What I’ve Learned: Felicia O’Carroll ’76
When I attended the University, I never thought much about the future. I got married during my senior year of college and changed majors from nutrition to accounting. During my senior year of accounting, I was offered an internship with Kafoury, Armstrong & Co., a certified public accounting firm, which led to fulltime employment with the firm when I graduated. Today, I have been with the firm for 37 years and was elected the first female shareholder in its history. Deciding to work for Kafoury, Armstrong became Great Decision No. 1.
Kafoury, Armstrong has been like a second family to me. It understands that, when people are happy with what they do outside of work, they become better employees. When I first started as a CPA, there were very few females in the profession. It was quite an ordeal to become the first woman shareholder, but I had great role models and mentors who helped me. One of my mentors asked me to attend shareholder meetings to talk about scheduling. He put me in charge of something that would “force” me to attend shareholder meetings and get everyone used to seeing a female at the meetings. Now females constitute 60 percent of Kafoury, Armstrong’s shareholder group and being a positive role model for our female accountants is one of my top priorities. I seriously considered leaving only twice in 37 years, but still remain today—Great Decisions No. 2 and 3.
The birth of my son T.J. was a pivotal point in my career. His birth grounded me personally and professionally. Raising him as a single parent put everything in perspective and helped me balance my life and work. My second marriage was ending around the time of his birth. I decided that marriage was not what was most important to me, but raising T.J. was the top priority. I was concerned that Kafoury, Armstrong would not make a shareholder of a single mother, but the firm saw such a huge difference in me that I was nominated for shareholder shortly after I returned from maternity leave.
In some ways, raising T.J. as a single parent was easier as he was my sole focus when I was not at work. Initially, he had no interest in becoming a CPA because he saw how much I worked. He also saw how much I love what I do – the people I work with, my clients, how the tax codes change and keeping up with it all. Today, T.J. has a master’s in accountancy from Nevada and is getting a second master’s in sport management at the University of San Francisco, while living his dream as an intern with the San Francisco Giants. Our bond remains my anchor.
Shortly after T.J.’s birth, the managing shareholder at Kafoury, Armstrong requested that I take the Dale Carnegie course in public speaking and human relations, because a number of employees were interested in it and he wanted to see if it was worthwhile. It was a 15-week commitment and, at the time, I was not happy about taking the course, but it became Great Decision No. 4. Initially, I didn’t feel I had anything in common with the other participants and was quick to judge them without any basis. I prepared for class an hour before it started and didn’t apply any of the principles to my speeches, although I excelled at public speaking. Five weeks in, a graduate assistant met with me and told me that I was a “classic underachiever.” I did just enough to get an “A,” but never challenged myself and never stepped outside my comfort zone. After that, I took the course seriously. It changed my outlook on life and my sense of purpose so much that Kafoury, Armstrong paid for me to become a Dale Carnegie instructor—I taught for five years—and put the majority of our professional staff through the course. Today, many of the participants from my initial class are my best friends. They made a great impression on me and I strive to live by the Dale Carnegie principles every day.
Also after T.J. was born, I became interested in volunteering for programs centered on children. I served on the boards of the Child Assault Prevention Project, the YWCA, the Nevada Women’s Fund, the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and Health Access Washoe County. My experience with the Food Bank opened my eyes to the dire needs of our community and the passionate staff committed to helping the hungry. Through volunteering, I met a wide variety of people—those I wouldn’t normally come into contact with each day. If you love doing something, then make the time to volunteer and get involved.
Ten years ago, I accepted a position on the University’s Foundation Board, which reconnected me to my University roots and became Great Decision No. 5. As a trustee, I have served with four University presidents and several inspirational board chairs. Each brought a different skillset to the table and inspired me in different ways. As the incoming board chair, I want to live up to their examples to motivate and inspire, and help spread the word about the remarkable things happening on campus.
I believe education is the key to success and enlightenment. My Nevada education is the primary reason for where I am today. The College of Business’ accounting department provided a strong foundation which prepared me to sit for and pass the CPA exam and progress in my career. Today, the business programs at Nevada continue to expand and grow. Kafoury, Armstrong is extremely happy with the recruiting possibilities coming out of the college.
As an undergraduate, I competed on the women’s gymnastics team for four years, which kept me on campus for long hours each day and enriched my college experience. I did not live on campus, but I think it is an incredibly important experience for all college students. I encouraged T.J. to live on campus as college life is so much more than taking classes. I think he feels more connected to the University because of it.
What I’ve learned through all of my “Great Decisions” is that life is about problem-solving, people skills and humility. You need to be able to play with others and get along, whether or not you are all on the same page, and especially when you are not. Every day is a matter of problem-solving, whether focusing on family or work. We all face challenges each day and it is how we respond to those challenges that reveal our true character. We need humility to admit when we don’t know the answers and when to ask for help. Humility allows us to learn and grow. I strongly believe that everyone who crosses my path does so for a reason: either I am supposed to learn from them or them from me. The challenge (and fun) is figuring out that connection.
From a conversation in November with Crystal Parrish, director, corporate and foundation relations. O’Carroll, a 1976 Nevada accounting graduate, is the 2013 Foundation Board Chair. She received her master’s in taxation from Golden Gate University in 1988. She is the managing shareholder of the Reno office of Kafoury, Armstrong & Co., a statewide certified public accounting firm. She received the Nevada Alumni Association’s professional achievement award in 2008 and supports numerous programs on campus, including scholarships, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the Silver and Blue Society and Nevada Athletics. She has served on many local boards and professional associations, including the Sanford Center for Aging.