When asked about her recent appointment to partner at bgr CPAs, Michelle Outerbridge commented on her fit within the firm’s unique culture.
“You have to leave your ego at the door. Competition is part of human nature, but to work at bgr and to serve your clients in the best way possible you need to focus on a team approach,” Outerbridge said. “You get where you want to go through collaboration, rather than competition.”
Accordingly, only a certain type of person thrives at the firm, and more than a few bgr employees have been with the company throughout their entire careers. For Outerbridge, the culmination of her decision to stay with bgr and to align herself on the track to become a partner occurred three or four years ago, in a meeting with other colleagues.
An issue with a key client needed to be solved, and it was up to her and the others to brainstorm. She left the meeting with the feeling that “… this was exactly the business I wanted to be in, this was exactly the firm that was right for me and this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my career,” she said.
That was a turning point for the self-proclaimed “Navy brat.” Outbridge moved around for the years leading up to her time at William & Mary College, living in California, Virginia, South Carolina and various overseas locales. At the Williamsburg college, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies — a seemingly unusual degree for a CPA — but one that has helped her immensely with various aspects of her career, including reading comprehension and rhetoric.
“From chaotic to concise,” she likes to say of her ability to translate the dense accounting documents into language her clients can understand.
After completing her bachelor’s, Outerbridge worked briefly in the underwriting department of a bank and as an accounts receivable coordinator for a law firm. Craving a bigger challenge, she enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College to study accounting, completing her degree and passing the CPA exam on the first try. Shortly thereafter (in the middle of tax season, no less), she was hired by bgr in 1998.
She doesn’t specialize in specific disciplines within accounting; instead, Outerbridge enjoys serving as a “quarterback” for the client, acting as a coordinator and communicating with them directly, assessing what their needs are and how best to meet those needs.
“The job is done when the client is taken care of,” she said. “If that’s by me or by other specialists, both within and outside of the firm, it doesn’t matter.”
Outside of work, Outerbridge is an active member of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and is in her second term as treasurer for HC DrugFree, a substance abuse education coalition.
She loves mentoring, and has done some coaching at Leadership Essentials, a leadership development program within Leadership Howard County. As a strong proponent for coaching, she believes, “People thrive when given guidance and time for self-reflection. There is a huge shift in the way people produce ideas when they have come to conclusions themselves.”
Outerbridge looks forward to her continued role as educator in some capacity, whether that be on the board of a nonprofit organization or working in the community to promote education.
“I believe education is the key to a successful society,” she said. “Providing the best education to kids, giving people the tools they need to be successful, that’s the most important work that anybody can do.”