Since she graduated from Heidelberg in 2004, Alisha (Davis) Watkins has been successfully climbing the ladder in her career as an accountant – and now partner – at Plante Moran’s Southfield, Michigan office.
A CPA, Alisha provides assurance and consulting services to clients in the government and healthcare industries, working with organizations that provide senior living care services as well as local cities, townships, governmental authorities and public utilities.
“The value that I provide to my clients is what makes my job truly rewarding,” says Alisha, who was honored as a “Women to Watch – Emerging Leader” jointly by the Michigan Association of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs.
Alisha also enjoys being part of a leadership team and working to help young, talented staff members advance their careers, but there’s one area about which she is wholly passionate – promoting diversity initiatives in her workplace and in the accounting profession overall. Turns out much of the foundation for that passion took root at Heidelberg.
As a bi-racial student. Having grown up in a multi-cultural environment in Canada, Alisha came from a place where diversity and inclusion was embraced, celebrated and “very normal to me.” Yet, when she arrived at Heidelberg, she was confronted with a different world that posed some new challenges.
“Honestly, I felt like I didn’t know where I fit in,” Alisha says. “Day one on campus, I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve lived in a bubble.’”
Backed by a supportive administrative, she took matters into her own hands to burst that bubble in the most positive ways. “The administration got behind us and really gave students a voice,” she says. She served on the inaugural diversity council, Student Senate and Black Student Union, and she was a student representative on the search committee for a new president in 2002.
“Heidelberg created a lot of opportunities for leadership roles, and some I had to create for myself,” she recalls. “But I always felt supported and encouraged by administration, which empowered me to dive right in and be a part of the change that I wanted to see.”
“So much of what I experienced at Heidelberg changed who I am and what I’m passionate about,” Alisha says. She has carried that same attitude and drive with her into her professional career.
One of her first endeavors was to encourage her employer, Plante Moran, to add a younger person to their Diversity Council. They thought it was a great idea and chose her. From there, she’s been committed to “spending time and effort on things that will impact people,” helping diverse colleagues and all staff with navigating through challenges they may encounter on the job and in their professional development and career progression.
“It’s been a great opportunity to do my part and pay it forward.”
She looks forward to her key leadership role in continuing to build the pipeline for diversity at her workplace. Everyone has a responsibility in that regard, she believes. “It’s important to me to put myself out there to effect change, not just at Plante Moran but in our profession more broadly.”
This summer, Plante Moran promoted Alisha to partner and invited her to deliver a speech at the company’s annual spring conference in June. During the speech, she mentioned her alma mater, and that caught the ears of three recent ‘Berg grads – summer interns at Plante Moran – who also were attending the conference in Detroit.
Hunter Rinard, Kenny Beucler and Natalie Arnold, all of whom are grad students at Bowling Green State University in the accounting program, experienced that “small world” scenario at the conference.
“Hunter, God bless him, went out of his way to find me (after the speech),” Alisha says. “I really appreciated that. It was so exciting to have had them here. It was a great connection.” Just as she was delighted to connect with three ‘Berg students from her alma mater, they were thrilled to meet her, too.
According to Hunter, Alisha took the initiative in the summer to contact the recent grads by email and introduce them to other ‘Berg alumni working for Plante Moran.
“She’s just a really nice person and she took the time to reach out to us when she really didn’t have to,” Hunter says. “She is a great example of why I love the Heidelberg family.”
Serving her profession
Alisha is a frequent speaker to clients, their boards and councils, about accounting and legislative matters affecting their businesses and how to position themselves for future success. She has spoken at industry association events on topics such as cash flow management, internal controls, fraud and preparing for industry changes. She is a member of the AICPA, the Health Care Association of Michigan, the National Association of Black Accountants and the MICPA.