Mike Carroll was in his Arkansas Razorback golf shirt, talking about Ouachita Baptist University football and how his plan to become a doctor evolved into a rewarding career dissecting numbers.
Carroll, 68, is the 2022 recipient of Arkansas Business’ Lifetime Achievement Award in Accounting. His four-decade career as a Fort Smith CPA and economic development commissioner and his friendship with Gov. Asa Hutchinson might never have been if he had continued following a teacher’s advice to become a physician.
Carroll was valedictorian of Ashdown High School in 1972, and his intellect was judged fitting for medicine. He enrolled at OBU, joined the football team and declared a pre-med major.
“After two years I switched from pre-med to accounting,” he said. He also stopped playing football and pursued numbers, adding a fifth year to his undergraduate career. “I had met some CPAs and learned about the things they were doing,” Carroll said. “I found that accounting is a terrific way to engage in business. I often say accounting is the language of business.”
He wasn’t sure he’d always stay in public accounting, but “thought that it would at least open doors for me that would give me a lot of flexibility.”
He and his wife, Pamela, graduated together in 1977. But a job he had lined up vanished during the Ford administration recession.
“I accepted a position with a firm in Texarkana, but over spring break before graduation we got a call from the managing partner saying, ‘Mike, I really don’t know how to tell you this …” Not only would he not have a job waiting, the firm was also laying off a few of its established CPAs.
It was a case of God closing a door but opening a window, Carroll said. He applied for a job in Fort Smith, despite knowing nothing about western Arkansas. It would become his home for decades.
He joined Beall Barclay, now Landmark CPAs, and is proud “that the firm I began with, through God’s blessing and mergers and acquisitions, and the help of very talented associates, has grown into one of the largest financial services firms in Arkansas with offices around the state.”
After 42 years of work in Fort Smith, he was still serving some of the same customers he started with. “Some clients and I just raised our families together, were involved in athletics together, in church and community activities together, watching each others’ businesses grow. I found that to be very rewarding.”
One of the men Carroll bonded with in 35 years as treasurer of First Baptist Church was Hutchinson, who was U.S. attorney before serving as a congressman, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator and undersecretary of Homeland Security. He’ll leave office in January after eight years as governor.
“We went to church together, played church league basketball together, our kids played together.” It was natural to heed the call to help with Hutchinson’s transition and in government transformation, he said. He also accepted the governor’s appointment to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Along the way, Carroll has served the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, the United Way and the boards of Baptist Health and Fort Smith’s Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. He’s still on the AEDC, Baptist and medical school boards.
Carroll said his father gave him golden advice for life and business: Always do the right thing, do more than is expected of you and stay humble. “He said that if you have something worth bragging about, others will notice and do the talking for you.”
He called the lifetime achievement award a “complete surprise,” and credited his success largely to “the great organization I had the privilege to work with.”
He also thanked his family and said he appreciated “the freedom and support to be involved in significant volunteer opportunities,” and most important, “the undeserved blessing of God,” “who is good at all times.”