While the word “accounting” may conjure thoughts of a professional preparing taxes or coordinating payroll, these important functions under the accounting umbrella represent only a small sample of careers in the field. National Accounting Day, which is celebrated on May 19, is the perfect time to further explore some of the lesser-known avenues open to accounting graduates.
Many students at the Haslam College of Business are seeking to learn where an accounting degree can take them. Here, two alumni discuss how their accounting degrees have served them in their careers and provide advice for students who want to learn more about accounting.
Taking Inspiration from Alumni
Many Haslam accounting alumni are using their degrees in surprising ways. Some head their own financial firms while others hold leadership positions in settings as diverse as the Walt Disney Company, Gibson Brands Inc. (of Gibson Guitar fame), the Memphis-Shelby County school district and the Atlanta Braves. Marty Brown (HCB, ‘85), president and CEO of leading accounting firm PYA, believes this flexibility is one of the many benefits of an accounting education.
“Accounting is a rigorous business degree, and for those who complete this highly coveted degree, you will be valuable to virtually any type of industry or specific business,” he says.
As someone who values serving his community, Brown has been pleased to discover that his expertise is also in demand from boards of charitable organizations. “When I graduated with an accounting degree so many years ago, I did not appreciate the value placed on accountants as trusted business advisors,” he says. “In some cases, I have been asked to join a board ‘because we need a CPA.’”
For T.C. Whittaker (HCB, ’07, MAcc, ’08), co-founder and CEO of technology platform Audit Sight, the transferable skills he gained from his accounting education and training helped him build a solid foundation for an unexpected career path.
“My accounting background and my time at UT taught me the importance of accuracy, attention to detail and a strong work ethic,” he says. “These are all traits that I rely on daily to lead my team and my business.”
While some people — including Whittaker himself — find his career trajectory surprising, he credits accounting with bringing him to where he is today.
“I have experienced many unorthodox or nontraditional opportunities,” says Whittaker, who began his career in public accounting. “Founding a leading technology platform was not something my 20-year-old self could have predicted. My accounting foundation is what has enabled my diverse — and arguably surprising — career path.”
Advice for Students Considering an Accounting Degree
When deciding on a course of study, Whittaker cautions students to truly understand the benefits and drawbacks of accounting before picking their major.
“Don’t believe all the noise you hear about what accounting is or isn’t — take classes and find out for yourself,” he advises. “While I have found accounting to be very rewarding, it does not mean that everyone will. Students should first understand and explore what they are passionate about.”
Brown says that obtaining an accounting degree is a great start for students whose career aspirations include holding leadership positions or having the ability to pursue a variety of roles.
“Accounting graduates often elevate to leadership positions due to their training in both accounting and finance, as well as their developed skill of professional skepticism, which gives one a better ability to identify hazards, non-compliance or even fraud,” he says. “Some business degrees do not allow one to serve in accounting or finance roles, but those with accounting degrees have far more opportunities to work in non-accounting roles.”
In addition to considering the job market, Whittaker encourages prospective accounting students to assess their strengths and weaknesses honestly, and to seek guidance from people they trust.
“What is the thing that others always say you are good at, that excites you? If you can align your major with your passions and interests, then you will more than likely be happier and more satisfied,” he says.
About the Department of Accounting and Information Management
The Department of Accounting and Information Management (AIM) at the Haslam College of Business offers one of the nation’s leading undergraduate accounting programs, emphasizing the conceptual and applied understanding of business information. The department’s Master of Accountancy program prepares students for top-tier careers in assurance, taxes, financial transactions and advisory services and requires only 10 months of study. The Haslam doctorate in accounting and information management is a full-time, research-oriented program typically completed with two years of coursework followed by two years of dissertation work.
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, firstname.lastname@example.org