For a business owner, having financial records in order is crucial to one’s success. Ashley Johnson and Robyn Fuller of J&F Advisors happens to know this fact very well as they are the youngest African American 100 percent female-owned CPA firm in the city of Detroit. This tag team duo began their business seven years ago during a recession as a means of earning a second stream of income, and have been going strong ever since. As a team, they are committed to lending a helping hand to those in need and they have attributed their growth to Detroit’s small-business community.
During this busy tax season, rolling out got a chance to sit down with the ladies to learn more about the women behind the brand.
How did you determine your career path?
Ashley Johnson: Academic Games, Business Professionals of America, and the accounting curriculum at my high school all played a major role in helping me determine my career path. Early on, I found that competitive and challenging academic competitions were very fun for me. I developed a strong passion for it. Math has always been one of my favorite subjects, as I strongly enjoyed the problem-solving component of it. Upon experiencing my first accounting courses in high school and learning about the many opportunities available in the industry, I quickly learned that this profession was a perfect fit for me. It was certainly a blessing to be able to find my passion and purpose so early in life. I absolutely loved learning the concepts of accounting, which led to me choosing accounting as my major in college.
Robyn Fuller: I decided to be an accountant after failing criminology my first semester in college. Initially, I aspired to graduate with my Juris Doctor and MBA; I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. After that, I decided to shift gears and focus solely on accounting, as it just came easy for me. I was always an excellent math student and it was just something I understood. I really liked the consultative aspects of the career and the fact that there were so many avenues available in the profession.
How do you set goals and evaluate your success?
AJ: Goals are written and made visible in high traffic areas of my home. My husband and I took the time and brainstormed our goals together, as well as the individual goals we had for ourselves. We chose to display them somewhere in our home where we would see the goals daily; the kitchen. That way, I’m constantly reminded of the progress I should be making, or where I’m falling behind, and always focusing on new opportunities to improve. To me, success is better measured by my perseverance to reach my goals. Some goals are much harder to achieve than others, however, I always remember to treat each goal with professionalism and tact; executing and learning how to get better at every turn.
RF: I am the “to-do list queen.” I have to literally write things down and as I accomplish things, I cross them off. I have about three journals that I write goals in. I use all three because I choose to separate career goals from home and personal. Ultimately checking things off when completed lets me know that I’ve accomplished a goal. However, I measure my success based on my ability to set bigger goals. Honestly, as work and life get busy, I could do a better job of measuring my success. Sometimes, we put our head down and get deep with work, and don’t take time to celebrate victories. So, for me, there’s room for improvement there.
What motivates you and why?
AJ: When it comes to my profession, I’m very motivated by the ability to help individuals and businesses understand and take control of their financial situations. Surprisingly, many people become extremely overwhelmed, when it comes to managing accounting and finances. My goal as a CPA is to provide that financial expertise to influence more financially responsible decisions.
RF: I am motivated by so many things. Now that I’m a mom, I’m very motivated by that alone, as it’s tantamount that I set a great example for the little person watching me. Before becoming a mom, I’ve always been motivated by setting an example for other brown CPA’s. We are highly underrepresented in the profession. So, I’ve always been inspired to be successful in my career to show others that it is possible. Finally, I am motivated by the clients that come to J&F and give amazing feedback. I strive to be better so that I can give my clients the best.
As a Black woman of color, what do you consider your superpower to be?
RF: As Black women of color, we would call our superpower Black Girl Magic! Black Girl Magic, for us, represents resilience, perseverance and achievement, all done in a way that embodies hard work, grace, and class. Working in a profession where the predominant demographic is a White male, we have gone the extra mile to ensure our voice is heard. Ashley and I are breaking barriers in the CPA profession, not only through our achievements but through our dedication and contributions to our craft.
How did you two become business partners?
RF: Ashley and I met at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. We attended separate colleges. However, being black women pursuing CPA’s, we’d always see each other at professional events and accounting functions. We had a few conversations about the CPA Exam and what we wanted to do with our career long term. During one of those conversations, we decided that we would start a side business together. We started our business while working full time, and we’ve gone from servicing three to four clients a year to servicing almost over 25 clients.
Why does your partnership work well?
RF: Ashley and I work well together because we are both vested in growing our business. We respect and support each other, and we rely on each other’s strengths, rather than exposing each other’s weaknesses. So far, it has proven successful. We disagree, but with respect and unselfishly. Therefore, those disagreements don’t hold much weight. We consider each other in our decisions, and we never leave each other in the dark. Our most recent decision was the decision to quit our full -time jobs and dedicate 100 percent of our time to the ongoing growth of our business.
How do you all feel the changes in Detroit have benefited or hurt your business?
RF: We have a campaign called “Celebrate the New Detroit.” This campaign slogan is our attempt to continue to drive a healthy economy through financial education of our clients. Entrepreneurs and small business owners need a certain level of knowledge, to make sound financial decisions. Through the campaign, we are dedicated to doing the work, while educating our clients, on how the financials affect different aspects of their business. The more clients we can touch, the more we are able to impact a growing economy.
Of all the CPA firms in Detroit, what makes J&F Advisors stand out?
RF: J&F Advisors stands out for a couple of reasons. The first and obvious is that we are the only women-owned African American CPA firm in Detroit. We are also the youngest. Our services are performed virtually, however, we have big plans in place for an office space that will drive a socially conscious feel; one of which we’ve never seen in a CPA Firm.