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Breaking the Accountant Paradigm Part 1

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The Faces of JSOM include Professor Mary Beth Goodrich

As a part of JSOM Faces (an initiative of Dean’s Council), I met with Mary Beth Goodrich, CPA, CIA, CISA, SAP Certified Associate in her office at The University of Texas at Dallas during the past Fall semester. Ms. Goodrich has been a senior lecturer at UT Dallas since 2002, teaching both graduate accounting and undergraduate accounting classes in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. What I’m about to share with you gets into the ethos of professor Goodrich, as well as some professional insights. Either way, I hope you enjoy this two-part series in the Faces of JSOM.

Q: On a personal level, how have JSOM students impacted you?

A: One of the biggest impacts on me has been my interaction with the international students we have. In 2011, a student from Thailand was graduating, but he wouldn’t have any family who would be able to attend, so he asked me. I was really touched, I had rarely participated in such ceremonies up until that point. So I attended that graduation ceremony as an audience member. That really changed my perspective from being “I'm just part of the process” to “let’s look at the end result and really be there to celebrate with the students.” I try to participate now in graduation ceremonies as much as I can, and as a faculty member, I have the best seat in the house to really share the excitement with students.

Another thing concerning the international students is that I've learned a lot just about cultures, and it was the students sharing with me what their backgrounds were like and what circumstances they’re from that caused me to have a lot of respect for the international students for making the sacrifice to be here. Having lived in China myself when I was older with my husband and three children, it was very intimidating to move there, and I wasn’t prepared for how overwhelmed I was. I was there for a couple years then came back with a lot more respect for the international students.

At that point, I wanted to get the domestic students in too because I thought I was already diversity-friendly before living in China. But after living there, I saw such a huge benefit to my family and myself that I really wanted all students to go out of their way to meet other people from different cultures. I’m inspired by the passion our students have here at UTD, and for example, another student from the Philippines came up to me and said he really wanted to do this SAP project. He ended up putting together a multicultural team with students from India, China, and the Philippines, and they were able to place in a worldwide competition.

Seeing their drive and ambition was amazing. When students get excited about something, I love to see that drive that allows them to achieve so much more than you may think possible. I like to see that in all students and try to challenge them to push to go further, and if they’re already at a super high level, I try to push them over the top. Same goes for those struggling at the bottom, pushing them to do more. What changed me really is that the students pushed themselves even more than I thought they could. Part of the reason I love being here is that UTD tries to look at not just the classes you’re taking but at the full experience, and trying to develop professionals.

I've had a lot of employers tell me that they would prefer UTD graduates over certain other Texas universities because the UTD students are serious. They want to learn, they’re not just taking an internship to go party in a different city, they’re serious students. The environment and the courses they get to take here, I think are so much better than the other universities I've experienced.

Q: So is that your opinion of what’s the best thing about JSOM students, that they’re driven, and they have a passion for learning?

A: They’re extremely driven, yes. I think that’s what has really changed me, that they are so driven, yet I still want to push them even harder. Especially at the graduate level, with that added maturity, I feel that’s why I teach so many grad courses so that I can really push them. I love the diversity of our master’s level program too.

Q: [Student diversity] certainly is impressive, and especially that it works so well. It works great here.

A: It really does. But there’s more to [higher education] than just getting a degree; it’s a cultural experience for all students.

Q: So in your opinion, what are the top ingredients for success here at JSOM?

A: For domestic students, they really need to be purposeful about what they want to get out of their degree, and what their end goal is. They need to strategize what courses they take, and then try to take the professors that they hear from other people push them the hardest. Don’t worry so much about the grade; worry about what you’re learning and how you will apply that in your life, the content and experience you get out of it and how that will apply to your career.

A lot of the courses you have to take for your degree are required because we think those are important for anyone, but the electives are where people really need to be very strategic. This requires some self-exploration and personality tests, and some aptitude tests that can tell you what areas that your interest lies in if you’re not completely sure. The whole reason you’re here is to have career options. Be purposeful [in] looking at the end goal.

Force yourself to join organizations, showing that that’s important is a very big part of the college experience, and with people who are full-time working, they don’t take the time to do that, and I find that that’s a pity. There are different ways to tackle this. One is if you want to do it for networking purposes, get into an organization like the Dean’s Council so that you meet people from all different background of business. If your public speaking is poor, get into an organization like Toastmasters. If you just want to get into an affinity group focused on diversity, do that. If you want to do something service-oriented, then do that. I don't really care, just find something that’s going to benefit you overall for your career and your self-development, and get involved.

This applies to international students as well. For international students, I would add that you should create an environment for not just educational success but also the cultural success so that you’re honing your communication skills. What I normally tell my international students is: Don’t worry so much about your grades — because they push forward thinking that’s the No. 1 — but the No. 1 is really communication skills and being able to get along with people here. That will be what helps the most with success abroad.

Q: On a personal note, would you please share more background about where you’re originally from, what your original dreams were? You have a lot more energy than most accountants I’ve met.

A: When I first got into college, I told my dad I was going to major in art. He looked at me and said, “What kind of job are you going to get doing art? Pick something else.”

So kind of tongue-in-cheek, I went through the list of all the degrees that were available for undergraduates, and the first on the list was accounting. I told my dad, and he said, “Wise choice,” but here’s the funny thing, he was also an accounting professor but he taught tax, my least favorite subject in accounting. I knew that if I went into accounting, I’d probably eventually have my dad as a professor because I went to a small school called McNeese State University.

