University of Tennessee

Rebecca Lester

Lester credits her success in business and academia to her training at Haslam.

- Alumni

When Rebecca Lester (HCB, ’01, MAcc, ’02) chose to pivot from her successful accounting career to higher education, she was inspired by her parents.

They both earned doctorates at the University of Tennessee and worked in higher education. Lester attended the UT Early Learning Center as a preschooler while her parents attended UT. Her family eventually moved to North Carolina, but when the time came to apply for college, she knew she wanted to return to Tennessee. Her choice of major was an easy one – she followed her father’s footsteps into accounting.

“I took classes across many different departments and enjoyed the accounting courses,” Lester says. “The Haslam College of Business Department of Accounting and Information Management also has a strong history of job placement. The combo of those two factors ultimately led to my decision.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and completing the Master of Accountancy Program at Haslam, she was hired by Deloitte in Chicago. Lester had worked in public accounting for eight years when an opportunity to return to higher education drew her to pursue a doctorate in accounting.

“Many firms were concerned about the number of retiring faculty and encouraging people to leave practice to pursue a Ph.D.,” says Lester.

Lester earned her doctorate from the MIT Sloan School of Management before joining the faculty at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Today, she is an associate professor of accounting, teaching financial accounting as part of the Stanford MBA core curriculum.

Her research focuses on the role of accounting information and tax policies in firms’ investment and employment decisions. Her findings show how companies respond to tax incentives and if reporting  either help facilitate the implementation of or delay the corporate response to cross-border, national and local tax regimes.

During her time at Stanford, Lester’s research has been published in leading accounting and finance academic journals, and she has presented her work at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. Federal Reserve, and the OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.

Her work in the classroom has been lauded as well, with recognition from Poets and Quants as one of the “40 Best Business Professors Under 40” in 2018 and with the MBA Distinguished Teaching Award from Stanford in 2021.

She attributes her success to her education at Haslam.

“The knowledge I received as an undergraduate and graduate student at UT set me up to take the job at Deloitte, and my experience at Deloitte gave me the technical expertise and institutional knowledge that informs my research every day,” she says. “I couldn’t do what I do without the strong base I received at UT.”

Lester says UT also provided her with the leadership skills she needed to build her successful career.

“Tennessee gave me such a solid foundation,” says Lester. “What makes it so special is it does not just prove a strong education and a phenomenal business degree, but also, it offers awareness of the importance of service and leadership.”