Richmond’s accounting department has developed a national reputation for excellence. Students thrive in the department’s rigorous academic setting that draws strength from small classes and outstanding professors who challenge students to work hard to realize their full potential.
BusinessWeek magazine ranks the department No. 8 nationally, and department chair Darrell Walden (top photo, left) knows why. “Our department is small but is one of the most productive departments you will find in the nation as far as teaching excellence and quality of research,” he says.
The department’s high national standing contributed to BusinessWeek ranking the Robins School of Business No. 12 among the best undergraduate business programs in the United States in 2009. BusinessWeek also ranked the Robins School first nationally for academic quality in 2009—an honor shared only with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Wake Forest University’s Calloway School.
Walden points out that the accounting department is the only department in the Robins School to have a separate accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. “It keeps us on our toes,” he says. “There are site visits every five years. There are peer reviews. They look for continual improvement.”
The accounting department has been strong for many years, and by all accounts—national rankings, student and alumni achievement, and reputation with employers—it just keeps getting better.
It would be difficult to find a Robins School graduate from the past three decades who does not know Joe Hoyle (top photo, right), an associate professor of accounting who is recognized nationally and internationally as one of the best professors in the country. He has taught two generations of Richmond students, switching to the Socratic method of teaching in 1991. He asks tough questions, and he expects students to respond with informed and reasoned answers—a reflection of the many hours they spend preparing for his intermediate accounting classes.
“He made me work really hard to achieve at the highest distinctive level, and boy, does that prepare you for life,” says Pamela Fornero, B’85, a partner in banking capital markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. Fornero stays in touch with Hoyle, who occasionally calls her to get the latest business perspective. “Joe is a kind person,” she adds. “He knows how to get the best out of you.” Fornero passed the CPA exam soon after graduating—“because Joe prepared me so thoroughly”—and earned an M.B.A. from Columbia.
Students named Hoyle their “favorite professor” in a 2006 survey by BusinessWeek Online. Over the years, his tough-love approach to teaching also has earned him double-edged accolades from students such as “most feared professor,” “professor least likely to retire,” and “professor most likely to ruin your grade point average.”
Hoyle has won the University’s Distinguished Educator Award five times, and is co-author of the best-selling advanced accounting textbook in the country, soon coming out in its 10th printing. In October 2009, Accounting Today named him to its list of the “top 100 most influential people in accounting.
(Top) PricewaterhouseCoopers Partner Pamela Fornero, B’85, passed the CPA exam soon after graduating “because Joe prepared me so well,” she says. (Middle) KPMG Partner Jack Reagan, B’89, chats with fellow Richmond alumni Emily Souleret, ’08, (far left) and Nicole Anderson, ’03, in the firm’s Washington office. (Bottom) Jennifer Hazelton, ’93, is chief financial officer of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. She finds rodeo work especially fulfilling.
“He sets the bar high,” Walden says. “That helps us as well to set the bar high for ourselves, individually and as his colleagues, to become better professors and better teachers.”
Better teachers make better students, and accounting majors have distinguished themselves in five of the past eight years by winning the Norman Award, which goes to the most outstanding graduating senior in the Robins School. Twenty-two percent of Richmond’s business students major in accounting, a two-year average of 55 accounting majors in an average business class of 250, making accounting the third largest major on campus.
The department has 13 professors, instructors, and adjuncts. It is a close-knit group, Walden says, able to adjust the curriculum quickly in response to changes in the accounting field. For example, the New York State Board of Accountancy now requires a separate accounting research course for CPA candidates who plan to work in New York. Since many Richmond undergraduates like to start their careers in New York, the department developed a course to meet the new requirement beginning in the spring semester.
The department may be small compared to other top accounting departments nationally, but its diverse faculty provides a wide range of accounting expertise. “We pride ourselves on being niche professors, meaning we all have our areas of specialty,” Walden says. They also take different approaches to teaching, but accounting major Dan Casella, ’10, says each of his professors is effective. Last semester he took information systems from Dr. Valaria Vendrzyk. “People consider it dry material,” he says, “but Dr. Vendrzyk puts it to practical use and makes it interesting.” Instead of reading about databases in a textbook, for example, the class practiced building databases in class. The final exam was to build a database from scratch, using everything they had learned.
