form a technical foundation. When I dealt with issues with clients I had my own library and I could quote most of the literature.”

His ambition, drive and maybe even his “weird brain” helped him make partner at Cohen & Co. at age 30. Now, he coaches younger staff.

“When I talk to our new hires I always talk about building a personal brand,” he said. “I want to be known as someone who does the right thing, that’s trustworthy and has integrity along with a sense of humor. The most important thing is doing what you say you’re going to do.”

He works hard, but as he points out, hard work is a prerequisite for success in any profession.

“Public accounting offers great leadership and professional development opportunities that I don’t think you can get in other industries,” he said. “Yes, it’s hard work, yes there’s busy season, there’s definitely sacrifice, but if you go to the right firm with the right culture you can grow so fast.”

Working hard doesn’t mean that it’s in exchange for happiness and balance.

“You can have both,” he said.

A devoted dad and husband, MacKinlay coaches his son’s hockey team and serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including his alma mater, Mercyhurst University.

His newest venture is Hockey Players in Business, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating networking opportunities for hockey players and to giving back to the game of hockey through charitable giving.

Having achieved an enormous amount of success at a young age, MacKinlay is anything but satisfied. As he’s done for his entire life, he’ll continue to find ways to make things better, including Cohen & Co.

“I want to keep growing our practice, growing our firm and make the experience of working at our firm and with our firm exceptional,” he said.