FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Trendsetters - July 2006

Every week this past school year, Mia Thomas visited either a kindergarten or high school to talk about numbers and finances. For the kindergarten set, she explained the value of money and earning, saving and spending, using the making and selling of crafts for an example. At high schools, she talked with economics students about budgeting and responsible spending. For the school's finance magnet students, she delved into reading corporate financial statements, valuing companies and even corporate reform law Sarbanes-Oxley. "It's amazing how much curriculum they get in the high school program to even understand Sarbanes-Oxley."
Mia Thomas
Chastang, Ferrell, Sims & Eiserman

High school job:
Waitress, Liberty Tree Tavern, Magic Kingdom.

Vacation spot:
Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

Late-filing misconception:
"A lot of it has to do with getting documentation on time. If they're getting a refund back, they're here on Jan. 10."

Personal filing date:
Usually needs an extension because the K-1, the form on which limited partnerships report earnings and deductions to partners, isn't in hand. "I have an excuse."

A "Numb3rs" or "CSI"-type show on accountants. "That would be so cool."

A New York native who moved with her family to Orlando at age 4, Thomas as a youngster visited an accounting firm with her accountant neighbor as part of a learn-about-careers day. She liked what she saw, majored in accounting at the University of Central Florida and in 1989 joined Chastang, Ferrell, Sims & Eiserman, a now four-office firm. She says most of the work at the Celebration office is tax preparation.

Thomas, 43, a mother of three -- "I have a wonderful husband" -- sits on the board of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is a council member of the national institute.

While at the schools, she doesn't hesitate to talk up her profession as a career, remembering that neighbor who took her to work. "I'm a big supporter of doing the same thing for young people."


» Emilia Quesada, 35, class-action defense litigation counsel for Fortune 500 companies and others, partner, Adorno & Yoss, Miami.

» Katherine W. Ezell, 59, represents guardians and foster care children pro bono, 2006 winner of the Tobias Simon Pro Bono award from the Florida Bar, also a commercial litigator and personal injury plaintiffs lawyer, partner, Podhurst Orseck, Miami.

» Marshall Gunn Jr., 53, governor-appointed board member, Florida Board of Accountancy, which oversees CPAs and CPA firms in Florida, also named by CPA Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential CPAs nationally -- one of seven CPA financial planners on the list -- founding partner, Gunn & Co., Jacksonville. He specializes in tax and wealth planning.

Pro Bono Pro

At the University of Tampa in the 1970s, Mike Pender belonged to a social fraternity, a leadership fraternity and a business fraternity. "I'm quite an organization-type person," he says.

Mike Pender
Cavanaugh & Co., Partner

Making time for public service:
"I have two great partners, and they allow me to do what I enjoy in life."

Memorable vacation:
Hiking and canoeing in Scotland.

Met his wife, Marie, vice president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, on a kayaking trip.

Pender was a founding director of Sarasota Bank, which was sold in 2003, and is now a founding director of one being organized, Insignia Bank.

Past was prologue. Pender, a CPA and partner with Cavanaugh & Co. in Sarasota, has been president, chairman, founder or board member of 36 community organizations. The Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants gave him its public service award in 2003.

Born in Queens, N.Y., and raised on Long Island, where his father's involvement in the 1964-65 World's Fair made for many memories, Pender came to Florida for college and joined Cavanaugh in 1976 after sitting for his CPA exam.

The 54-year-old, who this month became vice president of the Florida institute of CPAs, focuses on tax, estates and financial planning, condo associations and non-profits. Pro bono, he has helped nearly 50 organizations qualify for tax-exempt status.

A few highlights of his community work: He has been treasurer of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall foundation, the non-profit that supports the Sarasota hall, since its inception, and he also was the three-time chairman of the public oversight board for the city-owned hall. He is treasurer of Prevent Blindness America and has chaired and been treasurer of its Florida affiliate.

"I get awkward when I have to talk about it," Pender says of his volunteer work. "I really enjoy helping people."

BDO's Salesman

Alfredo Cepero
BDO Seidman, Partner, Miami

Alfredo Cepero and his two sisters got their insurance sales licenses when they turned 18, something their father, who worked in insurance, thought would be a good idea. Young Cepero, however, didn't care much for sales. He did try and like accounting classes at Florida International University so he became a CPA. "Little did I know to move up in public accounting you have to get out there and network," Cepero says.

Cepero, 40, however, took to it -- in a big way. In 2002, he was a founder and first president of the Miami chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. The chapter now numbers 700.

He also joined the group's national board as a regional director and in 2005 became president of the nearly 6,000-member organization. He was instrumental in bringing its annual convention to Miami in 2005.

At BDO Seidman, which he joined as an audit partner in 2003, he helps to continue to grow the Miami audit practice, focusing primarily on Hispanic companies. Among others, he brought in Doral-based prepaid cell phone company TracFone Wireless as a client. Other clients he works with include Miami-based consulting firm Answerthink and Hollywood-based camera maker Concord Camera.

He credits his association work with building his networking skills. "It builds character," he says. "You learn how to do events better, sell it better."

Spreading the Word

Fort Lauderdale intellectual property lawyer John Christopher was part of an American Intellectual Property Law Association delegation to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan and Seoul this year.

"I was born in Coral Gables. I went to the United States Air Force Academy and spent nine years after graduation as a fighter pilot."

Intellectual Property:
"Although there is much progress to be made, most people would be surprised at how uniform and consistent intellectual property laws are in almost every country. Enforcement may not be consistent, but you have to have the legal structures in place first -- and it takes awhile to develop an awareness and respect for property rights."

Travel Plans:
"I will speak in St. Petersburg, Russia, in October at a venture capital conference."