Yadira Maldonado, CPA, CGMA, CGFM, is fascinated with traveling, helping others and interacting with people from other cultures — and these passions are fully intertwined with her work as a finance professional.
Born in Puerto Rico, she began her accounting career as a senior auditor at firm Feliciano, Gonzalez & Co. P.S.C. In 2010, she took a job as assistant controller for ChildNet Inc., a Ft. Lauderdale, FL-based nonprofit organization that manages the foster care and adoption programs in South Florida. Through the Franklin Fellows Program, she also served as a financial management policy adviser with USAID, a U.S. government agency in Washington, DC, that works to end global poverty. In 2013, she accepted the task of directing the budget and finance function for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, also in Washington, where she served as a liaison to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Comptroller and the Office of Management and Budget of Puerto Rico. She stayed there five years, leaving with a change of administration. She’s a volunteer board member with Prospanica DC, a nonprofit organization that promotes higher education among the Hispanic population in the United States, and she is seeking out a new and challenging international post.
During her unique career path, she has ventured to South Africa, the Dominican Republic, and back to Puerto Rico to support health care delegations and missions, and organizations promoting financial stewardship and financial freedom.
We spoke with Maldonado recently about her work, her years in Puerto Rico, New York and Washington, DC, her decision to become a CGMA and her passion to use her accounting talents to help others, both locally and internationally. Here is our conversation:
What inspires you professionally?
I always wanted to work in an international environment, and that was something that grew in me when I lived in New York [as a teenager], being exposed to so many cultures, and through international travel with my family. I always expressed interest in learning about other countries and people. That is why one of my passions is to travel — not because of the travel itself, but because it exposes me to these other cultures and different experiences, and I’m able to learn from them.
Outside of work, what is your greatest passion?
My greatest passion is to learn. I am constantly reading about different topics that I’m curious about, and I learn in the process. Usually I’m drawn to topics about psychology, human behavior, business practices in other countries and history. I also like to learn about customs from other cultures and other languages. Whatever I learn, I try to put in practice whenever I’m traveling abroad; I try to immerse into the culture of the country that I’m visiting and test my knowledge in the process.
As a CPA, you worked for organizations that aim to help people. Why did you go that route?
I always saw my mom helping people since we were kids. She was a nurse, and people in our community sought her advice, to help them administer medication with syringes, and to take care of patients in terminal phases. We saw a lot of people come into our house for this, sometimes strangers who needed help. I was not seeking to work at hospitals, but the opportunity arose, and I felt compelled to work in the health care system. I usually seek to work for organizations where I can identify with their mission.
You’ve also done a lot of volunteer work. Does one experience stand out?
When I went to the Dominican Republic, that was a very rewarding experience because we were providing medical care to kids living in extreme poverty. In these impoverished and remote areas, the older siblings are the ones who have to work in order to provide for their families and they have to sacrifice their education and youth. That was an eye-opener for me and it was a motivation for me to join USAID, because we can actually make a difference in people’s lives.
How did Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, affect you?
At that time, I was in South Africa. I called my parents the day before the hurricane was going to hit, to make sure they had prepared, and then, on September 20, 2017, I lost communication with them and everyone in the island. Due to the collapse of the cellphone lines and power grid, our agency technically was the only fully operational agency of the government and had to work with sustaining the government operations during the crisis. There were people in our organization working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and nonprofits, trying to coordinate the delivery of supplies with carriers in the mainland and airlines, and connect them to recipients in the island. I saw the operation from behind the scenes. Since travel in and out from the island was limited, and priority to leave was given to those in need of medical attention, I couldn’t travel right away to visit my family. But after speaking to them through a landline ... I was able to wait until commercial travel was normal once again. I [went] back to the hospital where I previously worked and [noticed] that the quality of the services was not the same. By that time, many professionals had left the Island and it was noticeable that health care professionals had left as well. The takeaway from this experience is that we are too technology and internet dependent and, during the crisis, those that knew how to work with the old technology or had old technology at their hands, like dial-up connections, old phones connected to landlines, radios, etc. were better able to get their lives and business running while they endured the crisis.
Why did you get your CGMA designation?
I saw an opportunity to combine my studies in international business with my interests in working in an international or global environment and with my profession as a management accountant. I saw the CGMA as a good tool to work outside of the United States as it is also recognized in other countries, and I could expand my territory. Because of the new designation, peers from around the world have access to the same continuing education and we are able to speak a common language in our profession. We are better prepared to face uncertainty and adopt and adapt to new regulations in our ever-changing profession. We are also taught leadership skills and how to work in a more diverse workplace, with the understanding that we have to be open to other changes. It has helped me in terms of growing as a person and interacting with peers from other countries.
You attended the CGMA Global Leadership Academy in London. What did you learn?
We came into a four-day program to develop our leadership skills. We spent two days analyzing our personalities, with the help of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and learned about what worked best for our personalities in terms of how we approach situations and work with others. We learned how to polish our leadership skills, and then spent the last two days learning how to implement the Insights to Action model to promote and support organizational change in our working environments. What I found interesting was interacting with fellow CGMAs from Egypt, Australia, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was a great experience and I really loved it.
What advice would you give to young CPAs?
If you have the opportunity to work as an auditor, go for it. If you have the opportunity to work as an internal auditor, even better. You will have an opportunity to see how a whole organization works — the operational and financial sides. You will see how all the pieces work together — how the organization works at the operational level, how that fits into the whole industry and how the industry fits in to the economy. Having that perspective and exposure opens up opportunities in the workplace.