The 14th annual Alumni Awards Gala brought together students, staff, faculty, and alumni at the Knoxville Convention Center on Friday, November 3, 2023. The evening recognized three alumni and one company for outstanding contributions to the collegeand to business in the state. The event, benefitting the College Fund for the Haslam College of Business, honored Jim Newsome (Distinguished Alum), PYA (Outstanding Corporate Partner), Megan L. Turner (Outstanding Young Alum), and Jordan Mollenhour (Outstanding Entrepreneur).

Outstanding Young Alum

Megan Turner (HCB, ’05, MAcc, ‘07) has been on an upward trajectory at EY for the past 15 years. She has journeyed from intern to partner, investing most of her career at EY, which is uncommon in today’s world. “In this day and age, it’s very rare to progress from intern to partner at the same firm,” Turner says. “Reaching that milestone was very important to me.”

Turner began at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2001, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in accounting and earned a Master of Accountancy with an audit concentration. During and after her education, she completed five different internships before accepting a full-time position with EY. Turner started as an advisory staff member, left for a short time, and returned as an advisory services manager. She became a partner in 2020. “I’ve worked with EY in Atlanta, Memphis, New York, and now Charlotte,” she says. “Even staying with the same firm, I’ve been so fortunate to have such a variety of experiences.”

In part, Turner credits her parents’ influences for her career success. “My dad is a physician and served in the U.S. military for years, so he’s very disciplined and focused on knowledge,” she says. “My mom is skilled in sales and [is] a natural people person with boundless energy and deep faith in God.” Having a strong family and spiritual foundation drives Turner’s professional confidence and optimism.

Turner is also proud of the authentic approach she has taken to her career. She advises young professionals to remain genuine throughout their career journeys. Instead of attempting to fit the mold of a typical successful professional, Turner believes staying true to yourself is a unique benefit. “Authenticity has been my key differentiator,” she explains. “There is only one you and that is your advantage.”

Looking back, Turner is grateful for the focused choices she made as a college student and young adult. “When I decided that accounting would be my path, I was intentional about forging good relationships with peers, professors, and employers that would set me up for a great future,” she says. “Today, I feel a sense of clarity around my purpose in life and what I want professionally, and that all started with my education at Haslam.”

Outstanding Corporate Partner

PYA is a successful national accounting and consulting firm led by several Haslam College of Business alumni. Founded in 1983, the company is now one of the Top 100 largest CPA firms in the nation, serving clients in all 50 states. PYA provides expertise in management consulting, business valuation, and IT security consulting, in addition to the traditional core services of tax, audit, and assurance services.

Based in Knoxville, PYA has offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Helena, Kansas City, Nashville, and Tampa, employing more than 250 people. The firm consistently ranks as one of the country’s Top 20 healthcare consulting firms by Modern Healthcare and is a Top 15 auditor of the nation’s largest health systems. Recently, Inside Public Accounting honored PYA as one of the “Best of the Best” firms in the nation. “We’re very proud of that distinction,” says Marty Brown (HCB, ’85), PYA president and CEO. “It reflects some of our core values, such as attention to detail, customer service, relationships, and responsiveness.”

Beyond its external accolades, PYA also is proud of the gender diversity within the company. Sixty-three percent of the firm’s management team and 43 percent of shareholders are female, more than twice the average number of women in leadership in accounting firms nationwide.

PYA has fostered a close partnership with Haslam for several years, investing both time and financial resources. Company representatives have advised in curriculum and program developments, invested in capital improvements, provided the leadership gift for the Richard Townsend Endowment, hosted students from Haslam’s summer high school programs, and provided many internships for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Most notably, PYA frequently recruits Haslam graduates. More than 30 percent of PYA employees hold a degree from the University of Tennessee, with most of those holding degrees from Haslam. “In its simplest form, this is workforce development,” Brown says of the positive relationship between Haslam and PYA. “When you can hire people who are not only ready for the workforce but also able and willing to pass the CPA exam, that’s key.”