I did accounting partly in defiance to my dad, but also probably because deep down, I knew he was probably right: What would I do with an art degree? I took my first accounting class, and I loved it! It was a perfect fit for me, I loved the debits equaling the credits, loved all the balance. You are right about the energy, though — for me, it had to be more than just about my courses.

Another thing I would recommend to students is to also do internships. Do as many internships as you can. Get out of the jobs where you’re a waitress, or a lifeguard or whatever, and start getting into your field as soon as possible. So I had my first internship in my sophomore year, a tax internship. I learned a lot, but I also learned that I didn’t like tax that much. Coincidentally, my husband is also a CPA, but he thinks that since I did a tax internship in 1990 that I’m better qualified to do our family's taxes!

My next internship was with Reynolds Metals as a cost accountant. They actually let me rotate through all the management accounting duties of the company over a summer internship, and I got to experience all the different account duties involving the various accounts. I also got to audit a construction project the company had underway, and I said, “Wow, this is so different from tax.” It was really my thing.

After I graduated, I tried to really look for a job similar to that. I went in to work for a company in Broussard, Louisiana, called Teleco Oilfield Services. Unfortunately, it was in the oil and gas industry in the ’90s, and so I lost my job after about a year.

At this time I was trying to study for the CPA exam, but with all the stress I felt like my whole world had just crumbled. So I decided at that point that I was going to go back to school, and so I applied to the MBA program at Louisiana State University. I sent letters out looking for a research assistant position and was able to land one with the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, and I did consult with small businesses on business plans to get them started on the ground. My specialty was doing the pro-forma statements for the financial statements for these plans to help them get up and running.

Once I got into the MBA program, we had this professor who was very passionate about the internal audit program. He asked my class, “Do you like to ask questions? Do you like to dig into things? Do you like to travel? Do you love to help a company become better?” and I immediately thought he was talking straight to me. This was what got me fully into the internal audit program.

My third internship was as an internal auditor in Birmingham Alabama, and I was able to travel all over, auditing projects for Vulcan Materials Company, checking truck routings and making sure that the truckers weren't driving more hours than they should.

Once I graduated from LSU, I got a job in Dallas and worked for about seven years, and then we had our first child. At this point, I didn't want to travel, and things had kind of changed for me. I had been in a no-travel position until The Associates got bought by Citigroup, and Citigroup needed me to travel 50 percent [of the tine] while my husband was at a job where he had to work really long hours, so it wasn’t going to work out.

At this point, I did something I wouldn't necessarily recommend others to do, and quit my job. At the time, I had already taught one class at UTD in the summer as an adjunct, accounting information systems, and I absolutely loved it. It made me want to go into teaching and maybe do it part time. A friend of mine who had also worked for The Associates had been teaching at TCU, her alma mater, and told me that I could teach without a Ph.D.; I'd just be a senior lecturer.

The day I quit my job, I got a call from UNT to teach a class, and then almost immediately again to teach a second class. I taught at UNT for a full year, and then in 2002 UTD called me back and offered me the senior lecturer position. That was really my niche.

Now, you brought up my energy level. I always was involved in training or teaching in my prior employment experiences, and so I think that there was always that side of me that really liked the teaching, and that may have come from my dad or my mom who was also a teacher and guidance counselor. Once I got into teaching, that was when I knew where I needed to be. It had great flexibility, I able to be there for my kids, but then also I loved to push students to achieve. My biggest passion is to help students who have some kind of big hurdle to overcome, whether that’s a student moving from a very different background to accounting — I have had students transition from math, music, historical studies, foreign languages, fitness, and more — confidence issues, or international students having challenges communicating.

Q: You have a lot of certifications. Were all those from when you were working in the private sector, or more recent times? 

A: For the CPA, I passed once I was working at EDS, the CIA [certified internal auditor], I passed right about the time I started working full time, and the CISA [certified information systems auditor] I did about four to five years into my career — coincidentally I took the exam here at UTD. The SAP Certified Associate wasn’t until I was teaching. I think this really shows my progression from being a CPA to an internal auditor to the IT side.

Q: When you were traveling for the private sector, how often did you travel, and how exotic? I know you went to China...

A: Well, China wasn’t for the private sector. That was when I was already working as a professor. Traveling-wise, I've been to 47 of the 50 states, and while some of it was on my own time, there were places like Omaha, Nebraska, that I would have never gone to if it wasn’t for the need to do internal audits there. A personal goal of mine currently is to see the final three states, one of which is Alaska — so that will be a bit difficult  The most exotic place I really traveled to was probably Scotland. I went to Scotland, and we also did a project in Manchester, England.

Q: What's one of your more interesting experiences while traveling?

A: We were in a Japanese airport, and there was a lady who was Chinese, traveling from China to see her son in California No one spoke Chinese there, and my husband overheard what was going on and yelled, “My wife speaks Chinese!”

Well, I had only started learning Chinese for six months but tried to help them explain to her that they needed her son’s address for the paperwork, which was in Japanese and English, but not in Chinese.

I asked her for her son's phone number, and we got him on the phone to help finish the rest of the paperwork. This lady was so grateful, she came out and gave us three huge boxes of treats! It’s experiences like this that make me so grateful for the life I have had.

Thanks for tuning into the Faces of JSOM with the first part of an interview with Professor Mary Beth Goodrich. Check back next week for Part 2.

Alexie McCauley

Alexie McCauley is a current student at the Naveen Jindal School of Management focusing on a master's in accounting. He is a part of Dean's Council. Read more articles

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