Did you know who you wanted to be at twelve years old? While most do not enjoy such prolonged certainty, Suzonne Cowart claims she did. In middle school, she decided that she wanted to be an accountant, and as the CPA for the City of Central, it’s safe to say she accomplished just that.
Suzonne Cowart grew up in Central amidst the bustle of her father’s cabinet business. When she was little, her mother kept the books for her father and ran the household for the family. When Cowart went to middle school, her mother went back to work because the economy was bad. “So, I inherited a lot of task,” Cowart said, “from cooking to helping her with the books.” While some twelve year olds might have balked at newfound math homework, Cowart enjoyed it. “Accounting kind of chose me,” she explained, “Both of my parents are very organized, very detailed people… either you’re born to do something or you’re not.” During her time at Central High School, she continued to cultivate her growing interest and skill set and enrolled in the accounting classes offered at the time, and she even got a chance to work for her parents’ CPA.
After high school, Cowart attended LSU to pursue her degree in accounting, perhaps more prepared than most. Halfway through her studies, she married her husband. “That was tough,” she said, “Most people don’t go through college being married. At that point, you gain a whole other set of responsibilities. It’s not just school. You’re responsible for all your bills,” she continued, “You’ve got to make sure supper is cooked and the house is cleaned.” And you’ve got navigate the stages of a brand new marriage. Though she and husband remain happily married, she explained she would advise young people to wait on marriage until after school.
Upon graduation, Cowart got an internship through a connection at General Health System. “It was kind of by accident that it happened,” she explained and preceded to joke about her lack of bedside manner, “That was about as close to healthcare as I could’ve gotten.” For the next four years, Cowart worked at General Health as an accountant. “It was just so interesting to me,” she said, “but you either love it or you hate it.”
After working in the healthcare industry for many years, Cowart eventually decided to start her own accounting firm. Because Cowart grew up observing the inner workings of her father’s cabinet business, she knew owning her own firm would demand much of her time and energy. “When you own your own business, you work harder than you do if you were working for someone else,” Cowart said. As a business owner, Cowart emphasized the importance of good leadership. “I’ve never been a boss <who> doesn’t let people express their ideas,” she said, “You have to be open to suggestion from people who work with you and under you because I think that makes you a better leader. A good leader is going to listen.” This is why Suzonne Cowart prefers to hire a specific kind of person. “You should always hire employees who are smarter than you,” she explained, “so they make you look good.”
Initially, she struggled most with marketing and communication, citing her shyness as reason for difficulty. “That was probably the most difficult thing for me, to put myself out there,” she said, “It’s easier for me to talk to someone on the phone than to just walk up to somebody at a function and say ‘Hey, I’m Suzonne. I’m a CPA. What can I do for you?’” For someone who is naturally more reserved, finding ease of communication can prove challenging and often the source of anxiety. “I was the person who never raised my hand in class because I would have been mortified if I got an answer wrong,” Cowart explained, “Working with the City has forced me to kind of get over some of that.” Cowart described the first few times she spoke at City Council meetings: “It would just be red crawling up my neck, and I would just want to puke.” Despite initial difficulty, Cowart finds that with age and experience, she’s opened up a bit more. “You just have to put yourself in situations that will force you to do things you’re uncomfortable with,” she finished.
When the previous Central CPA gave notice to former Mayor Mac Watts, Cowart jumped at the opportunity. “It’s been great,” she said, “The city has been one of the clients that I’ve enjoyed the most. It’s been the most challenging. I had never dealt with governmental before, so I had a lot to learn.” While Cowart has never been political, she felt a strong desire to serve community in a professional capacity. Growing up with a mom who was, “always the room mother,” it’s easy to see why Suzonne feels that community involvement is important. “We’ve raised our kids to do the same,” she said, “both of our kids have learned that giving back is important.”
Giving back to your community might not always seem doable. With two working parents and two kids in school, the time in the day is limited. “We’ve always managed to juggle,” Cowart said, “As your kids get older, it gets easier. You learn short cuts to cook supper. You do clothes when you can. You just do what you have to do to get it done. And everybody has to pitch in.” Cowart takes immense pride in her career and her family. “I’ve always had the mindset that if I spent all that time at LSU,the sweat, tears, blood, and money, then I was going to use it. I don’t know how I would handle not working. I like to be busy.”
Though she thrives on a tight schedule, Cowart described one time in her life that needed better time management. When she first sat for the CPA exam, she was pregnant with her first child and did not pass. “It was the most humiliating and humbling experience of my life,” she said, “I’m the type of person that I cannot stand for someone to get the best of me.” Nearly three years later, when her son was two years old, Suzonne decided to retake the exam, despite her previous vows never to take it again. After a month of review courses during the weeknights, running after a two year old and working full time, Cowart passed the CPA exam. As she laughed, recalling the difficulty of it all, Suzonne finished with this sage note: “Get all of this stuff done before you get married and have kids!”
With her children nearly grown and over twenty years in the workforce, Suzonne Cowart possess a unique perspective on the dynamics of the professional arena for women. “I’d say about eighty percent of my bosses have been men,” she said, “but I’ve never really had a problem with that.” In her experience, she feels that her personality works best with men, or at least the men with whom she has worked. “Some of the women in power, they feel like they have to beat their chest,” she said, offhandedly, “Men tend to be a little more ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ and sometimes it takes more convincing to get them to change their minds.” Regardless of gender, she believes that the true power dynamic in the workplace lies in different personalities. “The stronger the personality, the harder the leader can be. Everybody’s style is different,” she finished.
While Cowart does not believe education necessarily equates to success, she does believe in the power of a good life
partner. “Your spouse can make or break you,” she said, “Had my dad not married my mom, he probably wouldn’t have become the person he did today.” Her mother brought out the best in her father. Likewise, she believes that she and her husband, Brett, also positively complement each other. “He is the person that’s got to be front and center. He’s the life of the party,” she explained, “We’re total opposites… That has presented its own challenges,” she continued, chuckling to herself, “We could never work together because I’d kill him, but in the same token, he is very responsible and he would do his job. We have the same morals and beliefs.”
Suzonne Cowart will continue to serve as the CPA for the City of Central until otherwise needed. “I’m happy where I am in life,” she said, “I wouldn’t change anything. As far as the practice here, it grew faster than I ever could have imagine.” And to her, that’s exactly what success means: finding happiness in the present moment of your life and finding fulfilment in your accomplishments. “Life is all about setting goals and achieving those goals,” she said, “and if you achieve them, then you’re successful.”