It was an evening of celebration Aug. 14 as more than 160 guests gathered in the Jones Graduate School of Business’ Anderson Family Commons for a dinner and reception to celebrate the relaunch of the school’s one-year Master of Accounting (MAcc) program.
Rice offered a Master of Accounting program from 1975 to 1997. While that former program was small, typically graduating fewer than 10 students each year, it produced highly successful alumni, including Jim Turley ’77, past CEO of the global accounting firm Ernst and Young, who gave the evening’s keynote speech.
Starting the next day, the 28 students enrolled in the inaugural MAcc class began their studies, which require just 10 months of coursework, from August through May. The program is committed to producing highly educated accounting professionals with critical thinking skills and integrity, said K. Ramesh, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting and the school’s accounting area coordinator. While most MAcc students will enter the program immediately upon completing their bachelor’s degree, the program is also open to students with work experience.
Ramesh, who oversees the program together with MAcc Program Director Benjamin Lansford, opened the evening by thanking those involved in bringing the relaunch to fruition, which began in earnest in 2011 with two roundtables in New York City that were attended by alumni of the former program and hosted by John Fogarty ’78, a partner at Deloitte. “I want to thank the alums of the old … program,” he said. “Without them, nothing would have been possible. Several of you are right here and several of you have sent us congratulatory notes. Many of you have contributed your time, talent and treasure to help us make this happen. Your DNA is going to be the blueprint of the new program.”
Indeed, to help Rice create a best-of-class Master of Accounting program, Turley, a Rice trustee emeritus, and Ernst and Young joined forces in 2013 to create the James S. Turley-Ernst and Young Leadership Development Initiative. Geared at training future accounting professionals on how to be effective business leaders, the program will promote experiential learning and leadership development. This initiative was made possible through gifts valued at $2.5 million, including support from Turley and other prominent alumni like Tim Griffy ’79 and Rob Royall ’82, both partners at Ernst and Young, in addition to the generosity of the Ernst and Young Foundation and alumni employees.
Rice President David Leebron expressed his gratitude to Turley for his support and service to the university and also spoke about the importance and rigors of the accounting profession. “The program has a storied history, with great alumni,” Leebron said. “People think of this (accounting) as just a kind of technical discipline in a way. You all … know that it’s not. It’s a discipline in which one needs to bring really intense perspective and thought. In this age of information, unless we can have people involved in the production of information who have a breadth of perspective and knowledge about the world and how people think, and really can bring that full kind of sense that we expect from the very best people, we’re not going to succeed in making that information have the meaning that it needs to have in the complexity of this world.”
In his remarks, Turley recalled the time when he was named CEO and chairman of Ernst and Young in 2001, at age 46, after the Enron and Arthur Andersen accounting scandals and before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. “In many ways, I think the Enron era and the tragedy that happened at Arthur Andersen showed the world just how important high-quality accounting and high-quality financial reporting are to everybody,” Turley said. “Sometimes the relevance of anything is revealed when things aren’t going terribly well. I was worried as can be that our pipeline of talent coming into the profession was going to just stop. But the exact opposite happened: More young people wanting to go into accounting go into this field because they saw the importance of it. Again, they saw the importance when things weren’t going well.”
Students with very different backgrounds
Of the 28 students entering the program, 18 graduated from Rice with undergraduate degrees this year. The students’ wide range of majors reveal the appeal of the program to students from various backgrounds.
Will Eldridge, who majored in civil engineering major at Rice, had always considered pursuing a career that is business-related, he said. “Upon hearing that ‘the MAcc is back,’ I met with Ben Lansford to discuss the extra year at the Jones School and the opportunities it can lead to,” Eldridge said. “Between taking the required accounting courses to be considered for the MAcc, getting involved in recruiting with the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PwC), and the positive reinforcement I got from professionals and professors I discussed the option with, I was set on this new path I had only just come across my senior year.”
For Kyle Comer, who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 with a degree in music performance (classical guitar) and a certificate in business foundations, the program provides an opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I always had some curiosity about business because that was my father’s field of expertise,” he said. “Taking the Business Foundations Program rekindled this interest and motivated me to pursue graduate work in business. I chose accounting in particular because it seemed most beneficial to me and involved some math, which was always my forte.”
Megan Palmer, who graduated from Rice with a major in sports management and was a varsity basketball player, said her interest in the program was awakened as an undergrad. “I decided to pursue my Master of Accounting after my first accounting class, Intro to Accounting,” Palmer said. “Professor Lansford had just arrived on campus in the summer of 2014 and he came to our summer class to talk about this new program that Rice would be offering in the fall of 2016. I was really enjoying my accounting class, and the subject was coming very naturally to me. It seemed like a good fit. For my sports management major, it is required that we have two internships. With the help of the Sports Management Department, I was able to intern at SMG-NRG Park (the company that manages NRG Park) in the finance department and at Tudor, Pickering and Holt in the accounting department. I really enjoyed both of these internships, and my decision was to pursue my master’s was solidified.”
Jessica Kuzmin, who graduated from Rice with a major in English, was enthusiastic when discussing her first week of courses at the Jones School. “With my undergraduate English major, my background certainly makes me a unique candidate for a Master of Accounting,” Kuzmin said. “I had a strong interest in business, but although my verbal skills were strong, I knew that my quantitative skills could be developed further. My MAcc courses constantly introduce new types of problems and new analytical skills with which to solve them. After graduation, I plan to work as an auditor with a Big Four firm, and I know that wherever my future takes me in the business world, my combination of skills will benefit my career.”
A distinguishing feature of the MAcc will be the Deloitte Foundation Leader-in-Residence program, Ramesh said. It will be the cornerstone of the MAcc’s one-week intensive public policy course that will be held primarily in the Washington, D.C., area. Under the guidance of Fogarty, the first leader-in-residence, and Stephen Zeff, the Keith Anderson Professor in Business at the Jones School, this year’s students will have the opportunity to observe firsthand and learn about the policymaking process as it pertains to accounting, auditing, tax and capital markets. The educational trip will include presentations by and discussions with current and former staff members of the executive branch and Congress; current and former members of Congress; public policy analysts; Federal Reserve economists; staff members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board; and accounting professionals.
The leader-in-residence resource was provided through the financial support of the Deloitte Foundation and Rice alumni at Deloitte, chief among them being Amy Sutton ’89, a co-managing partner at Deloitte and member of the Rice Board of Trustees, and Fogarty.
Other speakers at the event included Royall; Sutton; Richard Viebig, professor in the practice of accounting at the Jones School; John King, assurance managing partner for the Southwest region at Ernst and Young; L. Todd Johnson, who taught in the Department of Economics and Accounting at Rice from 1970 to 1979; and Jones School Dean Peter Rodriguez, who was unable to attend but addressed the audience via a taped video message.
More information, including application requirements, is available at http://business.rice.edu/macc.