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Sounding Board: Lisa Portnoy on Accounting for the Future of Technology

It’s an understatement to say tech has changed in the past 30 years, and Lisa Portnoy has been at the forefront of watching its evolution.

lisaportnoy-300x300.jpgAs a 30-year veteran of EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, and member of the 1871/CEC board, Portnoy embraces the changing landscape of the tech scene. After moving to Chicago five years ago to be EY’s Regional Technology Industry leader, she helps large companies adapt to change and rethink their accounting practices in light of new technology and regulation.

“What I find really fun and interesting around technology is that companies are figuring out new things every day,” she said. “We don’t know what the next thing will be.”

Portnoy said helping companies in the tech industry with accounting is hardly the traditional “bean counter” type role. With new things being built and launched every day, accountants, like everyone else, need to come up with innovative and creative solutions to keep up. Take, for example, companies like Zynga and other mobile online games. Thirty years ago, purchasing items like digital clothing, weapons, upgrades and gold that aren’t actually physical products weren’t ever something a company would imagine having to account for. Now, they’re part of a trillion dollar plus industry.

“Because tech companies move so quickly, we as professional service providers have to be just as quick to come up with solutions for complex problems,” she said.

“What I find really fun and interesting around technology is that companies are figuring out new things every day,” she said. “We don’t know what the next thing will be.”

In her tenure with EY, Portnoy has spent time in at least six offices all over the country, including many years in Silicon Valley during a big turning point for tech: the bubble burst in 2000.

“We learned startups couldn’t necessarily build a business on a dream or promise of a technology to come,” she said. “The companies that survived were the ones that had solid businesses and could build from there.”

Another key change brought about by the bubble burst was a philosophical shift in how entrepreneurs viewed the companies. She said she feels that companies that build a business only to turn around to sell it to a larger company were no longer viewed as “selling out,” but rather as partnering for the greater good.

“Because tech companies move so quickly, we as professional service providers have to be just as quick to come up with solutions for complex problems,” she said.

Portnoy and EY’s relationship with 1871 runs deep. The company was a founding sponsor of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, and Portnoy’s service on the board and finance committee just barely scratch the surface of her involvement at 1871. Portnoy can frequently be found attending 1871 events, as well as participating in them. She recently served as a judge for the Future Founders showcase, where aspiring young entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to business and community leaders.

“I just thought, ‘this is amazing,’ these kids are going to be the future entrepreneurs,” she said. “The intelligence and creativity and intensity of some of these folks was awesome to see.”

Portnoy said she is most encouraged by the evolution of 1871 and CEC’s Momentum Awards, most notably 2015 featuring ThinkCERCA -- a company that started at 1871 -- being honored as a finalist for the award.

“They were birthed and nurtured at 1871,” she said. “I think that was a really important milestone.”

Portnoy lives in Chicago. She is also a member of the board of Orot –Center for New Jewish Learning and Mishkan Chicago.  

Topics: Community