Rare Career Path: CPA, JD, CFO

How an accountant's detour through law school led him to a dream job in finance.

In addition to his wife’s job, Ramos’ income stream during his law-school years included some freelance work for former accounting clients and, after completing his second year, a part-time job at a local law firm. After graduating in 1995, the firm elevated him to full-time status.

The unhappy part of the story is that Ramos hated practicing law, even though he spent most of his time on the familiar M&A beat. “It was tough,” he says. “It was a difficult job requiring a lot of work. It was a minimum of six days a week, often seven, and usually 12- to 14-hour days. It was a training ground for getting a lot of work done in a short amount of time.”

Also tough to take was that, at 33, he found himself “back at the bottom of the totem poll” at his job. Worse, his starting salary was almost 40 percent less than what he made his last year at KPMG. But he doggedly viewed lawyering as a necessary step in his career plan. “I always had my eye out for the future,” he says. “That’s what kept me going.”

Ramos had no fixed date for making the transition to the corporate world. He continually networked, letting people know of his intentions so they could help him keep an eye out for opportunities. And about two and a half years after he joined the law firm, a former colleague at KPMG recommended that a client, Purcell Tire & Rubber Co., consider Ramos for its CFO opening. It did, and Ramos got the job, which also included being the company’s general counsel.

“It was the exact thing I was looking for,” he says of privately held Purcell, a tire distribution company based an hour and a half south of St. Louis, with, at that time, about $200 million in annual sales. “I was able to use both my CPA and legal backgrounds. I was in charge of finance, legal, insurance — everything except the manufacturing and distribution operations. It was a great way to jump into the corporate world.” He was especially thrilled that for the first time in his career, he didn’t have to keep track of billable hours.

After three years at Purcell, Ramos landed a job in September 2000 as CFO of the research company at Maritz. His commuting time went from 80 minutes to 10, a huge quality-of-life benefit. After a couple years, Maritz’s longtime CFO set a retirement date for a few years in the future, and in preparation, the company restructured its finance operation so that all the finance officers of the various business units would report up through a newly created position directly under the CFO. Ramos was given that position.

He became CFO of Maritz on April 1, 2006. Much of his time during the first year was spent buying out the shares in the closely-held company owned by Maritz family members and concentrating ownership in one family member, then working out a new financing plan for the company going forward. “That project has been incredibly successful, and we’ve been able to do it and remain debt-free,” he says, adding that his is a “really good job.”

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