WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Incoming Navajo Nation Controller Sean McCabe says returning here where he used to ride his bike as a kid “feels like coming home.”
McCabe’s first day on the job was Wednesday amid a whirl of activity. Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren broadcast his 100 Day report live on three local radio stations and Facebook and was then followed by 14 of his division directors who reported on their first quarter in office.
McCabe toured the Navajo Nation Office of Controller with outgoing interim Controller Elizabeth Begay and OPVP Chief of Staff Patrick Sandoval. Ms. Begay introduced him to the staff throughout the seven departments that McCabe will now administer.
He comes well prepared. He began McCabe CPA Group, LLC, in 2007. In his 15 years in business, he’s provided consulting, accounting and auditing services to 80 to 90 tribes.
“I’ve done a lot in my career owning my own firm, working mostly for tribes all over the country,” he said. “And I’ve seen a lot. But being here is just different, and being in this office and under the window rock is just different.”
He said it feels good to be home and to follow the teaching of getting an education and returning.
“For me, I’ve always been a believer that when your people call you to serve, you come back,” he said. “A lot of times it doesn’t seem like the rules are written that way when you’re actually doing it. But when you have that opportunity, well, I thought this is the right thing to do.”
If President Nygren had his choice to pick any certified public accountant in the country to run the Office of Controller, it’s likely he would have selected Sean McCabe.
Qualified CPAs are in high demand in today’s market. Qualified Native American CPAs are far fewer and in higher demand.
“Every tribe in the country would kill to have even a CPA in a controller position, yet even then a Native CPA?” McCabe said. “But a tribal member CPA? You’re down to a handful of people in the world.”
He said there extremely few Native CPAs who possess the credentials and experience to do the job.
“The ones that are out there are making $300,000 to $400,000 a year on the outside,” he said. “Given that, and knowing the President wanted me back, I told him, ‘Buu, you’re not going to find anyone if you’re looking for a Navajo.’”
With that prospect, McCabe realized he was being called and couldn’t say no.
When he began his own CPA firm, he said that came to him as second nature.
“It was a calling for me,” he said. “I spent the first 3-4 year of my career at another public accounting firm. Then I went into private CFO (chief financial officer) for another 3, 4, 5 years. Then I thought, it’s just time.”
He said many have a fear of starting their own businesses but for him, “it seemed like that was what I was supposed to do, so I did it.”
Being one of the very few Native-owned CPA firms in the country was a blessing that he can’t thank Native America enough for, he said. He said he would encourage anyone to take the risk to start their own business, as he does when he speaks to aspiring students at conferences.
“I tell them there’s a very thin line between falling and flying,” McCabe said. “You take that step off the cliff and you think you’re falling but you’re actually flying. So just keep on doing what you’re doing.
“If you’re a Native entrepreneur out there, I would still say just take that step, man, because you could be flying and you don’t even know it.”