As the strong partnership between PYA and the college continues, Brown believes Haslam will continue to produce top-notch graduates. “We love to see that they have not only the technical skills and ability to research and learn, but also the character, competency, and business ethics to succeed in a career that serves the public trust.”

Outstanding Entrepreneur

Jordan Mollenhour (HCB, ’04, MBA, ’06, Law, ’10) nurtured the desire to become an entrepreneur from an early age, entering the world of real estate while still a teenager. While studying accounting at the Haslam College of Business, Mollenhour met fellow student and future business partner Dustin Gross (UT, ’04). The ambitious pair worked together to expand their real estate interests to include businesses related to construction, brokerage, land development, building management, and mortgages.

Mollenhour explains that life as a business owner and a student was challenging but ultimately beneficial. “Having that hands-on experience in parallel with an academic setting helped me learn the material in a very vivid and meaningful way,” he says. “I was able to really engage with what we discussed in the classroom to absorb and retain it.”

Mollenhour decided to pursue a law degree while continuing to work with Gross to expand their real estate business. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the pair’s business ventures struggled. “I was in law school, and my wife and I had two young children,” Mollenhour says. “We learned some difficult lessons about growing an enterprise, bank funding, and investing, but it was a grinding two or three years.”

Mollenhour and Gross emerged from the crisis with renewed determination and wisdom born of experience. They started a handful of new businesses, including an online retailer. “It was a big jump from real estate into e-commerce, but we found that many lessons we’d learned about people, processes, the fundamentals of finance, and insurance still applied.” The duo eventually shifted toward investing, acquiring competitors along with businesses in different industries. Today, Mollenhour Gross is a holding company led by president Ryan Connor (A&S, ’07, Law, ’11) that includes an e-commerce logistics business, a company that services HVAC systems in hotels throughout the U.S., a company that designs and manufactures aircraft parts, and a real estate development and management firm.

Mollenhour learned many lessons while growing a business with Gross, and he is now passionate about building effective teams. “If an entrepreneur alone thinks they are going to accomplish anything meaningful, they are deceiving themselves,” he says. “It takes many skilled people to navigate a complicated world. What I love most about what I do is creating space for other leaders to come in and do it better than I could.”

Distinguished Alum

As a child, Jim Newsome (HCB, ’76, MBA, ’77) rode his bicycle up and down the loading area at the Port of Savannah, watching cranes lift cargo on and off the docked ships. He’d often work with his father—the director of operations at the port—boarding ships and meeting their captains.

By the time he reached high school, Newsome knew he wanted to pursue a career in the shipping industry, and he attended the Haslam College of Business to begin that career path. He thrived as a student at Haslam, where he studied transportation before earning an MBA from the college after finishing his undergraduate studies.

Newsome began his career at a small shipping agency in Houston, Texas, climbing his way up the ranks. He worked for two major European container shipping companies, Dutch-based Nedlloyd Lines and German-based Hapag-Lloyd, for a total of 22 years between 1987 and 2009. At both companies, Newsome was the first American to serve as president for the Americas region.

In 2009, the South Carolina Ports Authority sought out Newsome as its new president and CEO. He took the struggling Port of Charleston to impressive success, overseeing an increase from 700,000 pier containers in 2009 to 1.6 million in 2022 and an increase in operating cash flow from $38 million to $190 million during the same period. During his tenure, Newsome spearheaded several improvements and updates to the port, such as deepening Charleston Harbor to allow heavier and larger ships into port and completing the first new container terminal built in the US since 2009.

The investment of others played an important role in Newsome’s success. “I had the good fortune of working for good companies with good people who took an interest in me,” he says. “Along the way, I had a lot of mentors, and that’s critical.”

Newsome completed his time as CEO in June 2022. Now officially retired, he and his wife, Kathy, are planning a move to Greenville, South Carolina, to be near their children and grandchildren. Newsome now devotes time to consulting on supply chain visibility and industrial real estate. He also enjoys serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board and watching the growth of the supply chain management program at Haslam. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done and glad to play a little part in it,” Newsome says. “This award means a great deal to me.”

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