Casella, from Essex County, N.J., interned with Pricewaterhouse-Coopers in Manhattan last summer, and he plans to work in the firm’s Richmond office after graduation. Fornero has done a lot of recruiting for PricewaterhouseCoopers. “UR candidates,” she says, “stand up to any candidate that we would have at any of our priority schools.”
A Richmond accounting degree can provide many career options—even in a difficult economy.
“Accounting may not … have the cachet of Wall Street, but in a down economy, we’re still hiring,” says Jack Reagan, B’89, a partner in KPMG in Washington, D.C. Reagan is the mid-Atlantic campus recruiter for KPMG. He also chairs the Robins School’s Accounting Executive Committee, which provides strategic guidance to the accounting department. Reagan plans to hire 300 to 400 new associates in the mid-Atlantic this year. “There aren’t too many businesses out there that are still hiring in those numbers from college campuses,” he notes.
In major metropolitan areas, new associates at KPMG earn a starting salary between $50,000 and $60,000 plus a bonus if they pass all four parts of the CPA exam before their first anniversary with the firm.
The accounting department surveyed its graduating seniors in May 2009 about their immediate employment plans. Of 46 graduates, 37 responded. Of those, 15 joined Big Four public accounting firms, and eight went to work for smaller firms. Eleven entered graduate accounting programs. Two joined the FBI, and one joined the U.S. Navy.
The term community service might not conjure up images of accounting, but at Richmond, accounting is among the many disciplines in which students use their knowledge to help others—bringing together the University’s strengths of experiential learning and community engagement.
The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement awarded accounting major Sherry Sun, ’11, from Sichuan Province, China, a Burhans Civic Fellowship to work in the accounting department of Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) in Richmond during summer 2009. Dr. Valaria Vendrzyk, associate professor of accounting, served as Sun’s faculty mentor, helping her connect her internship to her academic work through reading and writing assignments.
CCC provides a broad spectrum of social services to Virginia residents, and Sun supported the agency’s outreach by putting her accounting skills to work in its back office. She tackled account analysis, invoice and check writing, accounts receivable payment entry, third-party billing, and payroll. Her supervisors gave her increasingly complicated tasks and were thrilled with a template she designed to record the percentage of CCC funding dedicated to staff salaries.
“Sherry is a gifted problem solver,” says Richard Ciofani, the agency’s chief financial officer. “She is extremely inquisitive and wants to understand the whole work-flow process. She easily applied what she had learned in the classroom to her work in the CCC accounting department.”
Accounting students who have completed successful internships usually have job offers in hand entering their senior years, but Walden says firms are a bit more cautious this year. “Some of our students will receive offers in the spring,” he says, “when they would have received them in the fall.”
Jaime Robinson, ’01, director of FTI Consulting’s Forensics and Litigation Group in Manhattan, says the economy is similar to when she graduated. But an accounting degree provides a good foundation for a career in any corporate field, she insists. Robinson worked in the audit division of KPMG in New York for more than two years. Now she does investigative and litigation consulting, including accounting malpractice and Securities and Exchange Commission probes.
Robinson, from Hartsdale, N.Y., credits much of her success to professors who knew her personally and pushed her to the edge of her ability. Those relationships, fostered by small classes, are a great advantage, she says. “I also like the fact that Richmond is not only very academically oriented, but very professionally oriented as well. They guide you to get started on your career.”
All kinds of organizations need accountants, so alumni enjoy a wide range of career choices. Jennifer Hazelton, ’93, for example, never dreamed she would become the chief financial officer of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. She has worked in public accounting, in credit card banking, and as the CFO of a small development company. She does not regret any of her career decisions, but she finds her rodeo work especially fulfilling.
Hazelton works for an organization with 22,000 volunteers that promotes agriculture and the livestock industry in a public fair environment with 70,000 spectators at a time in a stadium shared with the Houston Texans. The most rewarding part of her job comes in August, when she signs scholarship checks for 2,000 students attending colleges and universities in Texas.
