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Kari Hickman rises to the challenge without sweating the small stuff

Kari Hickman / B2B photo by Dennis Benson

Twenty-nine-year-old Kari Hickman has learned to handle the stress in her life, no matter what challenge comes her way.

Take all four of her CPA exams at once during tax season and pass on the first try? Check.

Become a national expert and consultant in renewable identification numbers, despite having no prior knowledge on the subject? Done. 

Move up her wedding by six months to account for busy season at the office? No problem.

In both her personal and professional life, Hickman, a certified public accountant and supervisor at Christianson & Associates in Willmar, doesn’t shy from setting big goals for herself and finding ways to make them happen. She joined the firm in 2007 after graduating from St. Cloud State University with an accounting degree.

Shortly after starting her new position, Hickman moved from the tax department to the accounting and auditing department, where she was given a research project on renewable identification numbers, or RINs. Over the past six years, she has worked to develop a renewable fuel compliance program as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It was the first project they handed me,” Hickman said. “I remember saying, ‘What’s a RIN?’ They said, ‘That’s exactly what you’re going to tell us.’”

Today, she travels across the country to speak at industry exhibits and conferences about RINs. Because of her expertise, she recently landed a $200,000 RIN-related client through a referral from a mutual contact. It’s a deal that she considers one of the biggest accomplishments of her professional career.

She’s also proud of earning her CPA certificate, although she took a different path there than most people. By accident, Hickman applied to take all four CPA exams at once, where most people take one at a time. She also took her exams during the firm’s busy season, while still commuting an hour each way between Willmar and her hometown of Maple Lake.

“It was really hard, but I passed them all on the first try,” she said. “I don’t recommend that, though. Today I tell our staff who are doing it: ‘Don’t apply for all four at once. I did it, but not on purpose.’”

Outside of work, Hickman has embraced the Willmar community and taken on leadership roles in various organizations. She’s currently the treasurer of the Willmar Rotary Club and a board member and volunteer for Junior Achievement, where she teaches math lessons to elementary classes. In the past, she has served on committees for the United Way of West Central Minnesota and went through the Willmar Area Chamber’s Leadership Perspectives class in 2009.

Hickman also loves sports and has organized summer softball and volleyball leagues at Christianson & Associates. She met her fiancé, Aaron Buttenhoff of Willmar, while playing on the softball team. About a month ago, she and Buttenhoff moved their wedding date from June 2014 to Jan. 4, to allow Hickman more time to focus during the upcoming tax season.

“This way, I won’t have to worry about wedding planning during our busiest time of the year,” Hickman said. “So I’ve added stress for two months in exchange for taking away six months’ worth of it.”

Despite so much going on, both in her personal and professional life, Hickman manages to keep everything in perspective — and her stress levels in check.

“I focus on the few things I do really well and make sure to leave time for a personal life,” Hickman said. “I’m still trying to learn to balance everything, but I’ve come a long way.”

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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