Nathan Liao is the founder of CMA Exam Academy, a top Certified Management Accountant exam review program. As a CMA and CMA coach, Nathan mentors accounting and finance professionals in over 80 countries to earn their CMA certification in as little as 8 months. The unique review framework in CMA Exam Academy has proven to be the key to his students’ outstanding success in attaining their dream of earning the Certified Management Accountant certification.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Nathan Liao: My name is Nathan Liao, and I am the CEO and founder of CMA Exam Academy (a top-rated Certified Management Accountant exam review program.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Nathan Liao: I did not always plan to be the CEO of a company! I began working as an accounting clerk in college and slowly moved up the ladder. When it was time to choose my major in college, I chose accounting because I had gained years of experience in the field so it was the path of least resistance. Years later, I earned my CMA certification and propelled my career further.
After passing my Certified Management Accountant exam, I created a blog as a hobby that discussed the CMA test and provided tips and strategies to pass it. As my audience grew, requests to launch an exam review program kept coming in from my audience. People wanted me to teach them the subject matter, so I launched CMA Exam Academy.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Nathan Liao: The support I received from my inner circle has been the main reason I have the business that I have today. Your network is really your net worth. I truly believe in it. The entire team behind CMA Exam Academy is the engine that makes this business run successfully and provide fantastic results for our customers. Every single one of them plays a vital role. I couldn’t do it without them
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Nathan Liao: I had to overcome several big challenges in my entrepreneurial journey. First off, I launched a college textbook exchange marketplace online back in 2009. I invested all the money I had, which wasn’t much at the time but was all I had. The website flopped and I decided to close it after a year. I took it as my first real-world MBA experience in learning how to launch an online business. The experience served me well in subsequent years in other successful online ventures.
Also, when I launched CMA Exam Academy, I relied on a third-party company to supply the study material to my students. After my company grew quickly, they cut us off because we had become a direct competitor. This was my first HUGE challenge. The R&D costs to develop our study material were the biggest challenge in terms of investment, team effort, and time. However, because we had new students enrolling each month, there was no choice but to press forward and not look back. Trust is one of my core values and I didn’t want to break the trust my students had vested in me. That fueled my team and me to not give up even if it meant we had to develop our study material from scratch.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Nathan Liao: When I launched CMA Exam Academy, it stood out because of the program’s features. At the time, all CMA test prep providers did not have video lectures, coaching support, or a structured study framework. These were the features I wanted when I was studying for the exam. So I took what was missing in the industry and included it in my program. I was solving the pain points I had and knew others felt the same. Today, our 16-week study framework, unparalleled customer experience, and 90% exam pass rate set us apart by far.
CMA Exam Academy rises above the competition by putting a face to an otherwise ‘faceless’ industry. Buying test prep programs from big corporations is an outdated strategy. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust. By putting myself front and center, my customers know whom they are doing business with. They get to know me and by extension my brand/business before they decide to study in my program.”
As a CMA and CMA coach, I mentor accounting and finance professionals in over 80 countries to earn their CMA certification in as little as eight months. The unique review framework in CMA Exam Academy has proven to be the key to our students’ outstanding success in attaining their dream of earning the Certified Management Accountant certification.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Nathan Liao: To me, ‘CEO’ means a person with a vision who can recruit the right people to make that vision a reality
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Nathan Liao: CEOs are oftentimes glorified in entrepreneur circles to the point that they seem to have an easy and successful life at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being a CEO is really hard work. It’s absolutely worth it and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s not for the faint of heart.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Nathan Liao: A CEO’s core responsibilities include Branding, Vision, and Recruiting. These will vary based on company size. The smaller the company, the more hats a CEO needs to wear. But at the core, these three are essential
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Nathan Liao: It was a major decision to choose to create our own study materials after the third-party company we worked with cut us off because we had grown to the point that we were now their direct competitor. The R&D costs to develop our study material were HUGE, but it was all worth it in the end. The lesson learned is that self-reliance is important in business, and the ability to provide your customers with in-house products is a better play in the long run.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Nathan Liao: The meaning of success will change depending on age. To me at this stage in my life, success means going to bed feeling like I’ve done the best I could in every area of my life.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Nathan Liao: One of my innate leadership skills is the ability to organize, plan and delegate effectively. A skill I had to learn to cultivate and continue to do so is public speaking
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Nathan Liao: When I launched my business back in 2014, my vision was to run it fully remote with a globally distributed team. This was a novel idea at the time. That vision helped us weather the pandemic, as we had no disruption in operations. Business continued to run as usual.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Nathan Liao: Yes! Here is my advice for aspiring CEOs:
- Everything takes time so make decisions with a long view in mind. Those are the decisions that will have the biggest impact in your life.
- In order to be a successful business owner, it is important to be skilled in sales and marketing. The ability to know how to get your message out and compete by giving value first is a skill every business leader should have. I didn’t learn marketing in college, as I was an accounting major. I had to learn it in the ‘real world’ to grow my business, and it has served me very well.
- Having strong financial literacy is also very important to run a successful business and maximize the bottom line. It’s practically impossible to stir a ship in the right direction without knowing where it is and where it’s going. Financial data provides this information to business leaders.
- You must have the ability to stomach risk. Going into business requires a lot of calculated risk-taking. Being able to assess risk and staying resilient in tough times are key.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Nathan Liao: A skill I’ve always wanted to acquire and never did is singing. It’s unrelated to business, but I’ve always wanted to be a great singer.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Nathan Liao: If it’s based on my life up to today, the title would be ‘Work Hard. Live Free.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Nathan Liao for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Nathan Liao or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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