At Richmond, she thought she would study business or be a teacher. “When I took accounting as a sophomore, it clicked. I loved it,” she says. “It’s like a puzzle. It gives you the fundamentals of any business.”
When Hazelton describes her college experience, people from large Texas universities are amazed that she can still e-mail professors Hoyle, Dr. Ray Slaughter and Dr. Robert Sanborn.
When she was thinking of leaving a major public accounting firm, she came to campus and met with Dr. Sanborn. “At that age, you need someone to say, ‘Hey, what you’re doing is OK,’” she explains. “‘You need to do what makes you happy. I have listened to everything you said, and you know what, it sounds like you are making the right decisions.’”
Dr. Felicia Marston, B’80, professor of commerce at the University of Virginia, urges her students to stay in touch with professors and classmates. When one of Marston’s classmates, Bob Maloney, B’80, sent her photos from their college years, she shared them with her students. “I emphasized the ties you make in school and how they sometimes last a lifetime,” Marston says. “That’s part of your education.”
When Marston graduated in 1980, the economy was weak and jobs were scarce, but Richmond’s alumni network generated several promising interviews, and she was able to land quickly at Peat Marwick. “Honestly, job opportunity was one reason I majored in accounting,” she recalls. “Richmond prepared me for the job and the CPA exam. Hoyle taught the CPA review courses for a long, long time and had a good pulse on what it took to get through that exam.”
Sarah Peltzer, ’10, of Baltimore, plans to study for the CPA exam before beginning her accounting career with KPMG in New York. A Latin American and Iberian studies minor, Peltzer was studying in Barcelona when she decided to switch majors from finance to accounting. She e-mailed Walden and he e-mailed her back within 10 minutes telling her how to proceed and offering to help.
The faculty is the accounting department’s greatest asset, Peltzer raves. “A lot of people I spoke with when I was interviewing at other firms are alumni of Richmond. You always have that connection because everyone has had professor Hoyle and professor Walden.” She also gives high marks to the department’s well-placed alumni. “Jack Reagan is wonderful,” she says. “I actually just met him when he came to speak about the recruiting process and going into accounting. He looks out for Richmond students.”
Richmond and its students are special, says Vendrzyk, the professor who taught Casella’s accounting information systems class.
“One of our strongest points is that our students are able to take advantage of the liberal arts within the University,” she says. “For example, I took a look at the students just finishing my accounting systems classes this fall. … I have five or six who are double majoring in Iberian studies. I have a couple who are minoring in French, one person in studio art, and another in leadership studies.”
The University’s study abroad programs provide depth, as well. Although students cannot take courses abroad that deal with U.S. accounting standards, it is amazing what they can learn from other cultures, Vendrzyk notes. Twenty-three of 60 junior accounting majors studied abroad in fall 2009. Sixteen of 22 accounting concentrators also studied abroad.
Reagan, the KPMG recruiter, advises students to make the most of their liberal arts education by taking classes that sharpen their written and oral communication skills, strong points of the Richmond curriculum. “Nowadays, to be successful in public accounting, it’s not just the debit-credit knowledge, it’s really being able to deal with a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skill sets,” he says. “You may be in a meeting at 10 o’clock with an accounting clerk who has a GED and at 11 o’clock with a CEO who has a Ph.D. You need to be able to relate to each person.”
Reagan, who made partner at KPMG in 2003, says critical success factors in the first few years of employment are communication and organization skills. “Students today are natural multi-taskers,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t have that skill when I graduated from Richmond 20 years ago.”
When Richmond’s accounting alumni and students talk about their Richmond experience, the word preparation comes up repeatedly—preparation for challenging courses, preparation for the CPA exam, preparation for accounting careers, and preparation for life.
Casella, the senior who is headed for PricewaterhouseCoopers in the fall, says that the emphasis his accounting professors place on preparation has given him plenty of confidence.
That is exactly what Walden and his accounting colleagues like to hear. “It’s great that BusinessWeek ranks us eighth in the nation,” he says, “but endorsements from our students and alumni mean more to us than any other type of recognition. It is incredibly gratifying to see your students succeed in accounting and in life.”
Pam Feibish is a freelance writer in Richmond.
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