Black History Month Spotlight: Theodore Johnson, CPA, CFF

Theodore Johnson, CPA, CFF, credits his improvisational skills as the entrée to his term as a member of OSCPA’s Executive Board. 

Johnson, a partner over tax and forensic accounting services at Parms + Company in Columbus, joined OSCPA in 1979. After about 30 years as a member of the Society, he was asked to appear in a video recruiting new members. 

Man smiling for camera.

“They gave me suggested lines, and I do better just speaking rather than memorizing,” Johnson said. “So, I just winged it. They liked the way I did it, and the next thing I know I’m standing front and center.” 

That small role led to notoriety and recognition; suddenly other OSCPA members knew who Johnson was, and would stop him to chat at accounting shows and other Society events. Those he met and built relationships with included Executive Board members and then-CEO Clarke Price, who invited him to join the Executive Board. 

Johnson served from 2010 to 2012, and he was the first African American male Board member. The first African American on the Executive Board was Lisa Fuentes, CPA, in the 1990s. 

“I made some lasting friendships, and I went from an obscure, chunky Black accountant to, all of a sudden, I was Denzel Washington with a laptop and a CPA – or at least his homely friend,” Johnson said with a laugh. 

Johnson grew up the in village of Urbancrest, Ohio, in Franklin County – a place that holds its own distinction in Black history: In 1971, Urbancrest elected Ellen Walker Craig-Jones as mayor, making her the first African American female mayor elected in the U.S. 

He said his time on the board “is an experience I relish,” and said it helped put his career and accomplishments to that point in perspective. Johnson’s parents emphasized the importance of education to their six children, and two of them became CPAs, and three others earned master’s degrees. 

“My parents taught that education was the path to true freedom and opportunities, most opportunities they were denied due to the color of their skin,” Johnson said. “They did not allow these denials to poison their spirits or those of their children, who they also taught to appreciate people who would appreciate them, regardless of race.” 

With all that brainpower in the house, Johnson said, he didn’t grow up especially impressed by his own intellect. 

“I never thought of myself as being that smart, so that drove me to work, and to try to be more than the best you can be,” he said. “To me, when I was recommended to serve on the OSCPA Executive Board, it brought back all that I had accomplished and made me realize that I had accomplished a lot. 

“They told me, ‘We really want your input, not only because of your experience, not only because of your ethnicity but also because of the clients you’ve helped and the work you’ve done.” 

Experience with the Executive Board led to Johnson’s increased activities with OSCPA, including serving on its Membership Services Advisory Counsel and OSCPA’s tax call-in shows. In 2014 he was recognized as the Society’s Outstanding Member Volunteer. He said the role OSCPA plays in the profession remains critical. 

“The Society provides a source of camaraderie for an increasingly diverse membership, and of understanding the different cultures we serve, and to help us wade through increasingly complex professional lives,” Johnson said. “It continues to position itself – and reposition itself – to keep its fingers on the pulse of the accounting profession and the members it serves. And for many firms, it helps level the playing field to allow members in smaller firms to provide services beyond its size, with the Ohio Society there as their resource force. 

“I am really proud of being in this profession and my active involvement in OSCPA. It has allowed me to walk with icons, meet the legends, all the while working the ‘debits and credits.’ Almost as fun as fishing with my grandkids!”